Cosmetics: Atrocious or Acceptable? (1899)

I am always a bit amused when anathemas are hurled at the present use of cosmetics, particularly when a hopelessly-soured and pitilessly-unattractive female or a blatant, tobacco-smoking, spiritously-odorous male addresses me on the subject. I read from time to time of the untold millions we women are spending annually for our paints and powders, and of all the good we might do were we not so given over to vanity and deceit. I have been assured by men who should know, if experience go for anything, that no good woman at any time of the world ever painted her face. I have had Jezebel thrown at me with a pertinent verse of Scripture attached, and with such spite that one would think I personally am accountable for that most trying woman and had given her the formulas for the paints and eye darkeners she adorned herself with before going out to the capture of King Jehu. As a matter of actual fact, whatever one's opinion may be as to the morale of the question, cosmetics have been used by both good and bad women as far back as we can learn anything of the personal customs of the sex, just as wine has been drunk by priests and sots, by gentlemen and cads, and will be used and abused so long as men and wine exist.

I am not an advocate of indiscriminate painting of the face, of hair dyeing or bleaching, because all are usually unpleasant and perceptibly artificial and unbecoming in their results, but I certainly think a woman should be her own judge in the matter, and the subject is one she is entirely competent to study for herself without masculine interference or dictation... There are times in a woman's life, when, if she be wise, she will attempt to repair the damage of years and care...

Here is a late-Victorian passage that establishes at least 2 things (according to this author): That many women of the time regularly wore cosmetics, and that many other people disapproved of their use.   What seems generally agreed-upon, from this and other sources, is that when cosmetics are used they should not be obvious, but should imitate the natural look. The author goes on to suggest a few recipes for whitening and rouging the face, with instructions on how to make their use undetectable.

Source: Harriet Hubbard Ayer's Book, 1899