We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Selling Beauty

Cosmetics, Commerce, and French Society, 1750–1830

Morag Martin

Publication Year: 2009

Morag Martin’s history of the cosmetic industry in France examines the evolution of popular tastes and standards of beauty during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. As the French citizenry rebelled against the excesses of the aristocracy, there was a parallel shift in consumer beauty practices. Powdered wigs, alabaster white skin, and rouged cheeks disappeared in favor of a more natural and simple style. Selling Beauty challenges expectations about past fashions and offers a unique look into consumer culture and business practices. Martin introduces readers to the social and economic world of cosmetic production and consumption, recounts criticisms against the use of cosmetics from a variety of voices, and examines how producers and retailers responded to quickly evolving fashions. Martin shows that the survival of the industry depended on its ability to find customers among the emerging working and middle classes. But the newfound popularity of cosmetics raised serious questions. Critics—from radical philosophes to medical professionals—complained that the use of cosmetics was a threat to social morals and questioned the healthfulness of products that contained arsenic, mercury, and lead. Cosmetic producers embraced these withering criticisms, though, skillfully addressing these concerns in their marketing campaigns, reassuring consumers of the moral and physical safety of their products. Rather than disappearing along with the Old Regime, the commerce of cosmetics, reimagined and redefined, flourished in the early 19th century, as political ideals and Enlightenment philosophies radically altered popular sentiment.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Series: The Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (65.2 KB)
pp. vii-x

This book would not have been possible without the help of a large number of peo-ple. I am grateful to my dissertation advisor Tim Tackett at the University of California, Irvine, who provided a supportive and critical eye. I would like to gratefully acknowledge my debt to Colin Jones for inspiring the topic and then following methrough to the end. Maxine Berg provided me with a research space...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (87.3 KB)
pp. 1-11

France has the well-earned reputation of being a center of luxury and fashion. Historians looking for the roots of high fashion have found key starting points during Louis XIV’s reign in the seventeenth century and in Marie Antoinette’s personal pro-clivities at the end of the eighteenth. Despite this long history of luxurious excess, France is also the home of the radical revolutionary ethos; extremist Jacobins tried...

read more

1. The Practices of Beauty: The Creation of a Consumer Market

pdf iconDownload PDF (189.3 KB)
pp. 12-31

Many historians assume that only the wealthy and the social elite wore the trappingsof artifice in the eighteenth century. General histories of cosmetics are principally built on anecdotes about the rich and famous. One oft-told story is about nineteen-year-old Marie Therese of Spain who came to the French court in 1745 to marry the dauphin. She reluctantly complied with the court rule to wear rouge only when she...

read more

2. A Market for Beauty: The Production of Cosmetics

pdf iconDownload PDF (145.0 KB)
pp. 32-51

Cantillon’s 1755 essay on commerce posited the development of a consumer public that looked to fulfill their needs in the stores of entrepreneurs selling both necessities and luxuries such as cosmetics. His basic understanding of supply and demand reflects an eighteenth-century shift in market representations. Enlightenment ideals stressed the need for “production, free trade, and a balanced budget...

read more

3. Advertising Beauty: The Culture of Publicity

pdf iconDownload PDF (314.5 KB)
pp. 52-72

The growing diversity of shops, the rising popularity of store-bought beauty goods among the working classes, and the disintegration of guild control all point to a thriving market for cosmetics in the second half of the eighteenth century. Yet this expanding market was also precarious, the whims of fashion dictating success or failure. To ensure their survival, small entrepreneurs turned to public promotion...

read more

4. Maligning Beauty: The Critics Take on Artifice

pdf iconDownload PDF (373.5 KB)
pp. 73-96

This “large and small affair” was the debate over the uses and abuses of artifice at the end of the eighteenth century. Elegant women needed to worry because their makeup and extravagant frills were being replaced by more modest and simpler styles. Though the writer of this ridicule, a journalist for the...

read more

5. Domesticating Beauty: The Medical Supervision of Women’s Toilette

pdf iconDownload PDF (145.2 KB)
pp. 97-116

On September 4, 1818, the Gazette de France reported on the tumultuous scenes occurring outside Parisian booksellers. The journalist was surprised to find crowds of people all demanding one book: “I noticed many women in their carriages, who waited impatiently for the return of their husbands . . . they had their eyes fixed on the store, their necks craned, their arms outstretched; they grabbed rather...

read more

6. Selling Natural Artifice: Entrepreneurs Redefine the Commerce of Cosmetics

pdf iconDownload PDF (119.6 KB)
pp. 117-133

The flurry of concern over cosmetics for aesthetic, moral, or medical reasons reinforced an ideal of beauty that mimicked nature through the use of only safe, healthy products for women and men, to a lesser extent. In this atmosphere, the attempts by cosmetics advertisers to market their products aggressively could be construed as an act of desperation, the last breaths of a soon to be defunct sector of the economy...

read more

7. Selling the Orient: From the Exotic Harem to Napoleon’s Colonial Enterprise

pdf iconDownload PDF (535.5 KB)
pp. 134-154

In the French popular imagination, the Eastern harem was populated with sensuous white beauties captured by fearsome Ottomans. Travel writers filled their works with anecdotes depicting these captives as the perfect representations of femininity, guarded fearlessly by sadistic eunuchs. The paintings of Carle and Amad

read more

8. Selling Masculinity: The Commercial Competition over Men’s Hair

pdf iconDownload PDF (304.9 KB)
pp. 155-173

By 1790, despite a change in aesthetics, women created their pale faces as before with artifice. Men were meant to be even more natural in practice, but, as the playwright and visitor to Paris Kotzebue suggests, some men wore discernable rouge to go along with new hair fashions. Evidence from the revolutionary years and the Napoleonic period indicate that the so-called Great Masculine Renunciation was nowhere near...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (121.5 KB)
pp. 174-182

At the beginning of the eighteenth century, cosmetics (primarily fards) were associated with the court and aristocracy, markers of rank more than signs of beauty. Shops sold a multitude of beauty aids, but many elites still made their beauty products at home. As the century progressed, these same products were diversified (with new names and uses) and sold more cheaply and widely, appealing to an increasingly...


pdf iconDownload PDF (155.6 KB)
pp. 183-206


pdf iconDownload PDF (116.4 KB)
pp. 207-222


pdf iconDownload PDF (596.5 KB)
pp. 223-228

E-ISBN-13: 9780801898792
E-ISBN-10: 080189879X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801893094
Print-ISBN-10: 0801893097

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 13 halftones
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: The Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science