History of Skincare Part 15: The Age Of Enlightenment, 1700-1799

A Continuation of Excess

While most of Europe was ruled by Royalty during the eighteenth century, it was the philosophers who truly controlled the courts. Court philosophers were common and the royalty of the time not only contemplated their philosophies, but tried to put them into practice. Reason and logic were the trends of the day and the new theories were increasingly applied to fashion, cosmetics and skincare as people slowly began to take a more logical approach to style.

While the French court of Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, may have been a bastion of philosophers, it was actually the last place to see the decline of excess. Court fashion dictated that wigs be even higher than they had been the century before and that faces be decorated with even more elaborate beauty spots. Heavy powders were still worn along with the vermilion lip color that had been popular for centuries. The English court was even facing a rejuvenation of excess as the monarchy was reinstated and Puritan dictator Oliver Cromwell was replaced by King Charles II. Freed from decades of repression, British nobility took to the styles imported from the French court, embracing everything that had been previously considered bawdy and uncouth. An increasing amount of skin was revealed as bustlines were cut lower, and both British and French fashionistas took to powdering their chests with the same lead used for their faces.

Philosophers of Intellect and Reason

As the century wore on, many people began to take a more logical, reasonable approach to skincare. Instead of relying on superstition, they tried to incorporate scientific practice into their hygiene regimes. Many people started to think of milk as an easy cure for all types of ailments. Women would bathe in milk to give themselves softer, clearer skin. It was also believed that milk contained soothing properties and that drinking milk was good for the skin as well as for the temperament.**

As the philosophers mused on topics such as purity, vanity and morality, the decadent styles perpetrated by the French and English courts began to decrease in popularity. At the beginning of the century, women still wore heavy face powder, lots of rouge and some even pasted on fake eyebrows made from the fur of small animals. By the end of the century, however, cosmetic use had been drastically toned down. A clean-faced look was considered ideal and there was a much greater emphasis on naturally beautiful skin, now that the scars and pockmarks were not being covered up.

Magazines: Interdit!

One of the clearest signs that the age of extravagance was coming to an end was the public disfavor of the fashion magazines of the day. These magazines, which provided practical and stylistic advice on fashion and skincare, were deemed “interdit,” French for forbidden. While it was still legal to manufacture and to own these magazines, they were rejected by polite society as being vulgar. They depicted women in various states of undress and they explained in great detail methods for applying face powder, rouge and lip color. Fashion no longer allowed women to dress so flamboyantly. The structured gowns of the Baroque and early Enlightenment periods had been replaced by soft, flowing dresses. The elaborate make-up had been replaced by naturally-glowing skin. While it may have still been acceptable to add a touch of pink rouge to the cheeks, face powder and vermilion lips were reserved for the lowest classes of society: actors and prostitutes. ***

Public opposition to cosmetics became so ferocious that some countries even outlawed their use entirely. By the end of the century, the English Parliament had passed a law forbidding women to wear cosmetics. Form-altering clothing such as bustles, wigs and high-heeled shoes were also banned, due to the belief that wearing them was a form of deception. The English King himself preferred to wear a simple three piece suit. The French court, on the other hand, continued to promote the extravagance it had enjoyed for centuries. It was this extravagance, in the midst of nation-wide poverty, that eventually prompted the French Revolution at the end of the century.

While fashions may have changed and magazines may have been deemed impolite, however, women continued to invent new ways to care for their skin. A book published late in the century, titled “The Toilet of Flora,” outlined methods and techniques for preparing skin care products. As the nineteenth century ushered in the tight rule of Queen Victoria, these natural, unassuming techniques would be needed more than ever.


** Read more about the Enlightenment attitude toward milk here: http://eventful.com/events/doctor-ordered-milk-age-enlightenment-/E0-001-039199708-7

*** Read more about fashion magazines during the Enlightenment here: http://www.jolique.com/general_interest/evils_of_artifice.htm

History of Skincare Part 14: The Baroque Era, 1600-1699

The Reign of Ornamentation

In many ways, the seventeenth century began where the sixteenth century left off. Taking their example from royalty such as Queen Elizabeth of England and the queen of Spain, also named Elizabeth, women wore elaborately-constructed gowns that featured structured neck ruffs, form-fitting bodices and stiff, wide skirts. The seventeenth century was a time of change and a time of extremes, however, and both clothing and cosmetics began to take on a greater role as indicators not only of social class, but of religion and nationality as well. Because skincare practices were intrinsically tied to cosmetics, they varied as greatly as all other aspects of fashion.

In spite of the increasing variety of styles, the Baroque period was predominantly a time of ornamentation. Baroque artists and trendsetters took an architectural approach to everything from music to sculpture to painting to fashion. Emphasis was put on the fine details. Music featured elaborate trills. Buildings and churches were decorated with twisted spires, decorated domes and exquisite carvings. Fashion attempted to mimic this ornamentation with complexly-patterned fabrics and structured garments. Women continued to powder their faces with thick, white lead and to paint their lips with vermilion.

Extremes and Contradictions

The Baroque Era saw many extremes in skincare, fashion and philosophy. The Puritans, a strict religious group who rejected what they saw as ungodly excess, designed their own simple clothing to act as an alternative to contemporary fashion. Puritan women were expected to cover their bodies and to hide their natural shape. They chastely covered their hair and did not wear any of the powders or colorings worn by fashionable women of the day. Like their dress, their skincare regimes were simple and practical. Because they did not cake their faces in powder, water was often enough to remove the dirt, oil and impurities from their skin.

While the Puritans may have set British styles throughout much of the century, other European countries were far less conservative in their approach to fashion and cosmetics. When Louis XIV took the French throne in 1661, he ushered in an age of excess in Western Europe. The French court was known for its elaborate banquets and its even more elaborate styles. While blond hair had long been fashionable, both women and men began to desire increasingly pale hair. What started as a light dusting of hair powder soon became thicker and eventually opened the door to elaborate white wigs. Face make-up became increasingly elaborate as well. Women began to paste black beauty marks on their faces. While these were at first intended to cover up blemishes, they soon became works of art in themselves. Beauty marks were made in decorative shapes such as flowers, stars, moons and ships, and many women wore several beauty marks at a time. (You can read more about Baroque fashion here: http://www.ehow.co.uk/info_8537616_baroque-clothing-styles.html )

Baroque Invention

The Baroque period saw a number of inventions that influenced fashion, hygiene and skincare. The printing press had been refined during the Italian Renaissance and Baroque Europe took advantage of the improvement in technology. Fashion magazines were distributed across the continent and even as far away as the Americas. Much like today’s fashion glossies, these magazines showed pictures of the latest European styles and talked about trends in cosmetics and skincare.

Several of these trends included newly developed hygiene and skin care products. While perfumes and colognes had been popular for a number of decades, perfumed soaps were new to the market. These new scented soaps were all the rage across Europe and provided women with a trendy new way to clean the powder from their faces. The late seventeenth century also saw the introduction of toothbrushes. Based on a Chinese design, these brushes gave men and women a new tool for cleanliness and a new way to improve their overall appearance. (You can read more about Baroque soaps and toothbrushes here: http://www.localhistories.org/cosmetics.html )

While the European Baroque attitude toward style and skincare was similar to that of Elizabethan England, it was setting itself up to fail. The Enlightenment of the 18th Century would carry the French court to new heights of excess, but the French Revolution would destroy it, leaving many people to take their cues from the staid, simplistic style of the Puritans.