It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. However, it seems that the beholder’s standards have changed through the years, sometimes quite drastically. Imagine watching one of your favorite beauty vloggers start pulling their eyelashes out to accentuate their forehead, or rinsing their mouth with urine, or making their lips bleed – would you do it too? Dating all the way from Egyptian times to the 1920s, we have picked the best and weirdest beauty trends that will make you delighted you were born when you were. Let’s go back to the beginning and either salute these women or cringe in dismay when looking at the beauty trends that came before us.
These days, one wouldn’t dream of having something black on their teeth, yet, for hundreds of years, it was the desired look. The trend started around 200 AD and was most popular in Japan.
Having black lacquered teeth was referred to as Ohaguro and was achieved by drinking an iron-based dye infused with cinnamon and aromatic spices. Although it prevented tooth decay, the practice was banned in the 1870s when the Emperor of Japan daringly rocked his white teeth as a move toward modernization.
In 1941, Britain and then the U.S. began clothes rationing to conserve materials for World War II troops. To many women’s upset, nylon stockings were some of the first products to go.
However, women were instructed to not abandon standards of dress and to “Make Do and Mend.” With this in mind, women began painting dark stripes up the back of their legs to mimic stocking seams. A popular paint was gravy juice and they termed the wartime look “Glamor Hose.”
Medieval England women believed less was more when it came to their hair. It was fashionable to elongate the forehead, which was considered as one of the most beautiful features on a woman and a high, oval forehead was all the rage back in the 1300s.
But to achieve this look, women would pluck their hairlines – ouch! Additionally, they would pluck their eyebrows until they were barely there. Meanwhile, the church considered it a mortal sin for a woman to remove hair from her face.
If you’re the type to detest the day heels were invented, you will now appreciate them. It was once a trend to wear doll-sized shoes. The worst part – to fasten them your foot needed to be broken, bound, and walked on for two years until they deformed.
Foot binding started in the 10th century after a dancer named Yao Niang, who shaped her foot like a new moon, was said to have mesmerized the Chinese emperor. Many nobles then followed suit. Any foot larger than six inches could damage the prospect of a good suitor.
While we all wish for a set of pearly whites, we are sure none of you would go to the lengths that these ancient Romans did. Wealthy Romans would whiten their teeth by rinsing their mouth with urine.
Wait, it gets stranger. Not just any old urine, but the urine from Portuguese people, as it was believed to be the strongest in the world. The Romans had a point as the ammonia in urine can be used as an effective disinfectant, but we are still clueless about the Portuguese part.
As it became common to get tattoos, some people found other ways to get that ‘shock factor.’ Whether it is an inked cap or diamond-studded grill, Lil Wayne was not the first to tattoo his teeth.
Over 2,500 years ago, the ancient people of modern-day Mexico would stud their teeth with stone, no matter their social status. The Mayans would visit “dentists” to have their teeth drilled and inlaid with stones. However, as there was no anesthesia or drills, the process was much more painful than the modern approach.
Back in the 16th century, beauty patches were a thing. Made from pricey fabrics like silk or velvet and coated in a gum adhesive, patches were a sign of wealth.
Women used the patches to hide their skin damage that was caused by harmful lead-based cosmetics and diseases. The French took the trend to a new extreme, creating a variety of decorative shapes like stars and moons. They were called Mouches (French for flies). Patching fell out of fashion in the late 1700s when more subtle makeup became popular.
In the incident of a hair popping up in between the eyebrows, women today would usually grab the tweezers to take care of those unsightly strays. However, it was a different story for the women in ancient Greece.
They often left their unibrow untouched as it was a sign of purity and intelligence. Women who did not have dark or full eyebrows would need to darken them with black powder or kohl. Some would even wear false brows made of goat’s hair and tree resin.
In 8700 BC women in Africa of a certain economic and social status would wear lip plates. The purpose would differ according to the tribe but they were usually intended to attract a husband.
The bigger the plate, the more cattle the girl’s family will receive, and this was certainly a good enough incentive to go big. Interestingly, the trend still remains today. Women from the Mursi tribe from the lower Omo Valley of Ethiopia use clay lip plates to symbolize a young girl transitioning into a woman.
These days, many of us women do all we can to create a “false lash effect.” Whether it is applying gallons of mascara or using promising volume treatments or dye, we want them to be full and long.
However, during the Middle Ages, the forehead was considered the most attractive part of a woman’s face and so women would remove most or all of their eyelashes to draw more attention to this part. Some even went for the eyebrows too!
Today we spend a fortune on getting that bronzed, sun-kissed look, whether it is from makeup, fake tan, or baking in the sun. However, in the 18th century, women wanted to be as white as a sheep.
How they achieved this was probably more dangerous then soaking in the sun’s radiations. They would powder their faces using a mixture of white lead and vinegar. However, this concoction would break down the skin and cause scarring. Some would even eat clay for that porcelain-toned skin.
In France, while pale skin was at the height of its popularity, so were accentuated veins, with thanks to trendsetters like Marie Antoinette. Pale skin allowed the veins to become more noticeable and they were coveted by many women at the time, unlike now.
Some would color in their veins with a blue pencil, especially ones on their chest, and called this “blue-blooded,” whilst others would go to greater lengths like using leeches to make their veins more prominent.
DIY Blush And Lip Color
It was Queen Victoria from England who said that makeup was limited to actors and ladies of the night. Therefore, women from the Victorian Era chose not to wear it.
Instead of wearing makeup they would find many DIY tactics to create the same look. Women would pinch their cheeks and bite their lips before meeting suitors in order to get a rosy glow on their mouth and cheeks. This must be where the saying “Pain is beauty” originated.
Most of us have a beauty icon that we look up to and while we think copying Amy Winehouse’s eyeliner flick is tricky, just wait till you hear what the ancient Mayans did to copy the Maize God.
They wanted to recreate skull elongation and would do so by binding their skulls into shapes which would reflect one’s place in society. About 4 or 5 days after birth, a baby’s head would be stretched out on a bed or placed between two boards which would be pressed together.
You may recall the lyrics from the hit film Chicago which go, “I’m gonna rouge my knees, and roll my stockings down. And all that jazz.” While it sounds like a pretty strange thing to do, women in the ’20s loved this look.
As dress hems would usually end below the knees, that part of the leg would expose itself from time to time, for example, while they danced the Charleston. So rouging the knee brought more attention to this part of their body.
Nearly everyone has dyed their hair at least once in their life, but in the ’30s it was an extremely risqué thing to do, especially as only women for hire and chorus girls would do it.
These promiscuous women attempted very dangerous methods in order to get the look. Actress Jean Harlow was rumored to have died from her iconic white hair. She used peroxide, ammonia, Clorox bleach, and Lux flake to achieve her platinum blonde look. However, this concoction produces a noxious gas that kills.
Before hair spray was invented, women in the 18th century had to use different products to tame their wigs. They would use lard – yes, lard. Though this worked very well for holding the hair in place, there was one large drawback.
If you think you can sometimes have a “rat’s nest,” it doesn’t come close to this. The lard would attract rats who would often create nests inside of them, living there for weeks. Therefore the women would need to sleep with cages around their head!
Arsenic Skin Treatments
When using lead for whitening the skin came to an end, women turned to eating arsenic instead. It may or may not have been better for their complexion but it certainly wasn’t any safer.
The deadly product helped even out complexion and whiten the skin. However, once you start you can’t stop, as stopping abruptly will result in an awful complexion, making your skin ten times worse than it was to begin with. It even causes baldness!
The Bob Epidemic
Generally seen as cute and flirty, the bob haircut comes in and out of fashion. However, getting a bob during the 1920s was so shocking that it was probably the equivalent of women shaving their hair off today.
Hair was seen as a symbol of womanhood and so some cut it to show they were independent and modern. Others were so scared of the new look that doctors published studies to “prove” getting a bob would lead to backaches or baldness. Some husbands even divorced their wives for it!
Forget expensive spa treatments for a glowing face when you can just try rubbing some “man sweat” on your skin instead. Famous gladiators of Ancient Rome were symbols of ferocious power and attracted the attention of Roman women.
Small pots of gladiator sweat began to sell outside of fights as souvenirs. The sweat and blood were scraped from the men and mixed into facial creams and cosmetics that the upper-class women would use. The sweat was also considered to be an aphrodisiac.
A manicure in the 1900s was more than just keeping up with an appearance, it was a status symbol. Working women had rough hands with chipped nails, while ladies of leisure had soft hands with long pointed nails.
These days people get patterns, studs, gems, and all sorts, yet some socialite women back then went even further and got their friends’ portraits painted on. This would really mean that you were at the top of the social ladder.
If you thought skinny jeans were bad enough, take a look at this. Causing squashed ribs and hearts or displaced spleens, Victorian women would endure waist-clinching corsets in the name of ‘beauty.’
Corsets were worn for many centuries, but the tightly-laced styles of the 1890s were particularly dangerous. They would mash internal organs, cause shortness of breath, and even break ribs. They could even cause or worsen health problems like chronic gastroesophogeal reflux, which can be fatal.
Prior to the 1920s, shaving one’s armpits was about the same as shaving off one’s eyebrows today, unnecessary and even a little weird.
Then Gillette arrived. The brand was the official razor of the US army during WWI and when the war ended they wondered how they could keep up their sales. The answer – sell to women. They teamed up with fashion magazines and began to promote the idea of sleeveless fashions and that it was time to get shaving.
While most of these awful trends are a thing of the past, some still live on today. In remote parts of Africa and Asia back in the 1300s, women would wear rings to elongate their neck.
In Asia it was considered an attractive quality, the longer the better, while in Africa they were also used to show status as only married women would wear them. Today there are still tribes, such as the Padaung people in Thailand, who coil their necks with the wang (brass neck rings).
The Smokey Eye
When we think of Egyptian makeup, we may refer to the iconic blue eyeshadow and heavy black liner that Elizabeth Taylor sported. However the process was much more dangerous.
Egyptians used black kohl – a mix of soot, lead salts, and animal fat – to create the smokey eye. Although the lead was poisonous, some think it may have helped prevent eye infections and even block the sunlight to prevent strain and glare. But before you attempt to use it, remember the Egyptians only averaged a life expectancy of 30 years.