Friday, May 21, 2010

ramble: patches, or the history of the beauty mark uncovered

Her patches are of every cut,
For pimples and for scars;
Here’s all the wandering planets’ signs,
And some of the fixed stars.
Already gummed to make them stick,

They need no other sky.
-- Anonymous [via link]

In eighteenth-century Europe, beauty spots or marks were much in fashion. Marks both real (moles) and false (patches) had started to come en vogue in sixteenth-century England, first a fad among the trendy and foppish male courtiers. (Patches may initially have been used to disguise pockmarks left by disease.) Both genders began to patch themselves with fervor in the seventeenth century, and in the eighteenth, delicate facial marks were all the rage or--ahem--as we might say, widespread.

As few folk are graced with perfectly placed, aesthetically-pleasing moles (heaven forbid your facial mole be too prominent or, indeed, hairy), false patches were usually quite necessary. Called mouches (French for "flies"), they were made from silk, velvet, taffeta, or leather and affixed with gum. They could be of any colour and certainly did not conform in shape to a simple dot. Patches in the shape of hearts, stars, moons and yet more outrageous forms were common. A particularly elaborate--and popular!--patch design was an intricate (and no doubt sizeable) coach-and-horse!

Such extravagant facial adornments were, of course, much despised by the moralizing set, and while some infatuated souls admired their patched lovers' faces, others felt a patch (or too many patches) marred, not enhanced, beauty. In many modern films, beauty marks become a joke, a sign of neither loveliness nor dire moral corruption, but rather a marker for airheaded vanity (see: the hardly-period-appropriate-but-hilariously-awesome Prince John in Robin Hood: Men in Tights).

The popularity of beauty marks waned in the latter half of the eighteenth century and through the nineteenth, but the trend continues today, though (like so many things) it seems to be more acceptable for women than for men (Enrique Iglesias had his facial mole removed in 2003; however, take note of Prince!). Famed beauties Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, and Cindy Crawford all flaunt(ed) their pretty moles. The gorgeous and talented Dita von Teese has an artificial-but-permanent beauty mark on her left cheek. And, speaking of tattoos, the lovely Kat von D's smattering of stars on her left temple can be read as another manifestation of the urge to patch.

Then there's my own pale imitation: little girls' stick-on earrings make excellent, cheap-and-easy beauty marks. Or, when one is feeling a little bit more posh and moneyed, this darling little packet with its hearts, spades, clubs and diamonds would be absolutely perfect.

- The exquisite Norma Shearer as Marie Antoinette in the eponymous 1938 film

- The Costumer's Manifesto: 18th Century Makeup [link]
- Chambers' Book of Days (1869) [link]
- The Faces Behind the Masks: The "Toilette" in 18th Century England [link]
- Wikipedia [link]
- TVTropes [link]

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