François Boucher by Gustaf Lundberg at right gives an idea of what men’s makeup might look like.
In general the French applied makeup more heavily than the English. The goal was not to look natural, but to make an obvious statement of one’s class identity, with the added benefit that cosmetics also served to hide blemishes or the effects of disease, age, or sun. In fact, makeup was actually called “paint.” Wearing it identified one as aristocratic and à la mode. Naturally those of the bourgeois class who aspired to the heights of fashion and/or were trying to elevate their social status would also use cosmetics, although they generally didn’t apply them as heavily as the aristocracy did.
The ideal woman of the 18th century had a high forehead; plump, rosy cheeks; and white, or at least pale, skin. The use of heavy white paint on the face was actually considered more respectable than displaying your own naturally light skin. Fashionable eye colors included black, chestnut, or blue. Slightly full, semicircular, eyebrows that tapered at the ends into a half moon shape were preferred, as were small, soft, red lips with a slightly larger bottom lip that created a rosebud effect. The portraits of François Boucher, like the ones below, illustrate this look very well.
Rouge was made of vermilion ground from cinnabar, which included mercury, or from creuse made by exposing lead plates to vinegar vapor. Like blanc both are toxic, but obviously that didn’t deter its users! Safer vegetable sources for rouge included safflower, wood resin, sandalwood, and brazilwood, which would be mixed with greases, creams, or vinegars to create a paste. Court ladies rouged their cheeks in wide swaths from the corner of the eye to the corner of the lips. Bourgeois and provincial nobility preferred neat circles of rouge at the center of the cheek to highlight the eyes and the skin’s whiteness.
Beauty patches, or mouches, were part of the formal or aristocratic look and were meant to heighten the contrast with the white skin. Most popular in the 17th century but worn into the 18th as well, they were made of silk velvet, satin, or taffeta and attached to the face with glue. There could be many different sizes and shapes, and they were worn in various positions with specific meanings. Occasionally several were clustered together on the cheek or forehead in designs like trees or birds.
Below is a short, fun video on applying makeup in the 18th century style.
By the 1750s and 1760s cosmetics were becoming so popular that coiffeuses—vanity table sets—were widely advertised, and to capture the best light, dressing rooms began to be built facing north. By 1781, Frenchwomen were using about two million pots of rouge a year. But styles continue to evolve. In this case, with the advent of the French Revolution at the end of the decade, the painted look fell out of favor along with the aristocracy. Thereafter, fashion dictated a more natural style—if you were lucky enough to keep your head.
How do you think 18th century makeup and hairstyles compare with what people are wearing today? Are they any more bizarre than what you can see on the street or in your local Wal-Mart? I’d love to hear your opinion and comparisons!
~~~J. M. Hochstetler is the daughter of Mennonite farmers and a lifelong student of history. She is also an author, editor, and publisher. Her American Patriot Series is the only comprehensive historical fiction series on the American Revolution. Northkill, Book 1 of the Northkill Amish Series coauthored with Bob Hostetler, won Foreword Magazine’s 2014 Indie Book of the Year Bronze Award for historical fiction. Book 2, The Return, received the 2017 Interviews and Reviews Silver Award for Historical Fiction and was named one of Shelf Unbound’s 2018 Notable Indie Books. One Holy Night, a contemporary retelling of the Christmas story, was the Christian Small Publishers 2009 Book of the Year and a finalist in the ACFW Carol Award.