History of skincare, part 14: the baroque era, 1600 – 1699

The kingdom of ornamentation

In many ways, the 17th century started where the 16th century ended. Taking the example of royalty like Queen Elizabeth of England and the Queen of Spain, also called Isabel, women wore elaborately constructed dresses that featured structured ruffles at the neck, fitted bodices, and wide, stiff skirts. However, the 17th century was a time of change and a time of extremes, and both clothing and cosmetics began to assume a greater role as indicators not only of social class, but also of religion and nationality. Because skincare practices were intrinsically linked to cosmetics, they varied as much as all other aspects of fashion.

Despite the growing variety of styles, the Baroque period was predominantly an age of ornamentation. Baroque artists and trendsetters took an architectural approach to everything from music to sculpture to painting to fashion. Fine details were emphasized. The music featured elaborate trills. Buildings and churches were decorated with twisted spiers, decorated domes, and exquisite carvings. Fashion tried to imitate this ornamentation with fabrics of complex patterns and structured garments. The women continued to powder their faces with thick white lead and paint their lips with vermilion.

Extremes and contradictions

The baroque era saw many extremes in skincare, fashion, and philosophy. The Puritans, a strict religious group that rejected what they considered ungodly excess, designed their own simple clothing to act as an alternative to contemporary fashion. Puritan women were expected to cover their bodies and hide their natural form. They covered their hair chastely and did not use any of the powders or dyes used by fashionable women of the time. Like her clothing, her skincare regimens were simple and practical. Since they didn’t cover their faces with dust, the water used to be enough to remove dirt, oil, and impurities from their skin.

While the Puritans may have established British styles for much of the century, other European countries were much less conservative in their approach to fashion and cosmetics. When Louis XIV ascended the French throne in 1661, he ushered in an era of excess in Western Europe. The French court was known for its elaborate banquets and even more elaborate styles. While blonde hair had been in fashion for a long time, both women and men began to crave increasingly pale hair. What started out as a light layer of hair powder soon grew thicker and finally opened the door to elaborate white wigs. Facial makeup has also become increasingly elaborate. The women began to paste black beauty marks on their faces. While originally intended to cover imperfections, they soon became works of art in their own right. Beauty marks were made in decorative shapes such as flowers, stars, moons, and ships, and many women wore multiple beauty marks at the same time. (You can read more about baroque fashion here: http://www.ehow.co.uk/info_8537616_baroque-clothing-styles.html)

Baroque invention

The Baroque period saw a number of inventions that influenced fashion, hygiene, and skin care. The printing press had been perfected during the Italian Renaissance and Baroque Europe took advantage of improved technology. Fashion magazines were distributed throughout the continent and even in America. Like today’s fashion magazines, these magazines featured pictures of the latest European styles and talked about trends in cosmetics and skincare.

Several of these trends included newly developed skincare and hygiene products. While perfumes and colognes had been popular for several decades, scented soaps were new to the market. These new scented soaps were all the rage across Europe and provided women with a new, modern way to wipe dust from their faces. At the end of the 17th century, toothbrushes were also introduced. Based on a Chinese design, these brushes gave men and women a new cleaning tool and a new way to improve their overall appearance. (You can read more about baroque soaps and toothbrushes here: http://www.localhistories.org/cosmetics.html)

While the European baroque attitude towards styling and skincare was similar to that of Elizabethan England, it was setting itself up to fail. The Enlightenment of the 18th century would take the French court to new heights of excess, but the French Revolution would destroy it, leaving many people to follow the sober and simplistic style of the Puritans.