Fashion plates became a popular addition to women’s magazines in the nineteenth century, and more expensive magazines had better plates, like this hand-colored etching from La Belle Assemblee in 1827.
Stage actresses held an important position during the early days of the cosmetic business, and regularly promoted beauty products in theatrical programs and newspapers. Here, Lillie Langtry promotes Pears soap.
In the seventeenth century, there was a female-driven print rush in which cosmetics were strongly defended. In England, alongside The Gentlewoman’s Companion (1673), there was also A Discourse of Auxiliary Beauty (1656), which argued that: Nor is the face more to be unconsidered, or neglected, than other parts of our bodies.1 Similarly, The Ladies Dictionary (1694) argued that makeup was not meant to trick or deceive, but to serve a useful purpose. This usefulness was further debated in Several Letters Between Two Ladies Wherein the Lawfulness and Unlawfulness of Artificial Beauty in Point of Conscience Are Nicely Debated (1701). With religious and moralistic stances shifting, and a ready audience, cosmetics began to move away from being seen as an assault on the Divine handiwork, a distortion of the truth, in the words of Saint Cyprian. What emerged instead, throughout much of Europe, was a beauty culture.
The earliest magazine aimed specifically at women in England was The Ladies Mercury, first published in 1693. Bearing little resemblance to today’s women’s magazines, it comprised an advice column on love and relationships, written by men. During the following century, other women’s magazines appeared, mostly featuring the name lady in the title. As with the British magazine The Lady, a version of which still exists today, these periodicals mostly catered to upper-class women and were meant to educate in addition to entertain.2 They were filled with material deemed appropriate and suitable for women rather than articles or features about being a woman. This trend in content began to change in the Georgian period, and certainly by the mid-nineteenth century, as magazines sought to expand their audiences and the idea of womanhood became more defined. Almost fifty new women’s magazines appeared from 1880 to 1900, and much like etiquette guides (for which a strong market had emerged), they instructed women in how to dress and act.3 These new magazines created and distributed an ideal of womanhood, implying that women could only achieve this standard through following the advice written in magazines a mind-set that many would argue has continued to this day. Advancing the pursuit of this feminine ideal from an aesthetic angle, fashion illustrations became popular at this time, with most women’s magazines featuring at least one plate, and the more expensive fashion-focused magazines sometimes including up to six colored plates. These pictures provided more information than just what to wear, demonstrating appropriate hairstyles and accessories while exemplifying an ideal of female beauty.
At the end of the nineteenth century, actresses such as the divine Sarah Bernhardt began to rise up the social ladder, which helped to alter societal views on makeup. The fascination with, and acceptance of, performers was fundamental in the rise of the makeup industry.
One of the first British fashion magazines, La Belle Assemblee, was published in 1806. It contained colored plates of Regency fashion styles, and though it never discussed cosmetics, its illustrations depict women who are quite obviously rouged and lipsticked, with flushed cheeks and small, dark rosebud lips. Similarly, one of the first European magazines, the French Les Modes, founded in 1901, featured images of society women wearing various designers, ofen with conspicuous makeup. In several 1901 issues of Les Modes, the featured models and upper-class women display makeup that coordinates with the color of their clothes. For example, the image on the previous page shows a woman in a brown dress wearing a brownish-orange shade blush and brown lipstick. The color would have been hand painted onto the image, but the similarity of the shades used (in comparison to the consistently pink-rouged cheeks shown in La Belle Assemblee) strongly suggests that fashion and makeup were really beginning to merge. Images in magazines are all about picking up ideas, and a plate like this would have prompted a woman to think about matching her makeup with her outfit a new concept at the time. Although advertisements for beautifying services or products, such as hairdressers or perfume, are included in Les Modes, cosmetics were still very much underground, and so there are no articles or ads explicitly promoting makeup.
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