3 Dollar Store Products for the Penny-Pinching Costumer

No need to pop tags cuz there ain’t none!

I thought dollar stores had disappeared. After all, inflation is a real life issue. Even many of ye olde quarter machines at the local grocery stores raised cheap plastic snakes and keychains from 25 cents to 50 cents (and even 75 or a dollar!). Could you even buy something cool for a dollar anymore, much less something useful?

Enter Dollar Tree! When I walk through those automatic doors and smell the aroma of $1 potpourri, I feel alive! There are no price tags on the shelves. Every item in sight (except some smaller items) is $1! That box of brillo pads? $1. That potato masher? $1. Rolls of Christmas wrap? $1. A set of child-sized “spaceman” armor? $1! In fact they have a whole section for “Dress-Up and Pretend Play” filled with fairy wings and foam swords. None of it is super high-quailty, but for $1, it’s a kid’s dream come true!


I’ve never actually won a pageant in my life. These are all from Dollar Tree!

But that’s besides the point. Dollar Tree as cheap, awesome stuff for costuming, but it’s not all cheesy kid’s stuff. If you can pry yourself away from the wall of $1 gift bags, there are some great hidden gems.

1:  Stockings

I used to ignore this section of the store because socks are important daily-wear goods that need to be durable. There’s no way a $1 pair of socks could be any good. Boy was I wrong! I found my favorite pair of ivory knee-high stockings at a Dollar Tree a few years ago and they are still kickin’!

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They also sell sheer black trouser socks which are a classy addition to a dark colored ensemble. I found them especially handy to complete my 1880s evening gown. Black stockings have always been fancy, but in the past they were expensive. Now, they’re cheap! Woot!

2: Hair Accessories

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Being hair illiterate, I love those mesh donuts that you slip over a ponytail to make a fat bun! Walmart sells single donuts in a pack with a few bobby pins and a hair tie for about $3, but at the Dollar Tree, I found the donut by itself for $1, a pack of 20 bobby pins for $1, and an enormous pack of hair ties for $1. So for the same price, I got extra bobby pins and hair ties! Plus, Dollar Tree has cute, tiny hairbrushes that fit perfectly in a travel bag or pocket. I’m notorious for forgetting my brush when I travel or losing it along the way, but with these cheap ones, I don’t have to worry about it.

2: Make-up

Me, 20 minutes before the event begins…

I’m not a make-up maven. I love playing with the stuff and I wear it regularly to work, but I’m not buying $20 lipsticks or even $20 foundations. I usually buy my everyday powders/concealer/etc. from mainstream brands like CoverGirl. However, I found a tube of “Light #1” BB cream hanging in the Dollar Tree personal care aisle one day and I thought it might work well for pale 18th and 19th century looks. It was awesome!

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This is my face with nothing on it but the BB cream on the left.
It may look stark compared to the un-covered half of my face, but my face is very ruddy compared to my body. Putting on the pale BB cream actually makes my face match the rest of me! I apply it over my lips as well so when I apply lipstick, it blends in rather than having a very sharp, modern outline.

It gives a very pale, dewy finish that reminds me of Korean make-up more than the powdery matte look most Americans strive for. The dewy look is in line with the makeup our ancestors wore, so it’s perfect for historical applications! You can see it at work in the photo of me showing off my black stockings above. Since I am shiny enough on my own, I sometimes tone it down to more modern tastes with a little pure white eyeshadow (also a Dollar Tree find) to mattefy the look.

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For Georgian Picnic I wore the BB cream with the white eyeshadow (which is very translucent) all over.

I haven’t tried it for daily wear yet because it’s  less-concealing than a brand-name BB cream and a bit on the greasy side, but I do like how hydrating it is. It makes my skin feel soft even after I take it off. Plus, it stays put–seriously stays put–especially if set with a powder. I wore it all day and it hardly moved! Susanna has a wonderful full breakdown of the ingredients and application on YouTube. Dollar Tree often stocks ELF brand products, too, which are cheap on their own, but at the Dollar Tree, they are even cheaper! I adore their brushes and lipstains.

Dollar Tree also stocks lots of holiday decorations for cheaps which can work out perfectly for decorating hats and making themed costumes of all sorts, but these three things are my costuming staples for almost any outfit.

Holla for the Dolla Tree!

regency holla

Belle of the Ball: Lily Elsie Inspired Edwardian Event Make-up

Reverse Tweezing: Making Those Brows Beautifully BOLD!

I have lots of projects in various stages of “go” scattered throughout my apartment right now, but the sewing bug just refuses to bite. So, instead of sewing, I have been dallying about, doing boring modern-person stuff like working, cleaning, and other such business. One of the projects that has fallen by the wayside is an Edwardian evening gown. I have the fabric, but have yet to choose a pattern. Instead of getting my rear in gear, I decided to play with make-up instead which, while not sewing related, is one of the first costuming-related activities I’ve done in almost 2 months. So, here’s a mini-tutorial for an Edwardian evening make-up look to go along with a (in my case, not-yet-materialized) ballgown.

I’ve talked about make-up and costuming before in “Saving Face: A Brief History Cosmetics and How to Wear Them with Historical Costumes,” which focused on getting a natural look for historical costumes that would show up well in modern photographs. Victorian and Edwardian women generally did not wear much makeup, but there were exceptions. One of the Edwardian era’s most famous beauties was Lily Elsie. Even if her name sounds unfamiliar, you are probably very familiar with Lily’s many beautiful publicity photos:

Lily Elsie was one of the era’s great actresses. Since actors and actresses needed to be seen clearly at great distances (and be beautiful for publicity portraits like those above), they wore heavier makeup than the average Edwardian woman. Lily’s signature was her dark, luscious eyebrows and rosebud lips. Doesn’t she look just like the dainty bisque dolls of the era?

Kestner Doll, circa 1895-1900

Heinrich Handwerck Doll, 1890-1900

The cosmetic stylings of Lily and her fellow Edwardian starlets marked the beginning of a new, heavier, youth-driven fashion trend that eventually developed into the iconic flapper look of the 1920s. She was, however, one of the last big-browed beauties of the age before the pencil-thin eyebrows took over. Here she is 10 years later, around 1927, her iconic eyebrows still glorious, but tweezed into submission–much closer to our modern arched shape:

You’ll notice that the altered shape of her eyebrows dramatically changed her appearance and makes her look much more fashionable to our eyes. We are used to this eyebrow shape and many of us ladies carefully groom an angled arch into our brows. During the 19th century and first decades of the 20th century, however, thick, evenly-full brows were the coveted shape. During the Edwardian era, cosmetics began to loose much of their taboo and for evenings, a woman might take some notes from the famous female faces of the stage– filling in her brows and giving herself rosy lips for glamorous special events like visiting the opera or going to a ball.

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The following make-up look is inspired by Lily Elsie’s many lovely photographs.  I specifically wanted something that would look good in the conditions of a modern Victorian-style indoor ball. I haven’t gotten to attend a formal ball yet, but it’s always good to practice a look just in case I ever get a chance! I aimed to recreate Lily’s style, but tone it down for the average woman and use makeup I already had on hand. This is not a strictly historical method, nor is it meant to be worn with every day, average Edwardian clothing. The heavy style is made to be worn for glamorous, low-light, nighttime events.

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The goal:

Creamy skin, dramatic dark eyebrows, full lashes, plump cheeks, and rosebud lips

The tools:

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Wet n Wild Matte Lipstick in “Stoplight Red”
ELF Lip Stain in “Nude Nectar”
Revlon Eyeshadow in “Satin Cocoa”
L’Oreal True Match Liquid Foundation in “Alabaster (C1)”
Not pictured: Cover Girl Professional Mascara in Brown

The ideal Edwardian woman had pale, bright, clear skin. I am definitely pale by modern standards, but with a smattering of splotchy freckles, a bit of a tan from wandering outside looking for fossils, and lots of redness from acne, my skin is far from the creamy porcelain ideal. So, I chose a liquid foundation to even everything out:

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If my foundation choice looks far too light for my face, you’d be right. However, it matches the rest of my skin tone, particularly my décolletage, which evening gowns reveal quite a lot of, so it’s important to match. I placed a dot of the exact same foundation on the collar bone (in the lower right of the picture) for comparison. Also, you probably can barely tell, but I’ve already completely covered and blended the foundation into the right side of my face! I really like this foundation because it doesn’t make me break out, it covers really well even without concealer, and it stays put. It is on the heavy side (for me at least), so a little goes a long way!

Next I filled in my brows with the powder eyeshadow. I’ve pretty much let my eyebrows grow naturally over the years because they are so light, but they have been tweezed into more of an arch than an arc at the ends. To get the full, even look, I concentrated powder application from the center back and filled in a little under the arch. This is key to getting an old-fashioned look. Its amazing how just a few millimeters of extra thickness can completely change the timeline of your brows! I chose a dark fill color to match the roots of my hair, but a lighter color closer to my natural brow color would also work. I just really envy those big, bold brows, though!

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Sorry I don’t have an “in progress” comparison shot for this. I didn’t think to do one. :(
A light touch of mascara helped fill in my lashline to match my naturally blonde eyelashes to my new, darker brows.

I used the lip stain to give my lips some natural tint, but I think I could have gone a little heavier. However, if you go too heavy, it starts to look too much like lipstick and looks more 1950s than Edwardian.

Though I just finished hiding my redness under the foundation, rosy cheeks really help bring the look together. Unlike modern  blush which is applied diagonally up and across the top of the cheek, Edwardian blush focused on the rounded apple directly in front. To find your apples just smile!

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I have a very fleshy face with lots of plumpness in the lower front, so I basically end up rouging the whole front of my face! Your apples may vary in size and shape. Here, I used my hand to find where the majority of the fullness was so I didn’t end up applying too much.

Since Edwardians would have used rouge instead of the wide variety of blushes we have now, I approximated the effect with my favorite faux-rouge: cheap matte red lipstick! I dabbed a bit on my finger then tamped it lightly onto my cheeks before blending it with a clean finger.

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I keep a stick of matte red lipstick just for “historical” use. It can also be used in the same manor as lip rouge in lieu of the lip stain. A little goes a long way!

Here’s the completed look:

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Taa-dah!

This makeup look is, like my previous one, designed to photograph well under different lighting situations using a digital camera. The look does dramatically change depending on the light!

Here are some examples of the same make-up with different camera settings and lighting conditions:

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“Soft White” Florescent

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“Normal” Florescent lighting (that typical office-esque blue/green)

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Combination of “Soft White” Florescent and Incandescent

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Low light without Flash

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Low light with Flash

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B&W Filter

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So do I look like Lily? Well…no. I don’t have her naturally dainty facial structure. But did I nail the porcelain doll look?

Bahr & Proschild Doll, circa 1870-1890

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Maybe a bit too well!
;)

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Saving Face: A Brief History Cosmetics and How to Wear Them with Historical Costumes

When the Rose Blooming in Your Cheeks Happens to be White

I had a lovely time at Georgian Picnic despite the frigid weather. In my rush to get all my warm layers on, however, I completely neglected to apply any makeup!

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Do I have something on my face? NO?! Dang it!

Normally I wouldn’t be bothered by this. I enjoy playing with makeup, but I rarely wear much of it. In fact, my bare face would be considered properly accurate for a period portrayal. Many reenacting circles encourage their female participants to forgo makeup and a common critique of a farb/newbie is their overt use of modern makeup (mascara, for example, wasn’t invented until the 1910s and wouldn’t be worn by a pre-1920s woman). That said, it’s important to note that a naked face may be a “safe” option, but it is not always necessary or even appropriate.

Cosmetics Box for Rouge and Patches, circa 1750-55

Our ancestors adored cosmetics just as much as we do. While they couldn’t walk into their local drugstore and choose from two hundred shades of eyeshadow and lipstick, women did have access to cosmetics both homemade and store bought. Upper class women famously indulged in cosmetics during all eras, even during the relatively conservative Victorian era. The wide range of anti-makeup rants may seem like evidence to the contrary, but there must have been enough women breaking the “rule” to inspire that many complaints!
Indeed, depending on the era, it may be less accurate to go bare faced. The ancient Egyptians and 18th century Georgians are especially well known for their love of makeup. A noblewoman (or nobleman) in these eras would have indulged heavily in various makeups as a part of their regular routine, even more so for court appearances.

The Six Stages of Mending a Face by Thomas Rowlandson, May 29th, 1792
The image above links to an alternate version in the Met. It was quite a popular print and there are a few different variations around the web. Poor Lady Archer! 200 years later and everyone is still laughing at her morning…face.

Commoners were not exempt from cosmetics entirely; though compared to their wealthy contemporaries, their options were much more limited. Homemade rouges, powders, and creams were all popular. The Industrial Revolution played a huge role in making cosmetics more widely available. With so much emphasis placed on a woman to be not only accomplished, but also beautiful, many enterprising entrepreneurs stepped in to provide the beauty nature may have not been generous enough to give. By the Victorian era, even a servant girl might afford a small jar of skin brightening cream, though she might have been better off skipping it thanks to some being laced with toxins!

They must be safe! Everyone knows that printed words never lie…

Many modern women avoid makeup for just that reason– well, maybe not for poison, but certainly for allergic reactions, environmental concerns, or a desire to keep certain chemical substances out of their bodies. In addition, makeup then and now is often tied to morality and societal roles.

Throughout the ages, most arguments for or against makeup are strongly tied to women’s freedom of expression and sexuality. As those values fluctuate, so does the stance on makeup. In Victorian England, for example, makeup was seen as morally corrupt since it “lied” about a woman’s appearance and was associated with prostitution.

In this photo, Belle Archer (not related to the Lady Archer previously caricatured) is wearing stage makeup and looking rather sad for a series of modelling photos taken during her career as an actress. The heavy stage makeup paired with the comparatively skimpy stage outfits 19th century actresses wore made them a target of public ridicule just as many modern starlets are mocked in the tabloids. Time has softened past judgements, however, and Belle is known as one of the Victorian era’s greatest beauties.

Makeup still carries many of those negative connotation today, but with the added bonus of being a required part of daily life. We can thank early 20th century marketers for that. They created a whole new persona for makeup and other hygiene products. Makeup became the symbol of a well-groomed, proper lady. To leave the house without completely covering the face was considered slothful and makeup was as indispensable to an outfit as shoes. To compromise these two views, today’s woman is encouraged to “go natural,” i.e. wear makeup, but not in a noticeable way. We walk a fine line! The prevalence of digital media in modern life makes it all the more challenging. We live our lives through the ever-gazing electronic eye of a camera lens.

So, how does all this tie back to Georgian Picnic? Well, I am not a strict historical reenactor. I costume for personal pleasure and enjoy socializing with others who share my passion. We agonize over every detail, from the colors to the textures to the smallest button on a cuff. We invest a lot of time and money in our work, so we want to make darn sure everything is the best it can be!
The costume doesn’t stop at the dress. Any costumer will tell you that the right undergarments, hair, and accessories are what make or break an outfit. Faces, however, are rarely emphasized. I think it stems from the modern ideal of personal freedom and beauty. No one likes to be told how they should look, especially if it’s genetically out of our control. I am no exception. I am stubborn, insecure, and probably more than a little vain. Vanity has heavily implied negative connotations, but striving to look your best is natural and, in the case of costuming, kind of the point. We want beautiful clothes that in turn make us feel beautiful so we can take beautiful pictures in beautiful places to make all-around beautiful memories!

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There is no memory more beautiful than six Regency Wedgies (and some 18th century ones) all in a row…

The glory of modern HD photography is also a bit of a curse. Humans react emotionally to contrast and color. A lot of human beauty stems from increased contrast, which is why humans in many different cultures have embraced lining the eyes with dark colors. Rouge on the lips also serves the same purpose. By increasing the color and contrast, the features and expressions of the face become easily discernible. It also helps them show up better at distances (which is why stage makeup is so heavy) and in photographs. If you are pale skinned with pale eyes and pale eyebrows like me, your features will all blend together on camera, which is what happened in many photos from Georgian picnic:

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Little did Jen know that in this shot, I had replaced myself with a wax figure!

So, a bare face is historically accurate, but not so flattering in modern photos! Part of it was the weather. Had it been warmer and sunny, I would have had a bit more natural flush, especially in my lips, but the cold sucked all the color right out of my cheeks, making me look waxy and exhausted. Perhaps it’s just my insecure vanity talking, but I find my sickly complexion distracts from my outfit. Now I know why all those antique beauty and women’s housekeeping books emphasize complexion so much!

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However, unlike 19th century ladies, I rather like my freckles. My sun damage is adorable!

So, if you are going to an event and are hoping to get some flattering photos, adding a little bit of modern makeup to your face might be helpful. I don’t know if I’d call the following a tutorial, per se, but it’s what works for me…when I remember to do it, of course!
Depending on your natural facial contrast, a bare face might be just fine, but if you would feel more comfortable with a little natural-looking enhancement, take cues from our ancestors! I prefer to stick to a natural look. I find leaving the majority of my skin alone (no foundation or powders) greatly helps with this. However, my pale lips and skin do benefit from some pre-packaged “youthful glow.” Women throughout history have used rouge to this end. You can buy modern rouge in liquid and powder form, but it’s very simple to use a modern lipstick as both a blush and lip color. Just dab it on lightly rather than swiping.

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I like a neutral shade that’s fairly close to my natural color. “Kasbah” by Rimmel London, if you were curious.

Sometimes I prefer to use lipstain rather than lipstick much of the time because it applies matte, sinks into the lips, and sticks around for longer than a lipstick (it doesn’t work very well as a blush, though). For a Renaissance or 18th century look, red lipstick dabbed on with your finger is great for mimicking the look of rouge from those eras. I also carry a tinted lip balm with me to events now, especially outdoor ones. Texas gets hot and dry, so protecting your lips with a balm with SPF and a little hint of color is smart. Just swipe it on for protection and a touch of color!

Next, it’s time to go a little anachronistic: Mascara! Remember, I’m not aiming for historical accuracy. The goal is to boost confidence and take photos everyone can be proud of. Indeed, that glorious goop I just declared unfit for pre-1920 wear is a godsend if you are planning on taking photos! It helps increase the contrast of your eyes, making them look brighter. Our ancestors valued long, dark lashes just as much as we do, but while they had to be born with them, we are blessed to be able to apply them right out of a tube. In lots of old paintings, you’ll notice that artists put a line of black or dark brown over the top of the eye to set the eye off.

An early 19th century lover’s eye pendant.
I need to make myself one of these!

You might assume, then, that eyeliner would be appropriate, and it might be, depending on what era/culture you are portraying. However, eyeliner is jarringly unnatural on the face and the dark line in paintings is really there to indicate the presence of lashes. A very light coating of mascara, therefore, is the perfect solution and blends much more naturally with the face.

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I have deep set eyes, so eyeliner would disappear into the crease anyway.

Blonds, redheads, and light brunettes should choose a brown or brown-black for a natural look. Darker brunettes and folks with black hair can use true black. It’s easy to overdo it, so use a light touch. A single, swift coat on the upper lashes only is all you need! I often blot the wand off on a cloth or tissue before applying so I avoid a heavy coating.

This might be enough for most ladies. However, I have one extra step in my routine: eyebrows. You never know how important eyebrows are until they’re gone!

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Yup. That’s Anne Hathaway without eyebrows.
Turns out “celebrities without brows” is an internet meme of sorts. It’s kind of unsettling how different folks look without them!

While my brows are just dark enough to be visible and an okay shape for my face, they do disappear in far shots.

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Through an odd quirk of fate, my eyebrows are perfect for the Elizabethan era. Queen Liz and I share a name and eyebrows/lack thereof. Going eyebrow-less was trendy during her reign.

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Pale, sassy, and proud!

However, the Regency period and the century before and after it valued darker brows. Turns out getting nice, fashionably full eyebrows was a challenge for ladies in the past, too. They had a whole list of remedies for sparse brows, including burnt cloves and mouse skin strips! Instead of massacring the local rodent population, I use either eyeshadow in a color that matches my hair or a bit of brown mascara depending on my mood. I avoid using an eyebrow pencil because, like eyeliner, the outline it creates looks too crisp and modern. The ideal Georgian, Victorian, and Edwardian brow was arc-shaped instead of angular. They stretched like a gentle rainbow over the eye and were often full across the entirety of the brow rather than just by the nose. My face can’t handle that kind of brow, so I just fill in my natural shape.

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It also brings out that fetching, perpetual “Huh?” look on my face.

The fact that you’re wearing makeup might be noticeable in person, but if you’ve done everything delicately enough, it will harmonize with your outfit, pulling the look together in a way that will satisfy both your costuming sensibilities and your modern tastes without being distracting. Win-win!

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When lighting and weather fail to flatter, makeup can really help you save face. Now, even at a distance in terrible lighting, everyone can see your Regency bitchy resting face perfectly!

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I thought I was smiling when I took this photo. Turns out, I was mistaken.

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Makeup cannot, however, protect you from sudden gusts of wind.

If you are interested in wholesome historical cosmetic options (I strongly recommend skipping the lead white!), there are many recipes available online to recreate antique cosmetics using natural ingredients. Madame Isis’ Toilette, for example, details 17th and 18th century recipes, mixes them, and shows you the results. Various vendors online like Little Bits also sell recreations of perfumes, rouges, and powders. In my own experiments, I’ve dabbled with beet juice rouge and had pretty entertaining results!

Beet Juice and Cornstarch Makeup

Lady Archer would be proud.

Ultimately, the type of makeup and the amount you wear depends on the era and class you are costuming for, the type of event you are attending (reenactment, afternoon tea, convention, etc.), and your personal taste. Makeup for conventions, for example, is often heavier and theatrical in nature both to show up on camera better and portray a specific character. Plus, some of us just like to wear more makeup than others. Just find what works best for your situation and roll with it!

Nothing Beats Beets!

18th Century Makeup for $1.50

I had beets for dinner last night. They really are an underrated treat. Our ancestors knew the awesome power of beets: sweet, healthy, easy to grow, easy to store, and that bright color! The beets I have are the canned kind from the grocer’s, but that didn’t dampen their brilliant red color.

Added Bonus: 100% Natural ingredients:
Beets, Water, and Salt

Looking at the bright red juice left over in the pan, I was reminded of a tip my Nana had told me her mother used during the Great Depression in the 1930s: instead of lipstick, dab a slice of red beet onto your lips. The tip echoed especially clear because only a few hours earlier, I had checked up on Madame Isis’ Toilette, a fabulous 18th century cosmetics blog that explores and recreates historical recipes for rouge and other applications. I admit to cheating when it comes to rouge. Usually, I just dab on red lipstick and blot the majority of it off for a pinkish tinge on my lips and cheeks (yes, you can use lipstick as cream blush!). The method works well and looks period correct even though the method is not.

Madame Adélaïde, circa 1765
Mid-18th century make-up is heavier than later make-up, especially on the cheeks.

So, here I am with a pan of beet juice and a sudden urge to try out an 18th century-inspired look. It really doesn’t take much beet juice to get strong color, so two tablespoon of the leftover broth is plenty. In addition, I grabbed some fine cornstarch to be my face powder.

I used a q-tip to apply the juice (For you cheeks, use your fingers to dab, but be warned! It will stain your fingers, so watch what you touch) and a foam paintbrush to apply the cornstarch over the beet rogue. Here’s the result:

Any blotchiness is a fault of my bad skin, not the fault of the beets! If it were really the 18th century, my poor face would be practically covered in little black “beauty mark” patches!

Not bad, for under $2! Cornstarch is a great hair powder, but it isn’t the best facepowder. It doesn’t adhere well to skin and is too matte for my tastes, so if you can, try out a real 18th century white face makeup. The beet juice, however, works brilliantly. You can build up layers of color to make it as heavy as you desire. The natural red of beets is a beautiful cool, blue-based red that flatters most skin tones. The beet juice also works well for Elizabethan make-up (for gentlemen, too)!

“Lettice Knollys” attributed to George Gower, 1585
For Elizabethan make-up, use less rouge on your cheeks, if any, and plenty of white face make-up. Add a dab of beet rouge to your lips and you’re good to go!