Your rat-pelt eyebrows look lovely, my dear.
Here’s an interesting scoop of trivial information for you.
Did you know that in Elizabethan through Georgian times, women unknowingly poisoned themselves for years by applying a beauty product to their faces called ceruse – a mixture of white lead and vinegar? This toxic substance made the face elegantly pale and perfect-looking, while concealing pock marks and acid pitting beneath. (Think Queen Elizabeth I’s white face and eventual blood poisoning.) In addition to making the lady ill, frequently mortally so, it usually had the unfortunate side of effect of causing her to lose her eyebrows. In order to solve the eyebrow problem, ladies would skin rats and glue scraps of fresh rat pelt as artificial eyebrows – the thicker the better, because thick eyebrows connoted youth. This solved the problem of what to do with all the rats they would catch in their traps overnight.
I learned this piece of fascinating information from Sarah Downing’s fascinating book Beauty and Cosmetics 1550-1950.
On little things, as sages write,
Depends our human joy or sorrow,
If we don’t catch a mouse tonight,
Alas! No eyebrows for tomorrow. (Matthew Prior, 1718)
Why am I blogging about this today? Well, it’s Valentine’s Day: a day when countless men and women do what they can to enhance their own natural comeliness – whether by dressing provocatively, applying makeup, getting a new hairdo, or spritzing on a little too much perfume or Axe body spray.
And apparently, it’s fashion week in NYC. For those of us who frankly cannot understand haute couture, much of what can be seen there is about as weird, possibly weirder, as Elizabethan rat eyebrows.
Posted on February 14, 2013, in Humor, Reading, Writing and tagged beauty, ceruse, complexion, cosmetics, elizabeth I, Elizabethan times, eyebrows, fashion, fashion week, Georgian England, Georgian era, haute couture, history, history of cosmetics, history of makeup, makeup, mice, New York City, perfection, poison, Queen Elizabeth I, rats, toxins, youth. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.