Carrying on from a previous post about the beauty regime of the Egyptian era, this post focuses upon the history of beauty within a Victorian society. The Victorian era in particular is a favourite of mine due to the various elements of social development and differences within the class system.
In this post I have put together a brief tutorial of how I gain a Victorian look using modern day make-up and hairstyles. As explained in prior posts I am not a beauty blogger and experiment with my own make-up in different ways so if you want to try this look, go with what you think is right for you!
Before I present the evidence of me pretending to be a Victorian, here are some brief facts about Victorian ‘make-up.’
The term ‘make-up’ was not actually a common term prior to the 1870s. Instead it came under the broad term of ‘cosmetics’, suggesting medical uses for covering, such as powders and paints. These were used to hide facial defects or smaller blemishes from scars like small pox or other infections which were common within the era.
The upper and middle class members received these cosmetic ‘medicines’ from local apothecaries (pharmacies) while the lower classes experimented with making their own alternatives or buying from others.
Cosmetics began to evolve into a specific issue of vanity realizing there was space in the market for products for beauty. The working class were unable to afford such products and there was a rise in back street companies which held cosmetic consultations in order to adapt these blemishes and scars which were believed to not be natural beauty.
The social norm for make-up in the Victorian era was that it was subtle – worn to make it look like no product is used at all. Pale, smooth faces and the youthful look is attributed to the Victorian society that we acknowledge. I personally find this ironic, as a naturally white face in the Victorian period was commonly seen as a symptom of consumption, also known as tuberculosis. White faces were actually a sign of a coming death, and not necessarily a sign of youth. All five Bronte sisters died as a result of consumption and were represented in paintings by their brother as holding this pale, natural style.
Make up was not necessarily limited to women – men also adopted this minimalist look inspired from the regency period, again only using the powders to hide scars and other blemishes. Powder forms used to disguise redness and blemishes included zinc oxide and pearl powder (talcum powder)
Alongside the pale face was naturally rose cheeks and a hint of red for the lip. This was considered the look of a high class ‘respectable woman.’ The equivalent to lipstick was a product similar to beeswax which may have included dye mixed with remnants of flowers. The blush for the cheeks again contained carmine dye and coloured juice. (Lemon juice was popular as it gave a luminous glow to the fact)
Additionally, the pale skin reflected the upper classes, as one in this position would spend a majority of their days inside buildings. In contrast were the workers, who had a natural tan from the outdoor labouring.
However Queen Victoria denounced all aspects of make-up, which I consider a factor for this subtle look. Incorporating religious elements, ‘painted ladies’ were believed to be sinful, and carried an immoral reputation. This was attached to the working class women, specifically prostitutes, who wore considerably more make-up than the simplistic look.
As beauty became an important factor, society then went to extremes to present oneself as beautiful. For example, belladonna was known to be used as eyedrops in order to allow the pupils to have a sparkling glow, which sacrificed full vision. Unknown then were the extremely harmful consequences and belladonna was also, ironically, used as a treatment believed to cure cataracts.
In regards to hair, dye was accessible and experimented with to gain the shades of blonde, brunette and redhead. Unfortunately it was also common to lose one’s hair as a consequence to the strong chemicals within these dyes.
The Victorians can be credited in introducing certain products which were developed and used today. For example cold cream originated as Crème Celeste – a combination of wax with ‘spermaceti’, which is part of an organ found within the head of a sperm whale! The combination created a moisturizer as well as a smooth and even light finish.
Here is my recreation of a Victorian look!
I began with setting my hair in a Victorian style. Central partings were more common with a Victorian lady – Queen Victoria was known for her specific hairstyle; a central parting with ringlets either side. This specific style lasted until about 1870, where hair pieces were introduced and women opted for natural free hair, instead of a regimented slick style.
I damped my hair and eased it into the best central parting possible (my hair has its own mind when it comes to partings so it took a few times to tease it into the right position)
I then took sections of the front of my hair, marking with the comb about a quarter of the length. This is to show two hairstyles, either the pinned back slick bun, or front ringlets. For the latter, marking the hair shows how far up the rollers need to be positioned.
I used the foam rollers for the ringlets, which work so well with slightly damp hair. The hair needs to be bone dry before removing or the ringlets will drop out!
I made sure both sides of the hair where level with the rollers. I then leave the front the set while I create the bun effect.
Working class Victorians normally stuck to a simple lower hair bun which can be recreated with a foam roller. You can do it free hand, however I find I get a better effect with a foam bun which gives it a more even and neat finish. Because my hair is so thick I can get away which a thick roller normally used as a whole hair mold.
To get a bun this way I wrap the hair round as normal before using the elastic headband as a bobble, which wraps the two ends together forming a circle. I use other bobbles and pins to secure the hair.
Some Victorians experimented with their hairstyles, and this simple bun can be adapted into more modern and fun styles. For example you can plait the rest of the hair in mold it into a plaited bun. The next photo shows the similarities to Queen Victoria’s chosen hairstyle.
Unfortunately my ringlets did not set as much as I would have liked, however you can see the desired effect in the portrait of the Queen.
In regards to the make-up I just a limited range of products as less is more for this subtle Victorian look.
I used the palest eye-shadows, a range of whites and pinks in order to gain that luminous eye glow popular in the era. I left my eyebrows as they were, as normally I would use a dark eye brow wax to create my chosen shape and shade. Victorians did pluck and shape their eyebrows, but again they reflected a natural look.
I added the mascara, and added a little blush to my cheeks which toned down the contour lines and powder.
The final stage was the put on an outfit reflecting the period. Luckily I own a velvet black dress with dainty white cuffs and pearl button detail – perfect for act as Victorian girl’s outfit.