Monday, September 27, 2010

Avoiding the Sun with Lola Montez in 1858

Monday, September 27, 2010
Susan reporting:

Beauty advice from the past is often amusing to modern readers. The various concoctions that ladies in earlier eras used to "improve" the complexions range from charmingly benign (dew collected before dawn from the petals of roses) to unpleasantly bizarre (puppy urine) to appallingly lethal (white lead.) But every so often, there's advice that seems as if it could appear in any current fashion magazine for 21st c. beauties.

This excerpt comes from The Arts of Beauty; or Secrets of a Lady's Toilet, written in 1858 by the legendary actress, dancer, and courtesan Lola Montez (1820-1861). Lola's life is so colorful that she deserves to become an Intrepid Lady; what better way to describe an Irish girl born as Eliza Gilbert who creatively transformed herself into the exotic Lola Montez, Spanish dancer, lover of composer Franz Listz, and mistress to Prince Ludwig I of Bavaria (he made her Countess of Landesfeld), and whose journeys took her from the royal courts of Europe to Gold Rush San Francisco, and ever to the equally untamed wilds of Australia?

Today, however, we're offering only Lola's advice on "Habits that Destroy the Complexion." Substitute sun block for every mention of a bonnet and veil, and her cautions would please even the strictest modern dermatologist.

"There are many disorders of the skin which are induced by culpable ignorance, and which owe their origin entirely to circumstances connected with fashion or habit. The frequent and sudden changes in this country [she was writing in New York City] from heat to cold, by abruptly exciting or repressing the secretions of the skin, roughen its texture, injure its hue, and often deform it with unseemly eruptions....The habit ladies have of going into the open air without a bonnet, and often without a veil, is a ruinous one for the skin. Indeed, the present fashion of the ladies' bonnets, which only cover a few inches of the back of the head, is a great tax upon the beauty of the complexion. In this climate, especially, the head and face need protection from the atmosphere. Not only a woman's beauty, but her health requires that she should never step in the open air without a sufficient covering to her head. And, if she regards the beauty of her complexion, she must never go out into the hot sun without her veil...If she will not attend to these rules, she will be fortunate, saying nothing about her beauty, if her life does not pay the penalty of her thoughtlessness."

Above: Lola Montez, by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1847


KuriosityKat said...

Guess Lola wasn't a fan of the Snookie-look.

Anonymous said...

The article above, about the history of furniture, should interest readers of this blog.

Susan Holloway Scott said...

KuriosityKat, no, I doubt Lola would have had much use for Ms. Snookie - though there is a certain similarity in the drama-queen antics. *g*

Anonymous, thank you for this link! I've added this book to my ever-growing wish list.

Jane O said...

If Lola were writing today, I expect she would be one of those warning people that they should never go out in the sun without protective clothing and slatherings of sunscreen lest they die of skin cancer.

Deb said...

In GONE WITH THE WIND (the novel, not the book), Mammy warns Scarlett not to go out in the sun without a bonnet and shawl because she (Mammy) spent all winter putting buttermilk on the freckles Scarlett got sitting on the beach in Savannah.

Deb said...

That should be: GONE WITH THE WIND (the novel, not the film).

Trudy said...

Pale skin was the fashionable ideal for ladies through history, and it wasn't until the 1920's that tanning became stylish. What's interesting about this passage is that Lola Montez considers too much sun as not only a hazard to her beauty, but to her overall health. Wise lady!

The Dreamstress said...

My goodness! What a scare-monger! Sun protection is good, but being realistic is better too!

Catherine Delors said...

Lola was one smart lady, among many other things.
Thanks, Susan, for bringing up her advice, at a time when rates of skin cancer are going through the roof in the US (including among the supposedly "low risk" groups such as African Americans.)

Susan Holloway Scott said...

As someone who can burn in 30 minutes of sun, I have to admit I'm in Lola's camp. I've always avoided the sun because, plain and simple, it hurt, and made me look like a beet. Now when I see the damage (not to mention skin cancer) that long-ago teenaged sun-worshipping has caused to many of my friends, I realize how lucky I was not to be able to achieve the "bronzed goddess" look. *g*

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