Beauty and Make-Up History
By the French Revolution of 1789 fashion changes developing
since 1775 took effect. The new female hair fashion was to wear a wig of
arranged curling coils on top of the head letting the natural hair fall loosely
down the nape of the neck.
As the 18th century came to a close, all things Roman were in fashion with cropped simple hairstyles. This was soon replaced by a vogue for all styles Greek and the simplicity of freshly washed
hair copied from Greek vases was thought attractive.
Women in the 19th century liked to be thought of as fragile
ladies. They compared themselves to delicate flowers and emphasised their
delicacy and femininity. They aimed always to look pale and interesting.
Paleness could be induced by drinking vinegar and avoiding fresh air. Sometimes
ladies discreetly used a little rouge on the cheeks, but make-up was frowned
upon in general especially during the 1870s when social etiquette became more
Actresses however were allowed to use make up and famous
beauties such as Sarah Bernhardt and Lillie Langtry famous beauties of the 1880s could
be powdered. Most cosmetic products available were still either chemically
dubious, or found in the kitchen amid food colourings, berries and beetroot.
A pale skin was a mark of gentility. It meant that a lady
could afford to not work outdoors getting suntanned which was then considered
vulgar and coarse. Continuous work in sun and harsh weather coarsened the skin
then, as it does now. Parasols were de rigueur and used to protect the complexion.
Rooms were shuttered with dark heavy velvet curtains to keep out the sun's rays.
Some effort was made keep the décolleté neckline in good condition as it was
often exposed in evening dress. Fine blue lines would be painted on the skin to
increase the appearance of delicate translucent skin showing veins.
During this time it was thought that a woman's crowning glory
was her hair. It was rarely cut, usually only in severe illness. It was also
supplemented by false hair depending on the current fashion.
After 1886, Harriet Hubbard Ayer promoted face creams and
various anti-ageing products. Before that, little that was satisfactory had been
It often surprises people to learn that it was the dowagers
and matrons of Edwardian high society who were also the fashion leaders of Edwardian society.
Many an Edwardian society hostess
in middle age was in urgent
need of the help of cosmetics and by 1900 face enamelling was once again
beginning to be accepted among society ladies. The Edwardian society hostess's
complexion, ravaged by age, a high carbohydrate diet, spasmodic exercise,
combined with living in a dirty polluted atmosphere was far from radiant. Queen
Alexandra flaunted her make-up and shocked and amused observers. But she
epitomized the feminine ideal of the Naughty Nineties. Ladies were more discreet
and despite a gradual acceptance of make-up in the 1890s, it was still
considered 'not nice' to admit to its use.
Ladies of society liked to preserve the myth of being
naturally beautiful. A Mrs. Henning, who owned a beauty salon in South Molton
Street, London, which later became the House of Cyclax, had a special back door
for embarrassed clients. Heavily veiled, a lady would hurriedly alight from her
carriage and disappear into the discreet entrance.
Initially Mrs. Henning sold
creams plus three shades of rouge. Hostesses also used 'papier poudre' (still
available from Avon and at some make up counters today). 'Papier poudre' came in
books of colored paper and pressed against the cheeks or nose, the leaves of
powder removed shine. Burnt matchsticks were used to darken eyelashes, and
geranium and poppy petals stained the lips.
With such primitive cosmetics as these it was inevitable that
those who could afford it would flock to Helena Rubenstein's salon when she
opened in London.
'She did not have to wait for customers. They came veiled, and
no lady carried money with her. But they were prepared to pay considerable
The sweet pea colour of the clothes was complemented by the
lavender smells and until 1901 this was the only admissible perfume for
hostesses. Lavender was associated with ladylike qualities. You can read more
about perfume developments of the era in Perfumes.
In her desire to appear natural many ladies had their hair
waved. In 1908 Marcel of France introduced a new form of hair waving called the
Marcel wave. At a stroke hairdressing techniques in Britain were revolutionized.
This technique curled the hair with hot irons in a waved arrangement around the
head. As well as Marcel waving, women also dyed their hair.
By 1906 Charles Nestle invented the permanent wave. An
electric heat machine was attached to the hair pads protecting the head and
curled the hair.
Right - Picture of Charles Nestle using his electric machine to produce a
Nestle waved hairstyle.
Until the 1914 war, hair was always considered a woman’s
crowning glory. Society ladies dressed it with jewels, feathers, elaborate
combs, or an aigrette which was a combination hair ornament made up of all these things.
hair and hats of the era here.
By 1909 Selfridges opened in London's Oxford Street and they
openly sold cosmetics. Cosmetics displays were openly visible to the customers
and were no longer hidden under the counter.
Then in 1910 Sergei Diaghilev's Russian ballet became influential in
fashion. Influenced by the styles of the ballet, Paul Poiret created designs
based on the ballet costumes and these took London by storm. This had a definite
influence on make-up and clothes. Ladies began to favour more exotic
brighter coloured clothes and this was reflected in more vivid make up. Tattooing
became especially popular among society ladies and many a society hostess had
lips, pink blushes and dark eyebrows permanently needled in.
In the 1920s make up began to be used again after many
years of not being used. In addition the inter war years
showed a great advance
in the development of cosmetics. Elizabeth Arden developed cleansing and
nourishing creams, tonics and lotions.
At the same time Helena Rubenstein was
developing creams to protect the face from the sun. This was welcomed in an era
when sun worshipping made fashionable by Coco Chanel, was becoming a craze.
Later Rubenstein also began to manufacture face powders and lipsticks. Less
makeup was worn in the 1920s than in the 1930s, as youth demanded
naturalness and slimming to obtain the boyish silhouette advised in magazines.
Lipstick grew redder throughout the 1930s changing colour
every year. Lipstick was applied quite thickly. One daily paper commented that
kissing had gone out of fashion due to the high cost of lipstick. But lipstick
in the 1930s produced an undesirable stain and Oxblood a favourite colour may
well have been the cause of such a remark.
Fingernails became scarlet and were grown to extreme
length, whilst toenails were contrasted in pink nail enamel. On the cheeks and
ear lobes rouge was worn. Eyebrows were plucked to a thinner line in the 1930s
than the 1920s. Sometimes they were completely plucked to a thin pencil line
substitute, some women even shaved them with disastrous end results as the brows
never grew back. There was also a fashion for false eyelashes.
In the 1940s make was kept to a minimum due to a shortage
of constituents and the seeming frivolity of its use.
However hairstyles and the
variety of looks they produced were very important. The influence of film stars
helped make fashionable, styles such as the Veronica Lake style.
Left - Veronica Lake and her flowing tresses.
to Beauty and Make Up History Part 2 - Make Up after 1950
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Next for more Make Up
Part 2 after 1950
Footnote:-This page was partially based on content I
updated from a dissertation I first wrote in 1979. The
dissertation a Comparative Study Between the Rôles of the Edwardian Hostess
and the Edwardian Seamstress looked at the symbolism behind Edwardian dress
and the roles of women in Edwardian society. In particular it examined the rôle
and high lifestyle of Edwardian society hostesses compared with the degrading
working conditions and impoverished lifestyle of the seamstresses that made
clothes for hostesses.
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