Sunday, 16 May 2010


Rouge, it what you like, but this magic formula has been around in some form or another for thousands of years. I've always been a little afraid of it myself, convinced that I always ended up looking like Aunt Sally and never quite sure of exactly what colour was best.

Luckily for me, a recent trip to MAC in Toronto has dissolved my suspicions and made me a convert. I'm naturally very pale, and so putting a little colour into my cheeks is no bad thing at all. The key for me was to make it look as natural as possible (see above Aunt Sally related fears), and after being helped out at MAC by a brilliant make-up artist, I came away with three differing shades that are neither bright pink or red. They hover between a darker version of my own skin tone and peachy-pinks. I even have one with a slight glitter to it.

Eighteenth century ladies were no strangers to the application of a little (or a lot). With towering powdered poufs came white skin and furiously applied circles of rouge.

To a modern eye, this kind of complexion is sickly and feverish looking, but costume historian Aileen Ribeiro argues that this over-the-top use of make-up was simply a reaction to the every increasing artifice of womens' hairstyles.

As with clothing, fashion in make-up also changes. Boundaries are pushed until what at first seemed ridiculous becomes normal and accepted, and then a backlash will begin and it changes again. Blush is no exception to this rule.

As the eighteenth century drew to a close, heightened simplicity in dress also gave way to a simpler use of face powder and rouge. Softly glowing cheeks belied a modest and tender disposition, and fitted in with the fashion for sentimental jewellery and romanticised dress.

While moralists raged about the use of cosmetics, the preoccupation with beauty and looks, and the fact that prositutes and courtesans used rouge as a way of accentuating their sexuality, ordinary women were using it to great effect in their everyday routine. It would be simplistic to argue that it was only "fast women" who understood it's power. Along with darkened eyelashes and red lips, blush is one of the oldest beauty tricks in the book...and now I'm a convert, too!

Image I- Madame de Pompadour At Her Dressing Table, by Francois Boucher (1758).

Image II- Lady Elizabeth Laura in The Ladies Waldegrave (Detail) by Joshua Reynolds (1780-81).

Image III- Isabella McLeod, by Henry Raeburn (1798).

Reference- A. Ribeiro, Dress & Morality, (Berg, London, 2003), p 107.


  1. Blush can be very useful and I use it but I think you have to be very careful with it, it's so easy to overdose on it!

    But I'm sure you can trust your MAC blush, they make wonderful cosmetics!

  2. You're right, it is so easy to overdo it in the wrong light! But, I'm pleased to report that the MAC blushes are proving to be excellent!

    Nice to hear from you, Polly :)