Unlike our modern society in which beauty and cosmetics seem to be clearly gendered and rather reserved to women, in the eighteenth century, men did wear make-up. Indeed, the eighteenth-century Englishman was also subjected to fashion and make-up trends yet this century seemed to witness a change in the use of beauty product by men and in society’s idea of masculinity.
The early eighteenth century: The “White Look”.
Thereby, men took rather good care of themselves, in the early century some of them –called fops or beaus (West, 2001, 170)- used a large amount of beauty products such as anti-freckle night masks, tooth powder, cold cream (see fig. 1) or even perfumed mouth water (Kirstin Olsen, 1999, 106) and were often targeted in beauty advertising. Moreover, the cosmetics and beauty products they used were very often home-made. Indeed, in the eighteenth century make-up and cosmetics receipe books were quite popular, there was for instance Pierre-Joseph Buc’hoz’ s The Toilet of Flora (1772) which was very complete and comprehensible, therefore one could make his own rouge paste made of creuse or vermilion. However, these home-made products were toxic and contained lead or mercury and led to poisoning (Hunt, Fate, Dodds, 2011, 4).
Thus, in the first-half of the eighteenth century it seems that gender differenciation was not linked with the use of make-up or wigs. Yet, the 1760s macaroni phenomemon clearly challenged the idea of masculinity in England, and the use of beauty products by men started to be linked with feminization.
Macaronis: just an extravagance?
Figure 4- Philip Dawe, Pantheon Macaroni [A Real Character at the Late Masquerade], printed for John Bowles, 1773
In the 1760s the young British elite came back from their Grand Tour – a travel in Europe, mainly in Italy and France- with new and foreign stylish clothes. They dubbed themsleves the Macaronis and were characterized by their enormous wigs and their excessive use of make-up (Kirstin Olsen, 1999, 107). As we can see on figure 4 The Pantheon Macaroni is portrayed in front of his mirrored dressing table in which there are different pots of cosmetics, he is obviously powdered ans has two beauty patches. With such an “effiminate” representation of macaronis, one may wonder if they took part in the emergence of an early homosexual subculture. Yet, macaronis were not specifically linked with homosexual practices since it also existed tales of their agressive heterosexuality. Therefore they didn’t raise a sexual issue but rather a questioning on masculine identity (Rauser 2004, 107).
The macaroni phenomenon began in the aristocracy but also spread into middle-classes (Rauser 2004, 101) and even if it was an ephemeral trend (West, 1998, 170), the rejection of the macaronis may had contributed to the redifinition of masculinity in England.
Indeed, in the 1770s macaronis were widely caricatured in prints and even mocked in theaters, Robert Hitchcock wrote a comedy entitled The Macaroni (1773) in which he depicted macaronis as an unpatriotic consumerist elite with excess frivolity. In its mocking epilogue one can read that macaronis decorated their faces like the French, therefore underlining their unpatrioc spirits:
The world’s so macaronied grown of late,
That common mortals now are out of date;
No single class of men this merit claim,
Or high, or low, in faith ’tis all the same:
For see the Doctor, who with sapient wig,
Gold cane, grave phiz, ere while look’d more than big,
With France’s foretop decorates his face,
Describes and dresses with macaronied grace;
Then swears he hates of formal stuff,
For gravity in practice is a puff.
Macaronis were easily called “women”, “monkeys” and even “hermaphrodites”: they clearly threatened the stability of gender difference in England (West, 1998, 174). Thereby, for both men and women, fashion exaggeration would soon become socially unacceptable and at the end of the eighteenth century men experienced “the great masculine renunciation” (Laughran, 2007, 10). They radically changed their view on beauty and by the nineteenth century they adopted a rather different style, their clothing became much more sober and heavily make-up became unfashionable.
Thus, the use of cosmetics by men and to some extent the dogma of masculinity seemed to evolve in England throughout the eighteenth century. If in the first part of the century the “dead white” look was still fashionable among different classes – men used on daily basis make-up to powder their faces, darken their eyebrows or wore rouge on their cheeks- however the rejection of the extravagant macaronis may showed that at the end of the century English society sought a more distinct gender differentiation.
-Hunt, Fate and Dodds. “Cultural And Social Influences On The Perception Of Beauty: A Case Analysis Of The Cosmetics Industry” Journal of Business Case Studies 7, no. 1 (2011): 1-10.
– Rauser, Amelia. “Hair, Authenticity, and the Self-Made Macaroni”, Eighteenth-Century Studies 38, no. 1, (2004): 101-117.
– Shearer West. “The Darly Macaroni Prints and the Politics of “Private Man””, Eighteenth-Century Life 25, no 2, (2001): 170-182.
-Olsen, Kirstin. Daily Life in 18th Century England, London: Greenwood Press, 1999.
-Laughran, Michelle. “History of Fashion from Head to Toe: Cosmetics from Ancient Times to the Present Day” Aspects of American Culture Series, Saint Joseph’s College of Maine, November 24, 2003.
– Hitchcock, Robert. The Macaroni. A Comedy. As it is performed at the Theatre-Royal in York, York: A.Ward, 1773.