Did you know that beauty patches were invented to hide a bad skin day? They first appeared in the Roman empire, where its inhabitants applied small leather patches of alum directly over blemishes to make them look like beauty marks.
But it was only in the 18th century that beauty marks reached the height of their popularity. Then, beauty marks weren’t just a clever way to hide the occasional pimple, smallpox scars, and facial disfigurements caused by the lead and mercury based concealers of the time, but also announced a political affiliation or a romantic interest.
Materials, shapes and colours
Beauty patches came in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and colours. Materials such as taffetta, leather, velvet, silk, or mouse skin (the latter was used only by the poor), were first cut out in little shapes, like circles, stars, crescents, diamonds and hearts. But as time went on, these shapes became more and more elaborate, and took the form of animals, ships and even carriages!
Beauty patches also came in several colours. The favourite was black, which starkly contrasted, and showed off, the paleness of the skin. Fair skin was then considered a symbol of nobility and a mark of beauty, so women with dark skin were rarely seen wearing patches, which did little to enhance their complexions. But coloured patches were also available and could be used to enhance the colour of the wearer’s eyes or gowns.
The meaning of beauty patches
Depending on their placement on the skin, patches had a different meaning:
Close to the eye, she names herself provocative or fascinated.
On the corner mouth, this is the lover and kissable.
Above the lip, she is flirty.
Under the lip, she becomes mischievous or flirty.
On the nose, sassy, impudent or strapping.
On the forehead, the majestic or haughty
On the cheek, this is the gallant or flirty one.
On a wrinkle or laugh line, she is cheerful and playful
On the chest, this is the generous one.
On a button, the receiver.
Or well on the chin, would not at all this be the discreet one?
Beauty patches were also a political statement. Joseph Addison, founder of The Spectator, related in his paper how, at the theatre, the women who sat in different boxes were patched differently and kept glaring at their rivals. The women who wore patches on the right side of their forehead were Tories, those who applied them on the left side Whigs, and those who used patches on both sides were neutral.
According to Addison, most of these women weren’t really interested in politics, and just showed favour to the political party supported by the men they fancied. A few, though, were staunch supporters of one party or another, and even went so far as to stipulate in their marriage contracts that they retained the right to patch whatever side of the face they preferred, regardless of the political alliance of their husbands.
When, at the end of the 18th century, a vaccine for smallpox was invented, the trend for beauty patches vanished. It would be revived in the ’50s by the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor, and are now considered a must for pin up girls like Dita Von Teese.
Have you ever used a beauty patch?
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