Like other civilisations before them, the Victorians saw pale skin as a symbol of feminine beauty, and encouraged women to neglect makeup and refrain from covering their natural skin tone. Cosmetic merchants quickly adapted to this by creating products that deliberately enhanced pale skin, such as those containing Zinc Oxide, a much safer concoction than light-skin formulas of the past that often contained lead. Cosmetics also remained prominent in British society through women’s choosing to paint fine blue lines on their skin to make it appear luminous enough for the veins underneath to be seen, as this was also considered a sign or great beauty.
But that’s not all. In the desire to achieve a pale and almost unwell looking appearance, women would accentuate the dark rings around their eyes by smearing red rogue onto their cheeks and lips. Other ways of subtly using cosmetics for a natural look were to use the aristocracy approved practice of eye painting, which acted as an early form of eyeshadow and considered respectable when used in small amounts. Red and black were the main colours of choice, but they had to be applied carefully because if used in excess these colours were associated with ‘fallen women’.
One way for women to continue using the cosmetics they were denied was to make products themselves from household ingredients. Although these concoctions certainly weren’t Philip Kingsley quality, these makeshift cosmetics included methods similar to modern cosmetic production, including applying castor oil to eyelids and beeswax to lips for a glossy look. Crushed flower petals, especially roses, were also rubbed onto lips to give the impression of being redder and fuller.
In order to use makeup successfully without discrimination, women hid their collection of cosmetics in ‘toilet chests’, which today we refer to as ‘cosmetic cases’ and ‘makeup boxes’. These chests were practical because they could easily be hidden in unassuming places around the home, and were able to be discreetly concealed when travelling. These chests often included secret compartments where the more vilified of cosmetics could be hidden, like homemade blushers. Another way for women to hide their use of imported foreign cosmetics was to empty the contents of the original bottle into a non-descript container which they could then pass off as a perfectly acceptable product like medicinal cream.