February 28, 2024 | Em Groleau

Bizarre Facts About Strange Historical Beauty Practices


"There is no exquisite beauty…without some strangeness in the proportion". —Edgar Allan Poe

They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and nothing seems truer when looking back at the lengths we have gone to in the name of fashion.


1. A Hairy Obsession

The pre-Revolution French court was famous for its extravagance. In addition to opulent garments, aristocrats also dabbled in some gravity-defying hairdos. Reported to go as high as 1 1/2 times the height of a person’s face, pyramidic wigs adorned women’s heads, and were decorated full of cushions, pins, and feathers.

Historical Beauty Practices

2. Oxygen Is Overrated

Although the hourglass figure has always held a special appeal across Western cultures, the Victorians took their obsession to a whole new level in their use of corsets. These waist-cinching devices, while successful in achieving a "wasp waist," had some major health repercussions. Besides causing fainting spells, which the era’s ladies unsurprisingly became famous for, the restriction on women’s lungs likely worsened potentially deadly ailments like pneumonia and tuberculosis.

Copy of Copy of Untitled Design

3. Between A Rock and A Hard Place

The early 1900s' “hobble skirt” bound a women’s legs together, resulting in slow, mincing steps and a flute-like silhouette. The fashion is aptly named considering that “hobbling” is also the term used for restraining farm animals by the same method. In lighter news, designer Paul Poiret meant for the hobble skirt to be an alternative to the corset, so women only had to choose between breathing or walking.

Strange Historical Beauty Practices factsGetty Images

4. Isn’t She Sweet?

Although dental hygiene was not necessarily at its peak in Tudor England, Elizabeth I’s alleged fondness for sweets may have given her pearly whites an even darker tone. Since sugar was considered a luxury, some women then blackened their teeth both to emulate their queen and show off their wealth.

Strange Historical Beauty Practices factsElizabeth: The Golden Age, Universal Pictures

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5. Desperate Measures

It turns out that men had their own version of the padded bra in the 15th and 16th centuries: the codpiece. Made to puff up a man’s member beyond natural proportions, paintings from the times affirm that these were made to be displayed.

Strange Historical Beauty Practices factsShutterstock

6. The Band-Aid Solution

Back in the late 16th century, wealthy males became troubled by an outbreak of balding heads—and other foul-smelling symptoms of syphilis.In a clever move to address two problems with one solution, elaborate powdered and scented wigs became increasingly popular in an effort to cover hair loss as well as to mask the unpleasant odors associated with the illness.

Strange Historical Beauty Practices factsWikimedia Commons, Wolfgang Sauber

7. These Boots Weren’t Made for Walking

In the name of cleanliness, Venice’s wealthy women found a unique way to keep feet and dress hems clean during the Renaissance era: Chopines were invented as a tall platform to help women rise well above the filth when walking the streets. However, fashion turned the height of chopines into a status symbol, resulting in platform measurements of up to 20 inches. Chopine wearers eventually required attendants on hand to help keep their balance.

Strange Historical Beauty Practices factsWikipedia

8. Real Women Have Lacers

The Roaring 20s marked a departure from the extreme hourglass figure of previous times. Boyish figures were in, and with the trend came the Symington Side Lacer. Unlike the corset’s emphasis on pushing up the bosom, the side lacer’s goal was to flatten out the chest for a sleeker silhouette. But, um, it's still pretty much a corset, right?

Strange Historical Beauty Practices factsShutterstock

9. Nice to Mole You

No one can argue with the attractiveness of a well-placed mole. However, these beauty marks even came in a stick-on format during the 1700s. Imaginative trendsetters at the time wore moles in every shape imaginable, from stars to horse carriage scenes. Cindy Crawford would be proud.

Strange Historical Beauty Practices factsPixabay

10. Trimming Terror

Contrary to the modern trend towards lashes with extreme volume and curl, the 1800s employed a more minimalist approach. Armed with castor oil for shiny eyelids in lieu of mascara, women trimmed down their lash lines. Maybe she's born with it, maybe she cut them all off for fashion.

Strange Historical Beauty Practices factsPexels

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11. So Vein

It’s no secret that paleness was a sign of high class for much of European history, but one related trend had women drawing over their skin with blue pencil to emphasize their veins and thus their pale skin (you know, just to get that newly-turned-vampire look).

Strange Historical Beauty Practices factsShutterstock

12. Crossing the Line

England wins points for absolute commitment to an ideal: In the effort to accentuate facial length and draw attention to some serious forehead game, trendy women in the Middle Ages removed annoying distractors—such as eyebrow hair. If the forehead still wasn’t prominent enough, hairlines were fair game for plucking as well.

Strange Historical Beauty Practices factsElizabeth: The Golden Age, Universal Pictures

13. It’s All in the Fine Print

Move over, Jenny Craig! Meet the tapeworm diet. Women in the 1800s were encouraged to ingest tapeworms in their effort to be slim. While the promise of weight loss wasn’t necessarily a sham, the side effects of meningitis and epilepsy may have made the benefits a little difficult to enjoy.

Strange Historical Beauty Practices factsShutterstock

14. Vegan Secrets

Blush didn’t always have the best reputation. However, ambitious DIY-ers wouldn’t have to look far beyond their neighborhood market for a subtle healthy glow. An early form of blush came from red beet juice or carmine. Points for creativity, but the jury is out on vegetable-scented cheeks.

Strange Historical Beauty Practices factsShutterstock

15. An Ironic Twist

In the 18th century, white face powders were the thing. The unnatural, chalky complexion these powders produced may seem bizarre enough, but modern science cringes over a poisonous main ingredient used: lead. Ironically, lead-based makeup could cause unsightly skin, which could have resulted in a heavier use of the same deadly powder.

Strange Historical Beauty Practices factsPixabay

16. The Real Deal

It turns out that the use of lead-based makeup also caused hair loss, leading to many barren brows. Rather than drawing on fake hairs like today’s methods, some women resorted to pasting on fake eyebrows made of real mice pelts. Sorry, was that too polite? They glued mice skin to their faces.

Strange Historical Beauty Practices factsPixabay

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17. Painting the Town

During WWII, there was a nylon shortage, and the market was soon flooded with paint-on leg coloring products designed to mimic the look of tan nylon on women's legs. Even LIFE magazine applauded the paint solution for its ability to trick “the most scrutinizing masculine eyes".

Close up of american Time Life vintage magazines lettering logoRalf Liebhold, Shutterstock

18. Muscle Madness

During the codpiece era (#neverforget), men also enjoyed the display of a strong, masculine calf. King Henry VIII was renowned for his tights-busting lower legs, and it became trendy to pad calves for some serious curvature.

Bess of Hardwick FactsWikimedia Commons

19. Better Together

The Greeks embraced a truly low maintenance beauty look: the unibrow. Yes, that’s right—no need for tweezers back in the ancient days. This singular stretch of hair was so desirable—it denoted intelligence—that separated brows were even joined using kohl or dark pastes.

Strange Historical Beauty Practices factsShutterstock

20. A Burning Desire

Before the age of marketed hair removal options, women seeking smooth legs had to go to drastic measures. Through the burning (and not-so-safe) properties of arsenic and quicklime combined, DIY concoctions made their way into the painful toilettes of Elizabethan women.

Strange Historical Beauty Practices factsShutterstock

21. What’s In A Name?

Some women of Renaissance Italy found a dangerous method to achieve (apparently attractive) enlarged pupils. Although squeezing drops of Belladonna (“Beautiful Woman”) caused their eyes to dilate, extended use eventually lead to blindness—after all, Belladonna is poisonous.

Strange Historical Beauty Practices factsShutterstock

22. The Lesser of Evils

One ancient (actually popular with both the Ancient Egyptians and the more modern Elizabethans) seductive trend involved crushing up insects, such as beetles, and using their insides as a red lip paste. While this may not sound appetizing, the all-natural method does seem to hold some appeal against other poisonous home remedies.

Strange Historical Beauty Practices factsPixabay

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23. When SPF Isn’t Enough

Freckles have had a rough time gaining acceptance throughout history. In the 1930s, however, some women took their desire for clear skin to the next level. Using nitrogen, freckles were targeted and literally frozen off the face in the fight against biology.

Strange Historical Beauty Practices factsPexels

24. The All-Purpose Cleaner

In the not so distant past, Lysol, the household cleaning product, was also marketed to women as an intimate hygienic solution. If you didn’t think it was possible to simultaneously clean your bathroom and self-cleanse, then you must not be using Lysol. Alleged side benefit: the allure-enhancing effects could also reignite the spark in a stale marital relationship.

Strange Historical Beauty Practices factsFlickr, Mike Mozart

 

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15


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