Tuesday, 19 February 2013

The Ideal Beauty

Even in Tudor and Elizabethan times there was a strict perception of how the "ideal" beauty was - a concept that sadly has not changed. The crusades had introduced new sorts of make-up and new ingredients that made it possible to vary the styles more than before.

The ideal woman of a Tudor/Elizabethan woman had:
Porcelain-white skin and red lips was a must. The hair was blond or fair and the eyes were blue, green or grey. Rouge was not a an absolute must for the ideal beauty but it was something that showed status. When Anne Boleyn first caught the eye of the King, she was not considered to be beautiful because she did not have these features. Instead she had dark, brown hair and almost black eyes which was enough to keep her from gaining the praise of being a beauty.
This ideal - and the make-up that came with it - was a status symbol. Only the rich could afford to buy the complicated make-up of the day and it was a privilege.

A natural look
It was not until the Elizabethan age that the heavy make-up became a must in fashion. In the earlier Tudor-reigns it was preferred to focus on creams that would soften the skin; containing honey, beeswax and sesame seed oil - a clear example of the influence from the Middle East.
Perfumes became popular - another import - and it was usually made from roses, water-lilies and violets. Ochre was used to slightly redden the lips and cheeks.

Elizabeth I wearing ceruse
Especially the pale white skin was essential to women of the day - Elizabeth I is almost completely white in most of her portraits. To achieve this unnatural whiteness, women used ceruse. Ceruse was a mixture of white lead and vinegar which was applied to the skin for its whitening effect. But ceruse was - due to the lead - highly toxic and many women died rather young from lead-poisoning since the ceruse was added often and rarely washed off.
The pale skin was so desired by fashionable women that they were willing to be bled to achieve the perfect paleness that was demanded. It could also be used to hide wrinkles or scars from small-pox which was very common.

Fashion of hair
The main hairstyle that did not change was the high hairline. As I mentioned in an earlier post, women often plucked their hairs to drive their hairline back into a fashionable position. An arched brow was also a must, so women would also pluck their eye-brows - much like today actually.

Hair-colouring and wigs 
Women dyed their hair even in the Tudor era but used materials that would shock most women of today. Since the ideal dictated that a woman should have fair hair (blonde or red), many women aimed at these colour. To achieve the blonde hair it was common to use urine or a mixture of cumin seed, saffron, celandine and oil - all expensive ingredients that made it impossible for anyone else but the nobility to afford it. For those women who wanted to dye their hair red - specially popular during the red-headed Elizabeth I - it was common to use henna which could also dye the nails.

Wigs were a popular alternative to the time-demanding colouring processes. Also, it was popular with those who could not dye their hair to a fair colour but still wanted to be fashionable. Elizabeth I was very fond of wigs and had no less than 80 wigs at the time of her death - despite the fact that she did not need to wear a wig since her natural red hair-colour was already ideal.

Eyes and Lips
Kohl was another thing that could be found in any wealthy and fashionable woman's toilette. It had the purpose of a modern mascara and was applied to the eye-lashes to darken them. The red lips was given their colour through the use of mercuric sulfide because it contains the desirable vermilion colour - it was also used on the cheeks.


  1. Lovely post thank you. I think it's really amazing how similar it still is in all honesty!!

  2. I always wondered why Tudor faces seemed so small, but now I suppose it's from the higher hairlines

  3. hello ^^

  4. This is truly fascinating.. especially just how deadly the chemicals they used are! What a price for beauty, what a fear of water!😂

  5. tysm this helped with my history project

  6. helped me with my history project tysm:)