Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Regency 'Look'

Every era has its own vision of female beauty. It is a composite of hair-styles, make-up, physical attributes, and clothing--a 'look'.

Our current look in 2009 depends on thinness--faces are defined by bone structure, enhanced by subtle but often heavy make-up; clothes are sleek on wand-thin bodies, hair is coloured and often straight.

The 1980's look was defined by big shoulder pads, big hair and bright makeup highlighting strong facial structure.

The 1960's look focussed on the eyes--wide eyes with absurdly long mascaraed or artificial eyelashes. Mini-skirts were the fashion focus, and boy-cuts--short feathered 'dos were popular for hair.

In the 1930's the ideal face was round, eyebrows were a bold half-circle, lips were bright and full, noses small, and marcelled hair was styled short to increase the 'round' look.

I've been struck over the years by the Regency look. Portraits don't display the look clearly, because any good portrait artist will at least try to illustrate his subject's individual face. But the look becomes clear as you study Ackermann's fashion plates, and any of the other period fashion illustrations.

The ideal Regency face was oval--either short or long, but always egg-smooth, without defining cheek or jaw bones. The lips were small verging on tiny, a rosebud of a mouth. Noses are shown as surprisingly substantial but always straight. And the eyes--well-opened and innocent--are very wide-set.

The garish makeup--white lead, red rouge and patches--of the 1700s had disappeared, and the Victorian prohibition on paint and powder had not yet taken effect. Make-up in the Regency was used sparingly, subtly, but it was there, reddening lips, lightening complexions. Hair-styles were generally high, elongating the oval, except for those brief periods when cropped curls were popular. And of course, the straight-skirted, high-waisted fashions of the time further elongated the fashionable tall, slender figure.

What do you think defines the Regency 'look'?

Till next time,


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