Most women today have a particular beauty product that they can't live without: a certain shade of lipstick, a perfect moisturizer, or mascara that's better than false lashes. Women in the 18th c. were no different. In those days before Revlon and Sephora, however, beauty products were more do-it-yourself. While cookbooks often had a special section for concocting various perfumes and potions, by the middle of the 18th c. there were also books devoted entirely to beauty products.
One of the most popular was The Toilet of Flora. This little book first appeared around 1772, and was reprinted in numerous editions and with various authors well into the 19th c. Included in the collection are recipes for pomatums, powders, perfumes, sweet-scented waters, essences, and "opiates for preserving and whitening the Teeth."
The author (or at least the earliest name on the title page) was a well-known French doctor named Pierre-Joseph Buc'hoz (1731-1807); the English publisher well understood that an MD and a French name would add both authority and allure to the marketing effort. Certainly the introduction makes the pursuit of beauty into almost a moral obligation for female readers: "The chief Intention of this [book] is to point out, and explain to the Fair-Sex, the Methods by which they may preserve and add to their Charms....The same Share of Grace and Attractions is not possessed by all, but while the Improvement of their Persons is the indispensable Duty of those who have been little favoured by Nature, it should not be neglected even by the few who have received the largest Proportion of her Gifts."
For anyone who wishes to make an "Improvement of their Persons" with smoother skin, here's a Paste for the Hands that sounds more like dessert than hand cream:
179. BEAT some peeled Apples, having first taken out the Cores, in a marble mortar, with Rose-water, and White Wine, of each equal parts; add thereto some Crumb of Bread, blanched Almonds, and a little White Soap, simmer the whole over a slow fire till it acquires a proper consistence.
This is the same Paste for the Hands that several ladies were recently concocting in a kitchen in Colonial Williamsburg, above; it's simmering there in the small iron pot before the fire. I don't know if open-hearth preparation is essential for success – but if you'd like to whip up some for yourself, a facsimile version of The Toilet of Flora is available as a thoroughly modern free Google book here.
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.