Eighteenth-Century Body Decorations

Many of the body decorations and accessories of the seventeenth century continued into the eighteenth century. Women and some men made their faces pale with white makeup made from lead powder, a corrosive substance that led to health problems for many and death for some. Red cheeks were also quite fashionable. Wealthy people used rouge made of crushed red beetles, called cochineals, on their cheeks. Others dabbed berry juice on their cheeks. In addition, women and some men continued to paste fabric patches on their faces to cover their smallpox scars. Masks also continued to be worn throughout the century. Fancy masks were worn to conceal the identity of the wearer at parties or at the theater; green silk masks protected women's skin from the burning rays of the sun during the summer; and black masks kept women's faces warm in the winter.

The pocket watch was a valued accessory for men in the eighteenth century. It was attached to a fob, or a decorative string or chain that led from a clip on the waistband to a watch pocket. Reproduced by permission of © .

One trend in hairstyling changed women's faces in midcentury. The fashion for gray powdered hair created a desire for gray eyebrows. Women shaved their own eyebrows and replaced them with false eyebrows made of gray mouse hair. When women began wearing shorter hairstyles at the end of the century, they grew their own eyebrows back. Men also carefully groomed their eyebrows, and some carried small eyebrow combs made specifically for that purpose.

For most of the eighteenth century, fashion dictated that women and men carry several accessories. To be fashionable, women carried things from handkerchiefs, handbags called reticules, gloves, fans, parasols, and hand-warming muffs, to pocket watches. Men carried their own accessories, from canes, leather gloves, and pocket watches, to snuff boxes. The most elaborate use of accessories was adopted by the Incroyables (the Unbelievables) and the Merveilleuses (the Marvelous Ones), the fashionable young people of the century, particularly from France.

At the end of the century, political changes, especially the French Revolution (1789–99), created new fashion trends. At the time of the revolution, many donated or hid their glittering jewelry and began wearing plainer styles. Neck ribbons were especially popular. Both French citizens and aristocrats wore neck ribbons either in celebration or in mourning for the beheaded victims of the guillotine.

Few people bathed during the eighteenth century because most people believed the oils on their bodies protected them from diseases. The stench of unclean bodies was covered with strong-smelling perfume and nosegays, or small bouquets. Not every part of the body was unscrubbed, however. Both men and women vigorously cleaned their teeth in hopes of obtaining a perfectly white smile. Unfortunately, many used harsh chemicals, including gunpowder, acid, and rough pieces of coral, which ate away their teeth's protective enamel coating. These harsh substances caused many people's teeth to rot and fall out. Fake teeth made of ivory and porcelain became necessary.

Missing teeth caused many people's cheeks to look hollow. To give themselves a healthy full-looking face, many people stuffed plumpers, or cork balls, between their gums and cheeks. Plumpers caused people to speak in a funny way, but so many people used them that the funny way of speaking became fashionable, too.


Bigelow, Marybelle S. Fashion in History: Apparel in the Western World. Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing, 1970.

Kalman, Bobbie. Eighteenth Century Clothing. New York: Crabtree Publishing, 1993.

Laver, James. Costume and Fashion: A Concise History. 4th ed. London, England: Thames and Hudson, 2002.

Double Watch Fobs
Paste Jewelry
Snuff Boxes
Walking Sticks

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