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 Assembl e 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 magazinesa 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.
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