Belle Époque make-up between prejudice and innovation

Belle Époque make-up between prejudice and innovation

It was a scandal, but then it made history. We're talking about Belle Époque make-up. Here are some interesting facts...

When we talk about the early twentieth century, the great scientific discoveries and technological inventions come to mind. But costume and fashion also underwent important changes in those years: new trends were born which were to characterise part of the make-up of the Belle Époque and which were to become established from the 1920s onwards.

The Victorian era was over and its restrictions were giving way to innovations, although there was no mention yet of the great freedoms that would come with the Roaring Twenties .

The belle époque was a period of enormous contradictions, because while high society women continued to have a modest and demure style, many young people started to experiment with new cosmetics. Finally, after the First World War, make-up as we know it today was born and make-up was for the first time used not only to correct defects, but also for personal pleasure.

But let's take a step-by-step approach and focus on the Belle Époque period. Between technological innovations and great revolutions, make-up did not initially play a central role in women's lives, but this did not stop the arrival of important innovations in cosmetics. Let's discover them together...

New make-up from the Belle Époque

The birth of foundation

In the early 20th century, women had to have smooth white skin, which was also a symbol of high social class, affluence and prestige. This was because women with dark skin worked in the fields and in the open air. The epidermis was therefore treated with bleaching creams or lotions . The only exception was the cheeks, which were treated with a lightly toned cream.

1906 saw the arrival of the ancestor of the modern foundation, an innovative flesh-coloured face powder which, being oil-based, adhered perfectly to the skin and had an even, smoothing effect. It was the first universal cosmetic as it was also used by women who were not in show business or in particular professions.

Again, in 1914, it was the turn of an ultra-thin cream wax, developed in twelve shades of colour to best suit every type of complexion.

Mascara and eyeshadow

The first mascara and eye shadows also date from this period, but they were not successful until after the Great War. Mascara was initially a mixture of ash and petroleum jelly, and later became a coloured mixture based on sodium stearate. These innovations were initially experimented with by theatre actresses or ballerinas.

Make-up in clubs and theatres

While upper class ladies continued to appear in public with a simple and unassuming appearance, in clubs and theatres actresses and dancers experimented with new cosmetic products, anticipating the trends of the 1920s onwards.

The eyebrows, which the "canonical" fashion wanted full and thick, became thinner and thinner until they were only outlined with a pencil. The eyes were highlighted with black mascara and coloured eyeshadows, powders based on henna extracts that were very popular with theatre and film actresses.

Finally, the lips were coloured with lipsticks, or rather with their 'ancestors'. These were lip colours (mainly red) sold in small tubs or in sticks wrapped in paper. It was only in time that the stylo lipstick (contained in a metal tube) was patented in 1917.

So, if it was normal to meet noblewomen and bourgeoisie in the streets of Paris with simple looks, in the evening in the theatres women were transformed and sported innovative make-up, in many ways unseemly! A blush to give colour, bright eyeshadow, mascara to lengthen the lashes and even red lipstick: all this was the make-up of Parisian nights, between can-can and absinthe. A scandalous make-up that made history!

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