Patching Things Up
When you think of beauty marks, Marie Antoinette and ruffled gowns probably spring to mind, but dots or patches were in use long before this. There is evidence that Roman women applied what was referred to as splenia to their faces to cover up blemishes. It’s at the end of the sixteenth century, however, that they really took off. Along with the usual whitening pastes and potions that served to conceal uneven pigmentation, scars, and pockmarks, those who could afford to purchased small black patches (mouches) made from silk, velvet, satin, and taffeta to hide imperfections or to highlight their porcelain-pale skin. It’s no coincidence that patches became popular at this time: The ravages of smallpox meant that many people were left, with scarring or pustules, and in the absence of Photoshop, sticking on a patch was the next best thing. Patches were cut into a variety of shapes, including hearts and circles, which were applied to the skin to conceal flaws. When worn in particular positions, they signified different things: If one wore a patch on the right cheek, this showed that you were married, while a decorated left cheek signified that you were engaged. A patch worn by the mouth meant that one was up for grabs, whereas an embellishment at the corner of the eye declared that one was a mistress. In eighteenth-century England, patches took on a political meaning, with supporters of Whigs and Tories wearing patches on opposite sides of the face.
In 1719, Henri Misson, a Frenchman who wrote about his travels in England in the seventeenth century, commented on English women:
The Use of Patches is not unknown to the French ladies; but she that wears them must be young and handsome. In England, young, old, handsome, ugly, all are bepatch ‘d. .
I have often countedfifteen Patches, or more, upon the swarthy wrinkledface of an old Hag threescore and ten, and upwards.
It’s not just the tools used to apply the kohl that were remarkably advanced. Recent studies of ancient samples have shown that the Egyptians were incredibly knowledgeable cosmetologists who used two distinct types of kohl and eye paint. The first, udju, was made from green malachite originating from Sinai, an area that was considered to be the spiritual dominion of Hathor, the ancient goddess of beauty, joy, love, and women, who was also known as the Lady of Malachite. Mesdemet, the second, was a dark gray lead ore made from either stibnite (antimony sulfide) or, more typically, toxic galena (lead sulfide) from the Aswan region on the Red Sea coast.
“There is a black which is old and a black which is fresh.