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As we investigate the private lives of Regency Women, it’s important to consider money and a woman’s private expenses. If a genteel woman was expected to dress a certain way, do her hair in the latest styles, wear the right shoes and accessories to accentuate her beauty, and care for her own private needs and beauty regimes, how did she pay for everything she needed?

If one of Jane Austen’s heroines (or Jane herself) wanted to purchase something like a bonnet or a ribbon or a new gown, where did she get the money? Who supplied her with money, what was the amount she might have to spend, and how often was it replenished? Let’s find out!

You are very right in supposing how my money would be spent—some of it, at least—my loose cash would certainly be employed in improving my collection of music and books.

Marianne Dashwood, Sense and Sensibility
Magazine of Female Fashions of London and Paris, No.21. London Dresses, 1799, Wikipedia Commons.

Pin Money

Pin money, also sometimes referred to as an allowance, was the money that genteel Regency women used for personal expenses, such as dresses, hats, shoes, and other things of that sort. She kept an accounting of it herself and must balance her own budget.

The history of the term “pin money” dates back to the 1500s: “At that time, pin money was a substantial sum that was used for important purchases. The expression is linked to the price of straight pins, once items that were very rare and expensive, and part of the necessary purchases to run a household” (Grammarist). Over time, the term became synonymous with a woman’s personal money.

For the most part, genteel Regency women were entirely reliant on their male relatives for any “loose cash” for their own personal expenses. As an unmarried woman, she would only have what money her father or a close male relative gave to her (or left to her). Once married, she only had what her husband gave to her or what she was entitled to as part of her marriage settlement.

British Sixpence, 1816, Wikipedia Commons.

Jane Austen’s Allowance

We know that Jane Austen herself had a small allowance from her father. In Oliver MacDonough’s Jane Austen: Real and Imagined Worlds, we read this: “Jane had nothing of her own beyond the pin-money allowed her by her father, which was probably only £20 a year.” Cassandra’s annual allowance, as noted in a letter from 28 December 1798 was twenty pounds: “If you will send my father an account of your Washing & Letter expenses, & c, he will send you a draft for the amount of it, as well as for your next quarter [£5, to be paid on 1 January].”

Mrs. Darcy’s Pin Money

Finally, Pride and Prejudice shows us how a generous allowance allowed married women to live in comfort, having enough for their own needs and for the needs of others, either for charitable giving or to help support family members.

We can now read Mrs. Bennet’s famous reaction to Elizabeth’s engagement to Mr. Darcy with even more interest:

Oh! my sweetest Lizzy! how rich and how great you will be! What pin-money, what jewels, what carriages you will have! Jane’s is nothing to it – nothing at all.

Mrs. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice
Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, Pride and Prejudice, 1995

And it seems that Mrs. Bennet was correct indeed. We see this play out when Lydia writes to Elizabeth at the end of Pride and Prejudice, hoping to get a regular allowance from Elizabeth and Darcy: “As it happened that Elizabeth had much rather not, she endeavoured in her answer to put an end to every intreaty and expectation of the kind.”

However, while the Darcys do not provide the Wickhams with a regular allowance, Elizabeth still kindly send gifts of money on a frequent basis to help Lydia. She gives this money out of her own private funds, which as the text implies, was substantial:

Such relief, however, as it was in her power to afford, by the practice of what might be called economy in her own private expenses, she frequently sent them. . . and whenever [the Wickhams] changed their quarters, either Jane or herself were sure of being applied to for some little assistance towards discharging their bills.

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

The Love of Money

Money mattered greatly in the lives of Jane Austen’s Regency women. Having “loose cash” didn’t just provide for bonnets and gowns; it also provided for the safety and protection of several of Austen’s female characters. Money could be used as a means of control or generosity. It could limit a woman or give her greater freedom.

Join me again next month as we delve further into Regency Women: Money Matters and look closely at several instances where Austen uses a lady’s personal money (or lack thereof) as a clever plot device.


RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World blog and Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine. She is the bestselling author of The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-By-Chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. Her newest book The Little Women Devotional is now available for pre-order and releases December 2021. You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.


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Regency women went to great lengths to achieve an effortless, romantic look with long, flowing lines to their dresses and hairstyles. Even their dresses, which appeared to have little underneath, had several layers hidden below the surface. As with everything, nothing in the Regency era is quite as simple as it seems.

And behind the scenes of every genteel woman’s daily beauty regime were servants who made it all possible. Without today’s modern household appliances, a whole team of people were required to make a household run smoothly. There were servants who laundered, mended, ironed, and polished. Maids who buckled, tied, boosted, and smoothed; carried clean, hot water for bathing; and emptied bathtubs and chamber pots. Men and women cleaned, cooked, served, polished, and dusted. All so that life could go on smoothly and seamlessly.

Women in Jane Austen’s world were expected to be many things, especially when it came to their personal appearance, but what went on behind the scenes to make these women appear so effortless and graceful?

Evening dresses, fronticepiece, The Mirror of Graces,, 1811
Evening dresses

[Mr. Bingley] came, and in such very good time that the ladies were none of them dressed. In ran Mrs. Bennet to her daughter’s room, in her dressing gown, and with her hair half finished, crying out:

“My dear Jane, make haste and hurry down. He is come—Mr. Bingley is come. He is, indeed. Make haste, make haste. Here, Sarah, come to Miss Bennet this moment, and help her on with her gown. Never mind Miss Lizzy’s hair.”

“We will be down as soon as we can,” said Jane; “but I dare say Kitty is forwarder than either of us, for she went up stairs half an hour ago.”

Oh! hang Kitty! what has she to do with it? Come be quick, be quick! Where is your sash, my dear?”

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

It took time to achieve the polished look of a Jane Austen heroine; thus, I’ve also included additional links for each of the topics below for those who want to delve deeper. Let’s look behind the scenes:

Bathing

Cleanliness then wasn’t quite what it is today. Bathing only became common during the 18th century in wealthy households. In Jane Austen’s time, baths were taken once a week (more or less depending on the season) with sponge baths in between. This was usually done by sponging off with a pitcher of water and a little basin on the bedroom dresser. To bathe, people sat in a larger tub or stood in a smallish tub on the floor and washed with a pitcher of water. (The Family, Sex & Marriage in England 1500-1800 by Laurence Stone)

A portable bath shower from the mid 19th c.

Affordable soaps of the time were soft and more caustic than the soaps, lathers, and body washes we enjoy today. Firm, refined bar soaps were scented and more costly (and therefore less frequently used). As for a woman’s hair, the same soap used for the body was also used for the hair, and the hair was washed far less often than today.

Oral Health

As for dental health, tooth brushes and tooth powder were used. In Sense and Sensibility, we read this: “He was giving orders for a toothpick-case for himself, and till its size, shape, and ornaments were determined, all of which, after examining and debating for a quarter of an hour over every toothpick-case in the shop, were finally arranged by his own inventive fancy…”

Toothpick Case, National Maritime Museum, 1806

From Austen’s own letters, we know that dentistry in her time was a grisly business:

The poor girls and their teeth! I have not mentioned them yet, but we were a whole hour at Spence’s, and Lizzy’s were filed and lamented over again, and poor Marianne had two taken out after all, the two just beyond the eye teeth, to make room for those in front. When her doom was fixed, Fanny, Lizzy, and I walked into the next room, where we heard each of the two sharp and hasty screams.

The little girls’ teeth I can suppose in a critical state, but I think he must be a lover of teeth and money and mischief, to parade about Fanny’s. I would not have had him look at mine for a shilling a tooth and double it. It was a disagreeable hour.

Jane Austen’s Letters, Henrietta St., 15 Sept. 1813

The advent of modern dentistry, and the use of anesthetics, wouldn’t come until long after Austen’s lifetime. I, for one, feel much more enthusiastic about my next dental cleaning after this. For more on the topic of Regency dentistry, you can read this JAW article on Dental Hygiene in the Regency Period.

Dressing and Undergarments

For the latest fashions, women often shared patterns and new fashions. Those who had lately traveled to London or even Bath brought back descriptions, clippings, and patterns to share with their friends and family member. In Pride and Prejudice, we read this about Mrs. Gardiner’s visit: “The first part of Mrs. Gardiner’s business on her arrival, was to distribute her presents and describe the newest fashions.”

Underdrawers belonging to the Duchess of Kent, 1810-1820

As fashions evolved, so did women’s undergarments. Under their slim, empire-waisted Regency dresses made of thinner material than previous years, women wore a shift, stays, a waist petticoat, stockings, and more. With so much to lace up and buckle, women needed help getting dressed. On the topic of stays, we know that Jane wrote this to Cassandra:

I learnt from Mrs Tickar’s young Lady, to my high amusement, that the stays now are not made to force the Bosom up at all; that was a very unbecoming, unnatural fashion.

Jane Austen’s Letters, September 1813

However, women did not yet wear “underwear,” drawers, or pantaloons. Drawers were considered immodest and improper, something only men wore, until the early to mid 1800s. Slowly they caught on, and by the mid-1800s they were a matter of course when hoop skirts became popular. You can find more here: Ladies Underdrawers in Regency Times: Regency Underwear.

Cosmetics

In terms of cosmetics, a more natural Romantic look took hold during Austen’s life, in large part aided by the blockade during the Napoleonic Wars. Ladies were still, nevertheless, never too far from their rouge pot (Beauty and Cosmetics, 1550-1950 by Sarah Jane Downing). Regardless of one’s complexion or skin tone, a rosy glow was part of achieving that healthy romantic look.

As for covering up body odor, deodorant was not yet used, while the perfumes of the time tended toward sweet, musky scents. To find out more about cosmetics and how they were made (many times out of materials we now know are dangerous), you can read this article: A Deadly Fashion: Beauty and Cosmetics 1550-1950 – A Review.

Hair

During Jane Austen’s lifetime, hairstyles for women became more natural and graceful. This meant instead of powder, wigs, and elaborate updos, the natural hair color became popular again. Women wore their hair swept up into simple twists, buns, and chignons with locks of hair curled around their faces. Curling tongs and curling papers and cloths were used to create this effect.

The fashions and hairstyles all came from the Greco Roman styling that became popular during Austen’s day. You can read more here: Greco Roman Influences on Women’s Hairstyles During the Georgian Era.

Combs used as hair accessories

With the bonnets and caps used at the time, curls were used to frame the face. For evening and dinner parties, accessories such as combs and ribbons were used. Often a maid helped fix a lady’s hair each morning and before an evening dinner or party. What might look like a very natural hairstyle could take quite a bit of time to perfect beforehand. For more, you can read about Regency Hairstyles and their Accessories. Additionally, you can view Vic’s stunning Pictorial History of Regency Hairstyles.

A Look Behind the Scenes

The world of a genteel Regency woman was complex and nuanced. Next month, I’ll discuss “Privy” Matters: Regency Feminine Hygiene, Bodily Functions, and Childbirth. We’ll take an even closer, behind-the-scenes look at a genteel woman’s private life in Jane Austen’s time. All to help us understand the real-life world of carriage rides, balls, dinners, and courtship that we so enjoy in Austen’s novels.

As much as I love dressing up for a Jane Austen event, all of this information reminds me, as ever, that as romantic as everything looks in a Jane Austen film, life for women of her time was anything but simple—even for those who were part of the landed gentry.

When I’ve dressed for the ball given at past JASNA AGMs, my outer layer tends to be the most historically accurate. I’ve yet to invest in undergarments, and I usually “make do” with my own homemade hair accessories, jewelry, and ballet flats. One day, I’d like to invest in a bonnet. As one wise woman once told me at an AGM, “It takes years to build your Regency wardrobe – just take it one piece at a time.” Do you own any Regency clothing? If so, what do you enjoy wearing most? -Rachel


RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World blog and Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine. She is the bestselling author of The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-By-Chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. Her newest book The Little Women Devotional is now available for pre-order and releases December 2021. You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.

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One of the benefits of gathering images for Pinterest is that one’s awareness of the minute differences in fashions from year to year improves. Daily exposure to thousands of fashion images from the Georgian era have taught me to notice the nuances of style and line. These images are one-sided, since very few articles of clothing from the lower classes survive. With rare exceptions, most museum quality fashions were made for the wealthy, and one must keep in mind when studying these images that fashions for the upper classes were vastly different from those of the working poor or laboring classes. Men’s trousers are a perfect example of class distinction.

a dandy fainting

In this caricature, you can see a contemporary rendering of short, loose trousers; formal breeches; and a form-fitting pantaloon.

By the turn of the 19th century, breeches, pantaloons and trousers worn by all men were sewn with a flap in front called a fall front. This flap was universally held in place by two or three buttons at the top. No belts were worn. Instead, breeches, pantaloons and trousers were held up by tight-fitting waists, which were adjusted by gusset ties in back of the waist. Seats were baggy to allow a man to rise comfortably from a sitting position. As waists rose to the belly button after 1810, suspenders were used to hold the garment up.

Trousers, top flap

Trousers with top flap open

Bfreeches with flap front closed. Image @Met Museum

Breeches with flap front closed. Image @Met Museum

Breeches silk - 18th century - part of a wedding suit. From the Ham House collection, Surrey. Image @National Trust

Breeches silk – 18th century – part of a wedding suit. From the Ham House collection, Surrey. Image @National Trust. Note that the front flap has only two buttons.

Breeches, or short pants worn just below the knee, were popular during the 18th century. During the Regency era, they were worn largely as evening wear or at court, a practice that was to continue until the mid-century.

Detail of buttons at the knee. Breeches image @Met Museum

Detail of buttons at the knee. Breeches image @Met Museum

By the 1820s, breeches had fallen out of favor for day wear and were considered either too old-fashioned or effeminate a garment. As the 19th century progressed only liveried male servants, most specifically footmen, continued to wear breeches.

Full Dress of a Gentleman, 1810.

Full Dress of a Gentleman, 1810. @Costume Institute of Fashion Plates, Met Museum

In their heyday, breeches were made from a variety of materials. For the upper classes, buckskin breeches were considered to be proper casual attire for mornings or life  in the country. Silk  breeches were reserved for the evening and more formal occasions. White stockings were worn with white breeches, and black or white stockings with black breeches. Tradesmen and hunters wore breeches made of  leather or coarse cloth.

Country attire of buckskin breeches, clawhammer coat, and hessian boots.

Country or morning attire of buckskin breeches, clawhammer coat, and riding boots.

Around the 1790s, the tail coat changed and breeches began to be lengthened below the knees to accommodate the longer tails, gradually giving way to slimmer fitting, longer pants, or pantaloons, that ended at the ankle. Pantaloons were close-fitting and sometimes buttoned all the way down the leg. Fabrics were knitted or, like kerseymere and nankin, cut on the bias, so that the garment would hug the leg.

1809 image of man wearing pantaloons. Image @Republic of Pemberley

1809 image of man wearing pantaloons. Image @Republic of Pemberley

These slim pants were often worn with Hessian boots. To help maintain a smooth look, some pantaloons had a fabric loop that went under the foot, as in the image below. Gusset ties are evident in this image.

1830 linen pantaloon 1830-40 met

Pantaloons were recommended for men whose legs were both slim and muscular. The idea was to show off a good leg. If men possessed deficiencies in musculature, a slight degree of stuffing was recommended, although padding, it was assumed, would be used with the greatest care and circumspection. Interestingly, stockings worn under pantaloons were kept in place by the tightness of the design and fabric.

Padding was added to make the ideal 1819 male figure.

Some dandies added padding to attain the ideal 1819 male figure.

Caricaturists had a field day with men whose physiques looked outlandish in pantaloons.

French illustration of British gentlemen. Note the unflattering way that pantaloons hug the figure on the left.

French illustration of British gentlemen. Note the unflattering way that pantaloons hug the figure on the left.

This detail of a public domain image from the Metropolitan Museum of Art shows a Regency dandy who cuts a fine figure in his pantaloons. No stuffing or corsets needed here.

A fine figure of a man

A fine figure of a man

Overalls were a form of extended breeches used largely by military men, but first worn by men in the American frontier. They covered the leg, stockings, and buttoned over shoes, much like spats. They were a practically garment for traveling and walking over rugged terrain, and were quickly adopted by the British army.

Trouser, 1793. Image @Met Museum

Overall, 1793. Image @Met Museum

Capt. John Clayton Cowell, 1st Battalion, 1st (or the Royal) Reg’t of Foot, ca. 1796

Capt. John Clayton Cowell, 1st Battalion, 1st (or the Royal) Reg’t of Foot, ca. 1796

Trousers were first worn by sailors and working men before 1800, and were adopted by the fashionable set around 1810.

Scene in Hyde Park in 1817 shows a combination of trousers

Scene in Hyde Park in 1817 shows a combination of trousers and pantaloon worn by the soldier.

Originally known as “slops”, trousers were loose-fitting and ended at the ankle. As trousers were adopted, long stockings with decorative clocks were replaced by half-hose, all but destroying the stocking industry, which had thrived since breeches had become fashionable.

A sailor's slops ended at the ankle. Detail of Rpwlandson's "Wapping"

A sailor’s slops ended at the ankle. Detail of Rowlandson’s “Wapping”, ca. 1807

Caricatures had a field day showing dandy’s in short wide-legged trousers, as in the image below.

An exquisite wearing wide legged trousers

An exquisite wearing wide legged trousers with a high waist that came up to the navel.

Closer fitting trousers were slit up the seam for a few inches above the ankle. This allowed the foot to get through the pant leg. (Breeches and pantaloons were buttoned on the side.) Early in the 19th century, they were appropriate only for day wear.

cotton trousers from 1800, Image @Met Museum, with slits up the seams.

cotton trousers from 1800, Image @Met Museum, with slits up the seams.

Tight trousers create a dilemma for this dandy, who cannot pick up his handkerchief.

Tight trousers create a dilemma for this dandy, who cannot pick up his handkerchief. Notice the very high waist.

Trousers with a fall front, 1820. Image @Augusta Auctions

Trousers with a fall front, 1820. Image @Augusta Auctions

Trousers were made of wool, linen or cotton. They could also be strapped.

The Marquis of Worcester walks in profile with his half-clipped poodle. He wears top-hat, double-breasted tail-coat with a rose in his buttonhole, and strapped trousers. Jan 1 1823. Image@ British Museum

The Marquis of Worcester walks in profile with his half-clipped poodle. He wears top-hat, double-breasted tail-coat with a rose in his buttonhole, and strapped trousers. Jan 1 1823. Image@ British Museum

By the 1840s, they had replaced pantaloons. The waist is high in the above trousers, which were probably kept up with suspenders.

The well trousered genteman

The well trousered gentleman, ca. 1830s-40s.

Knee pants with black silk stockings were an essential evening accessory until 1850s when long trousers finally took over. Up until the 1850s, the tie could be black or white, but by the ’60s, white or off-white was the most common choice.

1850's ballroom scene.

1850’s ballroom scene.

In the 1850s long trousers finally replaced breeches for appropriate evening attire.

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As a blogger who is curious about all things in Jane Austen’s world and customs in her past that might have influenced her, I am still amazed at how one tiny clue points to another until I land on a series of sites that open up a whole new topic. While history foodies probably know about the elaborate lengths that pastry chefs took to please their patrons, the visual results of a full banquet are simply astounding. I can only assume that Georgian taste buds were equally pleased.

Modern chef and historian, Ivan Day, recreated a feast from the past using sugar structures and porcelain figures to arrange a fanciful garden centerpieces for the table.

I already knew about The Prince Regent’s elaborate 1811 dinner at Carlton House, which was described as thus:

“Along the centre of the table about six inches above the surface, a canal of pure water continued flowing from a silver fountain beautifully constructed at the head of the table. Its banks were covered with green moss aquatic flowers; gold and silver fish swam and sported through the bubbling current, which produced a pleasing murmur where it fell, and formed a cascade at the outlet.” – The Gentleman’s Magazine, describing the Prince Regent’s fete at Carlton House, June 19, 1811 in honor of the exiled French royal family.

The great kitchen at the Prince Regent’s Pavilion at Brighton could accommodate creating dishes for huge and fanciful banquets.

So great was the interest that the doors of Carlton House were opened for three days in a row. But instead of satisfying the curiosity of the masses, the result was ever-increasing crowds. Chaos ensued.

‘The condescension of the Prince in extending the permission to view the arrangements for the late fete at Carlton House has nearly been attended with fatal consequences,’ reported one newspaper. Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1039063/As-Queen-opens-Palace-Ballroom-public-story-decadent-royal-banquet-ever.html#ixzz1s7ijkAEv

Detail of the design for an elaborate garden centerpiece. These engravings were showcased in Le Cannameliste Français by famed confectionary chef, Joseph Gilliers, in the mid-18th century. View the entire centerpiece here: Click on this link.

The banquet featured a recreation of a landscape at its center. Such a method of decorating a table was not new, especially when it came to desserts. Elaborate set pieces with architectural French influence were created for tables using spun sugar and Sevres bisque figures to create fantasy landscapes. Before the Napoleonic Wars, travel over the English Channel between British and French courtiers and diplomats was common, and thus the French chef’s custom of creating these elaborate centerpieces became well-known in England. Upper class households vied for highly paid (and desired) French chefs, and by the 1820s these gentlemen had by and large invaded British upper class kitchens. Their ability to create dishes that feasted both the eyes and the stomach was unrivaled.

 SEVRES BISCUIT FIGURES CIRCA 1755, Modeled after François Boucher. Image @Christies.

This was an era when confectionary was considered as much a branch of the decorative arts as of cuisine, and porcelain for the table represented prestige as well as a demonstration of power. The combination of French chef, porcelain, and fanciful confectionary desserts served as symbols of prestige and wealth, for no ordinary household could offer such an extravagant display of food and panoply. (View this porcelain table centerpiece set.)

Detail of Gilliers’ templates for cut outs.

Most of the images of the banquets and figurines are copyrighted. I encourage you to click on the links to view the spectacular results of sugar and porcelain table centerpieces that mimic gardens, sculptures, and figures based on famous paintings. The fanciful recreation included redesigning tables as well.

Modern version of Gilliers table. Image @Simon Beer.

Gilliers’ 1751 sketch of the table, plus seating.

Amy Hauft, VCU sculpture department. Confectioner Joseph Gilliers conceived his 100-seat rococo fantasy for the serving of a single course — dessert — in a garden setting. The centerpiece atop the tailored white tablecloth was to be a sculpture made of sugar paste fortified with dried sturgeon bladder. There is no record that this table was ever built by Gilliers. Image@Richmond Times Dispatch

More on this fascinating topic:

Ivan Day’s  pavilion made from a “pastillage sugar paste for an exhibition at the Met in NYC two years ago. They were exact replicas of ones made for Maria Theresa, the Empress of Austria in 1740. “

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Beauty and Cosmetics 1550-1950 by Sarah Jane Downing was published this month by Shire Library.  Small and compact, as Shire publications tend to be, this wonderfully illustrated book describes the standards of beauty popular in each era, from 1550 when alabaster brows were highly prized, to the black eyebrows that were favored by 18th century women.  As with her best-selling Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen, Ms. Downing provides the reader with a comprehensive overview of the topic. She begins with the Tudor Court and ends with the delightful cosmetic advertisements of the first half of the 20th century.

Marriage à-la-mode: The Countess's Morning Levee, William Hogarth, c. 1745

Because my blog’s theme centers on the Georgian and Regency eras, I will confine much of my recap to those years.

A woman applying beauty patches, Boucher

Mirrors, once only possessed by the rich, became so popular in London in the mid-16th century that British manufacturers petitioned Parliament to ban foreign imports. The ritual of the dressing table became quite elaborate and ladies began to entertain guests as they prepared themselves for the day.

French mop gold boite a mouche patch box with brush, 1730. Images @ Etsy

Decorative patches covered skin blemishes and blotches, sometimes to such an extent that a face could be covered with a variety of dots, half-moon crescents, stars and even a coach and horses! The popularity of using patches began in the mid-17th century and did not wane until the end of the 18th century.

Woman with patches, pale skin and rouged cheeks. Thomas Gainsborough

Porcelain skin was highly prized and created with white lead-based skin cream. Blush was then applied to create a doll-like look. Cosmetics were created in a variety of ways. Here are the ingredients for one recipe for lead face powder that did not come from this book: several thin plates of lead, a big pot of vinegar, a bed of horse manure, water, perfume & tinting agent. Once can only guess how this concoction was put together and at its smell.

Marquise the Pompadour applying face powder with a brush. Boucher, 1758.

Ms. Downing describes in her book:

lead sheets were unrolled and beaten with battledores until all the flakes of white lead came off. These were gathered and ground into a very fine powder… p. 24

Gainsboroughs portrait of Grace Dalrymple Elliot in 1782 shows the craze for dark eyebrows.

For a while during the third quarter of the 18th century, dark eyebrows became all the rage. Lead-based cosmetics, used over time, caused hair-loss at the forehead and over the brows, resulting in a receding hair-line and a bare brow. For those who lost their eyebrows, it became the custom as early as 1703  to trap mice and use their fur for artificial eyebrows. Sadly, the glue did not always adhere well, and a lady could be caught with her brows out of kilter. This hilarious poem was written by Matthew Prior in 1718:

On little things, as sages write,

Depends our human joy or sorrow;

If we don’t catch a mouse to-night,

Alas! no eyebrows for to-morrow. – p.28

Aging beauties staved off the ravages of time with sponge fillers and rouge (sound familiar?), while many women risked poisonous side effects from using their deadly cosmetics. Maria, one of the Gunning sisters who went on to become Lady Coventry, was so addicted to her lead-based paints that she died in 1760 at the age of 27 knowing full well that she was at risk.

Maria, Countess of Coventry

The French Revolution swept away the widespread use of makeup, which was associated with the aristocracy. Defiantly, some aristocratic ladies went to their doom wearing a  full complement of make-up: pale skin, patches, rouged cheeks and rosy lips.

The more natural look of the regency woman. Note that the cheeks are still rouged.

Rousseau influenced the concept of nature and a more natural Romantic look took hold, aided by the blockade of cosmetics during the Napoleonic Wars. The death of many soldiers resulted in widespread melancholia and the affectation of a consumptive look. Ladies, nevertheless, were never far from their rouge pot.

Another Regency portrait with subtle makeup. The flower basket adds to the natural look.

As with all Shire books, Sarah Jane Downing’s trip through time provides us with brilliant insights, in this instance it is via cosmetics and how society viewed beauty in each era. By the 1950s, the success of a marriage was defined by how well a woman took care of herself. This included makeup. Beauty, as Ms. Downing wrote, “was switched from a pleasure to an obligation.”  Oh, my. I give the delightful Beauty and Cosmetics 1550-1950 four out of five Regency tea cups.


Product Details

Paperback: 64 pages
Publisher: Shire (February 21, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0747808392
ISBN-13: 978-0747808398
Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.2 x 8.2 inches

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