About the object
Makeup for everyone
Both men and women wore cosmetics in the eighteenth century. This little pot contains rouge, or what today we might call blusher. This would have been a key part of any makeup kit through much of the Georgian period. Beauty products were starting to be mass-produced and so became less expensive and available to a wider range of society.
We don’t know the chemical components of the red paste in this pot, but there’s a high chance it contains cinnabar, a scarlet form of mercury sulfide. This was a common, though toxic, ingredient in rouge in the eighteenth century.
The ideal of whiteness
To conform to dominant ideas of fashion and beauty, this rouge would have been applied over the palest possible skin. Pale skin was associated with wealth and status, and not having to work outdoors. This idealisation of whiteness in Georgian society is also connected to the development of racist ideology used to justify violence and exploitation across the British Empire.
In 1770, Parliament passed a law trying to discourage women from using beauty aids: “All women of whatsoever rank or degree . . . that shall seduce or betray into matrimony of any of His Majesty’s subjects, by the scents, paints, cosmetic washes, artificial teeth, false hair, Spanish wool, iron stays, hoop, high-heeled shoes, bolstered hip, shall incur the penalty of the law in force against witchcraft and like demeanours, and that the marriage upon conviction shall stand mute and void.”