The history of makeup is as vibrant as makeup itself...
Famed celebrity makeup artist, Lisa Eldridge, has recently released a book all about her favourite topic – makeup. We love buying it, we love wearing it, and we definitely love talking about it, but do we really know about its history? This fantastic book explores fascinating stories makeup across the globe, from the pioneers, to the trends, to the beauty icons.
One such beauty icon is Elizabeth Taylor. In a brilliant makeup tutorial, she transforms a woman into the 50s star, and the results are truly astonishing. The video demonstrates the transformative power of makeup, as she turns peroxide blonde actress Laura into the iconic brunette bombshell from 1950s Hollywood we all know so well. You can recreate this look using kitten flicked black liner, orange-red lipstick, dark bold brows and lots of lashes.
This concern with historical beauty trends is central to Lisa’s book. Although commercial “makeup” has only existed in the last 100 years, spearheaded by the likes of Max Factor, Elizabeth Arden and Estee Lauder, Eldridge shows us how facial decoration has actually been around for thousands of years. Although not called “makeup”, women have for centuries used products to lighten, brighten and beautify their faces.
However, the definition of what is “beautiful” varies depending on time, location and society, and some of the ways women attempted to enhance their beauty may seem rather unusual to us. For example, while nowadays we strive towards a golden sunkissed tan, pale skin used to be the ultimate sign of beauty. It signalled wealth and standing, as only those who were having to toil in the fields would be out in the sun long enough to darken their skin.
Much like today, beauty trends have come and gone throughout history, and there were many fads that seem particularly strange to us modern women. Taken from Eldridge’s book, we take a look at those historical beauty trends that you won’t believe existed…
While nowadays we can hide a blemish with a trusty concealer, it wasn't always so easy to conceal those pesky spots. At the end of the sixteenth century, wealthy women would use "mouches" which were little black pieces of silk, satin, velvet or taffeta which could be used to cover imperfections. They would be cut into various shapes such as hearts and circles, and were also used to highlight a wealthy woman's desirable porcelain skin.
Black patches were not only used to cover blemishes - they were also worn in particular positions to signify different things. If a woman wore a mouch on her right cheek, this signified that she was married, while her left cheek suggested she was engaged. A woman would style a patch by her mouth if she was single, or by the corner of her eye to show she was a mistress.
Today, we are constantly plucking and lining, making sure our brows are neat and tidy. In Ancient Greece, brows were important to them too, but in a slightly different style. Athenian women would use burnt cork and soot to fill in their eyebrows, which they believed were most beautiful when connected across the bridge of the nose.
Pearly whites are a key symbol of beauty and always have been, right? Wrong!
In Japan, black has always been regarded as beautiful and highly prized. Not settling for simply black hair or black lined eyes, black teeth were considered particularly desirable. Teeth blackening has been popular throughout history in Japan, China and Southeast Asia; Chinese women in the Qin and Han dynasties dyed their teeth black (206 BC - AD 220) and in Japan the practice even continued up until the end of the Meiji period in the 1800s.
Teeth blackening was banned in 1870 and the practice eventually died out.
As we have seen, a fair complexion was considered most desirable in Britain (and other Western countries) during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance period. During this period, people believed in the Roman physician Galen's principle of humoral theory, which was the belief that the body was made up of four elements - fire, earth, water and air - and it was thought that perfect health could be achieved when all the elements were in balance.
Physicians believed that all of these elements were present in the blood, so loss of blood was meant to help balance the humors and return the patient to good health. As a fair complexion was seen as a sign of good health, blood letting and leeches were often employed to achieve this look.
It is believed that wealthy women would ask physicians to place leeches behind their ears ahead of parties as a part of their pre-party preparation.
Nowadays there are lots of types of blush and lipsticks - you have cream and powder blushes; matte lipsticks, crayons, and lipglosses to name a few. But we never use wool or paper.
In the 18th century, a type of rouge called Spanish wool was very popular. It was available in a range of colours and sizes, and it was dyed with cochineal or something similar, and cut into pads which could then be dabbed on the lips and cheeks in order to stain them.
Later, there was a portable version - Spanish paper. This involved pigment impregnated into paper that could be carried around in a pocketbook.
Sure we love to wear pearls, but we're not sure we'd want to eat them! However, it was believed that pearls had powerful qualities, and had wondrous health benefits including radiant skin.
China's only female ruler, Empress Wu Zetian (AD 625 - 705) regularly injested pearl powder, as well as applying it to her skin for its brightening and beautifying properties. She came to the throne at age 65 and her beauty was legendary - her skin was rumoured to be as "radiant as a young woman's". So maybe pearls are the secret?
Lisa Eldridge's book would make a fantastic present. Buy it here.