"Hello, i'd like 2 have some makeup advice 4 a steampunk event: my persona is a female explorer/aeronaut real jules verne like, i have a parasol and a corset...can u help me? What would I wear?"
"try ebay i think they had travel kits with eyeshadow and stuff, nothing big, just the basics..."
"alice in wonderland is comming out, the queen of hearts has something that looks like something 2 try..."
"Um, I've actually read a bit more about the period,"I wrote "and...." The answer I gave, according to my best scholarship, was...nothing!
Zip. Nada. Zilch.
"I'm sorry to tell you this, but there's really no truthful guide out there that's going to say 'In the 1880's blue eyeshadow was popular, while in the 1890's, green was used.' No one, outside of someone on stage, would actually try to look like the Queen of Hearts, whose clothing and overall look comes from the 1500's, not the 1800's. Travel cases of the period held soap and cologne, and perhaps a bit of lip balm, not paint. As a matter of fact, colored eyeshadow didn't really get rolling till the 1930's, and before 1920, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone, other than maybe a music-hall star or a very decadent little minx, who would even wear anything you'd notice....Show your own good color, use a VERY fine line around your eyes, and just a LITTLE red on your lips if you feel naked..."
While the 18th century was known for its elaborate toilettes, and the 20th century, even more so, Victorians were firm on the "natural look". Yes, it's true, some women did almost anything (arsenic, parasols, skin bleaching) to appear paler than thou (without sunscreen), and, towards the end of the Victorian era, there was a decided pro-painting movement, the ideal of the Victorian world was clean, clear, natural skin.
Unlike modern life, Victorian social life was mostly carried out by women from their mid-thirties to about seventy. Not that there wasn't a mating dance going on beneath this, but the real game was how many points you could score once you were married. Therefore, Victorian weddings were quite small, but anniversaries lavish, fashions and jewelry for the under-30 set modest, and those for ladies "of a certain age" over-the-top. Wearing any color at all on your face, like dying your hair, was a frank admission of age, and as such, one of the most controversial issues for women around. It's interesting to note that at least initially, it was the more conservative women who weighed in on the affirmative....morbid whiteness was more a Romantic-era look, while young women, especially those of a scientific, progressive, bent, aspired to a healthy peaches and cream, with perhaps just a touch of sun. "It's deplorable, I know, but...in the field, can't help it, I'm afraid..."
"Do tell."says the Old Dowager, (who looks a lot like the Queen of Hearts), and sips her tea.
The three major kinds of cosmetics used in the 19th century were paints, skincare, and tinting.
Painting was achieved with colors very much like the stage makeup of today, and as such, were not very subtle. Mostly made with bees' wax and muttonfat, they came mostly in white, red, black and blue opaques, and if not applied properly, tended to make the wearer look much like Heath Ledger's Joker or some of Boy George's more unfortunate attempts -- etiquette books cautioned against "the mummy look". Cosmetic pigments were the same as for an oil painting: zinc, lead, lampblack, cocheneal, ultramarine, and Prussian blue and the old favorites, ochre and other colored earths. Many of these were actively poisonous, and caused everything from rashes to miscarriages for the wearer -- many actresses of the time, wary of such problems, shunned any makeup but what they'd made themselves. Eye makeup was almost unknown, other than kohl, India ink, and 'maquillage': a form of mascara made from heavy gum, that had to be warmed over a spirit lamp and left tell-tale beads on the ends of the lashes.
Skincare was paramount, especially in the dirty cities: some women smeared their faces with spermaceti mixed with lemon juice, and some, from a similar background, swore by washed and perfumed lard. Skin tonics were extremely popular, made by infusing vinegar with various herbal concoctions and diluting with spring water. (Cucumber lotion, anyone?) Everyone had their favorite facepack: egg white, with brandy, for oily skin, egg yolk, with almond paste, to moisturize. Soap firms were always warring to get the formula just right: would you like an 'antiseptic' soap (which may be drying) or a milder than May castile? Breakouts were ministered to by any number of home and proprietary remedies, some of which are still used in various forms, and as for aging, well, it was this era that developed "hope in a jar", with over-the-top advertising claiming that use of this product, and this product alone, was the true "fountain of youth"!
While painting the skin was mostly frowned upon, tinting and powdering were nigh-on universal. Schnouda was one of the most interesting discoveries of the era, and is still used today: now sold as "mood lipstick" and the like, it's a combination of chemicals that react with the urea in the skin to make a (mildly carcinogenic) reddish dye. Staining the skin with strawberry, or beet juice was not as nifty, but more generally practiced: anything that could make a vaguely reddish stain on the skin (some experts recommended a piece of red velvet for an applicator) for more than a few minutes was prized. Otherwise, it was "pinch your cheeks, bite your lips", before you went into a room. The no-paint taboo also made for a crucial innovation: Rachelle, a Jewish perfumer in Paris, invented the first skin-toned powder by varying plain talc with ochre and reddish pigments -- 'Rachelle' was for many years, a codeword in the cosmetics trade for a 'darker' skin toned cream or powder. Pearl powder, made from anything from actual ground pearls to oyster shells, to what-have-you, was also very popular, although the iridescence tended to turn some men off, on the other hand, many women made do by simply grinding and sifting rice or cornstarch.
Towards the end of the Victorian era, the Decadents and Symbolists began to champion a more sophisticated standard of beauty, pointing out that every era, save their own, resorted to some kind of artifice. Fashionable artists began to paint and draw women making up their faces, their mirrors surrounded by mysterious pots and jars and boxes of who-knows-what, and no thriller was complete without at least one vampish miss, caught transforming herself from a dowdy weed to a splendid night-blooming orchid. Truly, I sometimes wonder if our mall stores haven't lost something, with their "color stories", "cosmeceuticals" and the like when I read passages like this, from "Against the Grain"...
Here, a porcelain box contained a marvelous white cream which, when applied on the cheeks, turns to a tender rose color, under the action of the air—to such a true flesh-color that it procures the very illusion of a skin touched with blood; there, lacquer objects incrusted with mother of pearl enclosed Japanese gold and Athenian green, the color of the cantharis wing, gold and green which change to deep purple when wetted; there were jars filled with filbert paste, the serkis of the harem, emulsions of lilies, lotions of strawberry water and elders for the complexion, and tiny bottles filled with solutions of Chinese ink and rose water for the eyes. There were tweezers, scissors, rouge and powder-puffs, files and beauty patches...
I doubt whether there's anyone like that in Jules Verne, however.