Sunday, March 23, 2014

Beauty Marks, Patches & Their Boxes

Beauty marks were particularly highly regarded during the eighteenth century and creating false ones became common, often in fanciful shapes such as hearts, crescent moons or stars, but at certain times women also wore patches in the shapes of birds, flowers--even horse-drawn carriages.

The horse drawn carriage patch was a special favorite. The author of England’s Vanity (1653) mentions that "Methinks the mourning coach and horses all in black, and plying on their foreheads, stands ready harnessed to whirl them to Acheron, though I pity poor Charon for the darkness of the night, since the moon on the cheek is all in eclipse, and the poor stars on the temples are clouded in sables, and no comfort left him but the lozenges on the chin, which, if he please, he may pick off for his cold."


Initially, they served two purposes: to highlight a well-shaped mouth or eye or to cover a blemish. The dandies and fops would also wear the patches. Later on, placement of patches became significant and could signify ones's political alliance, marital status or sexual availability.


'To draw an arrant fop from top to toe,

Whose very looks at first clash shew him so;

Give him a mean, proud garb, a dapper grace,

A pert dull grin, a black patch cross his face.'


Patches were worn for political significance too, and the Spectator reports that 'politically minded dames used their patches as party symbols: the Whigs patching on the right, and the Tories on the left side of their faces, while those who were neutral, decorated both cheeks."


Patches could be purchased as silk, taffeta, leather or velvet patches known as "mouches" (flies) other patches were made up of moleskin, hence our word mole to describe a beauty mark. Men and women both used patches. They were first worn in the 1600's to cover small-pox scars or other blemishes. Temporarily glued onto the face, neck, shoulders and breasts, they were adored by the court and satirized by their critics.


In Bulwer's Artificial Changeling from 1653, the author complains: " Our ladies have lately entertained a vain custom of spotting their faces, out of an affectation of a mole, to set off their beauty, such as Venus had; and it is well if one black patch will serve to make their faces remarkable, for some fill their visages full of them, varied into all manner of shapes."


Her patches are of every cut
For pimples or for scars
Here’s all the wandering planet’s signs
And some of the fixed stars
Already gummed to make them stick
They need no other sky.

-Anonymous, 18th century.



These beauty patches would be contained in what is known as a "boite-ii-rouge-et-a-mouches" a French term for a patch box. Despite their size, patch boxes would sit upon the vanity or dressing table rather than carried to say the opera or a ball, unless traveling. Patch boxes were often given as gifts and special love tokens. There are so many styles of patch boxes it is nearly impossible to describe all of the designs. Boxes were made up of glass, pewter, silver, gold, wood.

My favorites are the ones made up of enameled copper. Germany, France and Britain all made similar looking patch boxes. The English boxes generally had a small tin mirror affixed inside the lid, these are known as Staffordshire enamels and were also used as snuff boxes. I have owned two different Staffordshire enamel boxes, both dated to the late 1700s.


Today you can still find the exquisite antique boxes thru auctions or individual websites. For those who are looking for a contemporary alternative, Staffordshire enameled boxes are made by Crummels and Halcyon Days.




The mouches were considered to be the height of fashion. Mouches were worn to prevent toothaches and headaches but they had become stylish for their optical effect, to make the skin appear whiter. The French and English were main wearer's of the beauty marks, but Russian court wore them and called them mushka after the French mouche. People wore as little as one to three patches at a time, and there are others who wore as many as ten at a time. Some were placed to direct attention to dimple or smile.



Glapthorne writes in 1640:

If it be a lover's part you are to act,
take a black spot or two;
twill make your face more amorous,
and appear more gracious in your mistress's eyes.



The usage of the mouches was already known to the 17th century, and was the object of a well precise language, much like the language of fans or flowers, it is at the 18th century that they will become the symbols of the costume. Women used their beauty patches to convey a secret message. Madame Du Barry, a courtesan of Louis XV, apparently defined the meaning of the placement as so:


They carried all of the names:
  • Close to the eye, she names herself provocative or fascinated.
  • On the corner of the eye, passionate.
  • On the corner mouth, this is the lover and kissable.
  • Above the lip, she is flirty.
  • Under the lip, she becomes mischievous or flirty.
  • On the nose, sassy, impudent or strapping.
  • On the forehead, the majestic or haughty
  • In the middle of the forehead, dignity
  • On the cheek, this is the gallant or flirty one.
  • On a wrinkle or laugh line, she is cheerful and playful
  • On the chest, this is the generous one.
  • On a button, the receiver.
  • Or well on the chin, would not at all this be the discreet one?


By the mid 1800s, patches began to lose favor, they were no longer worn, but their boxes were still being produced. More recently, several companies revived this old fashioned beauty secret. Places like Caswell-Massey and Sephora carried them. About a dozen black silk cut outs that you lick & and apply to your skin. Little figurals included spades, stars, crescent moons, hearts, and even tiny flies, a nod to mouche. You can get beauty patches from www.seasidesisters.co.uk

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