Sunday, November 13, 2011

"The Toilet of Flora": Making Make-up the 18th c. Way

Sunday, November 13, 2011
Susan reporting:

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 Williamsburgabove; 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.


Anonymous said...

Hmmm. The recipe could work well for a desert, but I'd recommend leaving out the soap.

I think it sounds like an excellent Thanksgiving dish.

MrsC (Maryanne) said...

Absolutely!Beats sweet potato and marshmallows! hehehe

Sarah said...

great! I just downloaded the book to read at leisure, sounds like fun to play with.
I wonder how it compares with Ovid's 'Medicamina Faciei Feminaeae’ - nothing new under the sun. Mind you most of Ovid's recipes would do better cooked as stews and eaten......lentils, barley and half a stewpot of veg being involved.

Mea said...

There is actually a lady now making period cosmetics as well, if you don't wish to sully your hands with the business- Ageless Artifice. She's got some very good stuff.

Susan Adriani said...

Loved reading this, and off to discover more. The book sounds like a wonderful bit of leisurely reading - thank you!

Nora said...

Amazing -- those ingredients provide the same alpha hydroxy acids and antioxidants we spend a fortune on today. Plus ca change, eh?

beadlizard said...

Spendid! After many years of raising chickens, I am a fan of clarified chicken fat as a base for hand cream. Wish I'd had this book when I lived on the farm.

The Lady Ship said...

Thanks, this book is pure fun! The funniest part is about the hair, on how to prevent baldness and how to get your hair to grow back. People must have been very pleased with the outcome... :D

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