The textile tokens in the Foundling collection are ghostly remnants from mothers’ gowns and petticoats. The striking and vivid array of patterns and colours demonstrate how vibrant clothing was, even amongst the poorest in eighteenth-century society. But the textiles in the collection are not the only tokens which offer insights into how eighteenth-century mothers clothed and adorned their bodies.
Accessories were fundamental to eighteenth-century clothing and were often utilised as Foundling tokens. Pockets, which were separate garments tied on in pairs underneath a woman’s petticoats, were vital repositories for a woman’s belongings. For poorer or itinerant women, they may have held all their possessions. Many mothers may have delved into their pockets to seek a token for their child. Shoes were also fastened using removable buckles of plain metal or adorned with paste gems, which were often used as tokens.
The head, however, was perhaps the most important fashionable site in the eighteenth century. Fashion plates, the engraved illustrations in early fashion magazines, often depicted a series of ‘heads’, showing the fashionable styles for that year. The importance of maintaining fashionable hair and a healthy complexion is evident in some of the tokens in the Foundling collection.
A hair pin was left in 1756 with Joseph Millet, who was renamed Humphrey Joyce. This simple bent metal rod was an essential accessory for eighteenth-century women across society. It was a requirement of both morals and cleanliness for women to wear their hair up. Arranging the hair in current styles afforded poorer women with an accessible way to stay fashionable.
There is little evidence that women wore wigs in the eighteenth century. Instead, the elaborate styles were created using pomade (made from animal fats and scented with sweet fragrances), powder (a starch base with perfumes added), supports and hair rats, and hair pins. Plucked from her hair, this crude pin may have been one of the mother’s few possessions.
A pot of rouge, a red paste used to tint the cheeks and lips, was left with another child. Rouge was a popular cosmetic in the eighteenth century. It could be made from simple ingredients like alkanet root (a plant in the borage family) and brandy. Contemporary recipe books for cosmetics, such as Toilet de Flora (1772), demonstrate the variety of homemade cosmetics options available to women. Rouge was also produced commercially and could be purchased ready-made.
Make-up was extremely contentious in eighteenth-century society. Red cheeks offset the idealised and racialised fashionable whiteness of the skin. There are also numerous deathly tales of cosmetics as poisonous. However, many of these are misogynistic myths, constructed by men who felt they were deceived by women’s painted-on beauty. Perhaps this Foundling mother associated her rouge with vanity and romance, and renounced it as she bestowed her baby to the Hospital’s care.
A Rouge for the Face: Alkanet Root strikes a beautiful red when mixed with Oils or Pomatums. A Scarlet or Rose-coloured Ribband wetted with Water or Brandy, gives the Cheeks, if rubbed with it, a beautiful bloom that can hardly be distinguished from the natural colour.
Kept about the body, these portable and wearable objects hint at the peripatetic lives of some Foundling mothers. They may have only owned that which they wore. However, they also evidence the small ways in which women from across eighteenth-century society were able to use small items to stay fashionable.