What’s That on Your Face? How Did it Get There?Jul 26th, 2012 | By Madame_Libertine | Category: Columns, Contributors, Madame Libertine
Okay, catchy title aside, cosmetics is my topic this month. But it’s more than that. The history geek in me needs feeding, so let’s go back in time–waaaaay back to Ancient Egypt. All hail Cleopatra! To my knowledge, the first famous woman to use make-up. Many of us have seen Egyptian relics, and have seen the black outline of eyes. Yes, men used guyliner too. Not only was this to enhance the brightness of their eyes, but it served as a bit of a shield from the bright sun. Ancient Egyptians didn’t have sunglasses, and the rimming of the eyes in kohl, mixed with a bit of oil, provided a bit of help. Cleo also was known to use powdered henna on her fingernails to give them a reddish tint. Now don’t get dizzy… we’re speeding up to the 1600′s when Queen Elizabeth the 1st reigned.
Once Her Majesty denounced marriage, and claimed England as her consort, she presented herself as the Virgin Queen. Queen Elizabeth wore a make-up made of powdered lye. This gave her the white pallor that we recognize in paintings and portrayals of her. She lived to be older than most women of the era, but the lye was eating away her face, as well as her hairline. In paintings of the era we see many women with very high hairlines. Ladies of the court as well as titled ladies would pluck their hairlines to emulate the Queen. Whether Queen Elizabeth was sensitive about her hair loss and her ladies at court plucked their own hairlines to ease the Queen’s embarrassment, or did so as we modern people tend to emulate famous people we find beautiful, is cause for speculation.
During the end of QE the 1st’s life, going to the theater was all the rage. Stage make-up was a must. The time of powdered wigs and powdered faces was in high fashion. Syphilis sadly was a common social disease; heavily powdered faces hid lesions caused by this deadly social disease. The fashion of drawing a heart or large “beauty mark” was often employed to hide a lesion. Syphilis was also what started the fashion of wearing false silver noses. One side effect of the disease was rotting of facial extremities.
Cosmetics took a bit of a break–especially with the Puritans settling in America. Puritans… Even until the early 1900′s women who wore make-up were either prostitutes or actresses. Gentlewomen simply did not wear cosmetics.
Now let’s go a bit closer to our current ages: The Roaring 20′s! The silver screen! Hollywood! Actors in film needed to have better screen make-up than the flour and petroleum jelly pastes made, that had a tendency to crack once a facial expression was made; no good for close ups. Some actors would add paprika and brick dust to get a closer to skin color covering. In steps Max Factor, a Polish immigrant who had been an apprentice to a chemist in Poland. He created the first make-up for films: grease pencils in a variety of skin colors. This was great for black and while pictures, but once things went technicolor, the actors faces would reflect the color of a nearby item. So, with his chemical wizardry, he created what was known as the pancake make-up–what we know today as pressed powder compacts. Some of the first mascaras were in pancake form as well, and one had to wet the surface of the black pancake to get the substance to adhere to a small comb, known as a lash comb. People of lesser means would use soot and water to darken their lashes. Cosmetics began to hide what the wearer found unsightly, or to present a more glamorous self. This is essentially why we use cosmetics today. In our modern age, we have cosmetic lines such as Max Factor (Way to go Max for staying power) L’Oreal, Physician’s formula, Bare Minerals and the list goes on. I suppose our reasons for wearing cosmetics remains the same as yester-year’s: we have something we want to conceal, as well as something to flaunt.
Play safe and may you feel beautiful in your own skin, whether you choose to adorn it or not.