05 November 2007

Standards of Beauty:
Elizabethan Ideal Beauty

By Marianne LaCroix

The definition of the "ideal" beauty changes over time. These days, fashion magazines portray beautiful women with luscious tans and long flowing hair as the ideal beauty to many modern women. As such, women do their best to imitate this ideal with tanning beds, cosmetics and hair extensions. The imitation is not much different now than it was in Elizabethan times.

The Elizabethan ideal beauty was one with alabaster white skin, red lips and cheeks, bright eyes and fair hair. Pale skin was extremely important to the definition of the courtly beauty of the time. It was s sign of nobility, wealth and delicacy. Ceruse, an ointment of white lead and vinegar, was applied to the face and neck to help achieve this look. Only the very wealthy could afford ceruse, and the lead was very unhealthy and did cause numerous skin problems. Some advised against its use, opting for other products made from egg white, talc, alum and tin ash. In a time of small pox, the use of this type of concealing face paste hid many imperfections. For the lips and cheeks, mercuric sulfide was favored for its vermilion color.

High hairline, perfectly arched brows and bright eyes were also standards of Elizabethan beauty. Many plucked their eyebrows and their hairline back at least an inch to give that aristocratic look of the fashionable high forehead. Kohl was used to outline eyes, and sometimes, women used belladonna to brighten their eyes.

Women strove to achieve fair hair by dying their hair. One substance (by today's standards, completely disgusting) used was urine. Those who could not achieve the fair look typically wore wigs. Wigs were also used for those who went bald or to simplify their lives rather than dealing with their own hair. The hair styles varied, but the tightly curled front was the most popular.

Queen Elizabeth I was the guiding image of ideal beauty. She set the standard that many women of her time tried to imitate. No other queen in English history had such an impact on fashion as her.

Marianne LaCroix
The Gladiator - New Concepts Publishing
Sea Hawk's Mistress - Ellora's Cave
Stolen by the Sheikh - Red Rose Publishing
Crossed Swords
- Ellora's Cave 11/23/2007