14th May 1660. ‘Fashion a Fickle Jade.’

Today in 1660 Diarist, Samuel Pepys noted Dutch ladies of fashion wearing ‘black patches’. By August he’s pleased to see his wife with them.


The earliest mention of  Face Patches is in 1653: ‘Our ladies have lately entertained a vain custom of spotting their faces out of an affectation of a mole to offset their beauty such as Venus had.’


Not surprisingly 17thc Puritans objected to the fashion for face-patches, as they introduced an abortive parliamentary bill, banning the ‘vice of painting and wearing black patches and immodest dress.’

Box for Patches and Rouge.

Box for Patches and Rouge.

It was towards the end of the reign of Charles I in the mid 17thc, that saw the fashion for wearing patches to cover up facial flaws, a practice which developed into fashion statements and markers of wealth.

At that time the biggest killer was smallpox which even if it didn’t kill, left faces pock-marked. Many cosmetics then were dangerous as they often contained a lead base, which damaged the skin and caused serious health problems.

In the later reign of Queen Anne patches could denote political party affiliation: right forehead for the Whigs and on the left for the Tories.

The Baroque was the great age for cosmetics, after the Renaissance masculinity. Then the following Rococo Age of asymmetry, saw women as fragile, frivolous and coquettish, with the fashionable asymmetry of face, seen in the use of patches.

However much use was aesthetic, with patches on the face, neck and breast, and with it came the language of the patches. For instance above the lip it suggested coquetry; forehead suggested glamour, and the corner of the eye, passion.

Patch-pedlars did a good trade, and as common in those days, had a rhyming song to advertise their wares, often made of expensive fabrics such as silk and velvet; a gum adhesive stuck them to the face.

Their song of ,’Heer patches are of ev’ry cut for pimples and for scarrs’ (sic), said it all.

(1) Bulwer in Artificial Changelings 1653.

Ref: pepysdiary.com/encyclopedia.

Ref: studdmomnevertoldyou.com.blog.black-patches.

Ref: web.prm.ox.ac.uk/bodyart.

Ref: hair-and-make-up.com/Pic Images.


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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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