Marie Antoinette, the unfortunate Queen of France, had an army of people who helped her look her best. From dressmakers, to hairstylists and ladies-in-waiting, everyone had a part to play in the Queen’s toilet.
She hated every second of it. Don’t get me wrong. Marie Antoinette was a fashionista very much into clothes, perfumes and girly things. What she couldn’t stand was the pomp that surrounded this ceremony.
She’d rather dress in privacy than get ready in front of all the courtiers assembled in her room, all hoping to catch her attention and become her favourite.
As she told her mother in a letter, “at twelve what is called the Chamber is held, and there every one who does not belong to the common people may enter. I put on my rouge and wash my hands before all the world; the men go out, and the women remain; and then I dress myself in their presence.”
Queens had no privacy, but they had some great beauty secrets. Here are Marie Antoinette’s:
There’s only so much makeup can do for you if you don’t take proper care of your skin. Marie Antoinette knew this and, each morning, cleansed her face with Eau Cosmetique de Pigeon (yes, it was really made with pigeons!). The Toilette Of Health, Beauty, And Fashion shared the recipe, first used by Danish women, with their readers:
“Take juice of water-lilies, of melons, of cucumbers, of lemons, each one ounce; briony, wild succory, lily-flowers, borage, beans, of each a handful: eight pigeons stewed. Put the whole mixture into an alembic, adding four ounces of lump sugar, well pounded, one drachma of borax, the same quantity of camphor, the crumb of three French rolls, and a pint of white wine. When the whole has remained in digestion for seventeen or eighteen days, proceed to distillation, and you will obtain pigeon-water, which is such an improvement of the complexion.”
After cleansing her skin, she would apply Eau des Charmes, an astringent, and finally, Eau d’Ange, a whitener. To keep her hands soft, the Queen slept wearing gloves infused with sweet almond oil, rose water, and wax.
Unlike most people at Versailles she bathed frequently, but always wearing a flannel chemise to protect her modesty. Once in the bathtub, she washed herself with a scented (bergamot, amber and herbs) soap, exfoliated her skin with muslin pads filled with bran, all the while sitting on a large pad filled with pine nuts, linseed, and sweet almonds.
Once her skincare routine was complete, it was time for makeup. Eau d’Ange probably didn’t whiten her skin that much, so to make her face even paler, she used a white paint set with a dust of scented powder. Rouge on the cheeks was the next step.
Marie Antoinette’s mum, the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, wasn’t fond of rouge and warned her daughter not to use it, but as Marie Antoinette told her, everyone did it at Versailles. It would have been weird for her not to.
The young Queen also used khol around the eyes to define and enhance them. Finally, she finished off the look with a scented pomade to give her lips, eyelashes and eyebrows a glossy look.
Perfume was a necessity at Versailles. Thousands of people lived at the palace, and only a handful of them paid much attention to their personal hygiene. The whole court stank. Ewww!
To keep the Queen’s room smelling nice required a vast array of fresh flowers, pot pourri, and perfume satchels. These usually smelled of orange blossom, rose, violet, lavender, and lemon, all the scents the Queen loved.
Those aromas also featured prominently in her own perfumes. The queen loved both simple scents, like violet or orange blossom water, and more complicated concoctions featuring iris, jasmine, lily, vanilla, and musk, sometimes infused with spicy accents of cinnamon and cloves.
What do you think of Marie Antoinette’s beauty secrets? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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