Saturday, January 30, 2021


The Face of Georgian England

Achieving a porcelain complexion in Georgian England was tantamount to a woman’s beauty. Fine, almost translucent skin, was to be admired. The pursuit of this was, however, probably the biggest detriment to Georgian ladies.

As far back as the reign of Elizabeth I, women had been using white lead on their faces to succeed in producing that fragile, porcelain look that was so sought after. This may have achieved short term results but the truth is the white lead they used on their faces was poisonous.

In a time when diseases like small pox and syphilis irreparably damaged a woman’s complexion, great measures were taken to hide these imperfections. Most popular among cosmetics was white lead. Ceruse, as the French called it, was a mixture of vinegar, water and white lead used to make a lady’s skin tone paler. What the ladies who wore this make up were unaware of was that this mixture caused bad skin, hair loss and eventually death if used repeatedly. But, women, and also men, are wont to follow the latest trends to appear fashionable, whatever the cause. Just think of the damage corsets have done to those overzealous women of the Victorian Era who insisted on having them tied tighter than they should to produce that hourglass figure.

White lead was not the only invention to enhance a lady’s features. Mouches, a fashion accessory invented by the French, were little velvet or satin patches. The English employed them to not only add that endearing beauty mark, but to cover the more serious pock marks left from small pox and acne. Often a heart or a simple circle or dot, they were adhered to the face over the area in question. These little beauty patches became widespread throughout the era, some women using them as an adornment rather than an aid to cover up a blemish. There was even a secret language attributed to them depending on which part of the face they were worn. Placed next to the eye, for example, might lead to a secret assignation.

Mouches from the Wellcome Library, London

If white lead and velvet patches were not enough, the advent of mouse skin eyebrows was another popular trend in Georgian and Regency beauty regimes. Cut and shaped in current styles, these were applied to the brow to give a fuller, more defined look to a lady’s eyebrow. Today, a generous brow is all the fashion, clever eyebrow pens and weaves are a popular way used to create this look but would you consider using mouse fur?

Mouse skin brows from Fairfax House, York

Fashion, and its ardent followers, remain a constant theme throughout history. Those trends of yesterday may seem odd to us but consider some of the outlandish things that have been popular recently before you cast doubt upon those methods of our forebears.

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