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."
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.