17th Century Female Beauty Standards

Written by jeffrey norman
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17th Century Female Beauty Standards
Pale faces were all the rage in the 17th century. (Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

The 17th century, like today's society, had its idiosyncrasies as to what characterised female beauty. Royalty, as in many other eras, helped to dictate the style of the period. Artists also captured the understanding of glamour during the era. Citizens of today may appreciate -- or abhor -- some 17th-century opinions of the definition of a beautiful woman.

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King Charles I's bride Henrietta Maria stood as an influential 17th-century trendsetter. French-born Maria prized such colours as peach, olive grey and orange above other shades. Her courtiers followed suit. Silk brocades and laced edgings helped the rich to adhere to Maria's style. Corsets, then known as stays, were softer than in other eras and emphasised the waist. Bodices also surfaced during the century and were in fact preferred over corsets until the 1670s.


Pale complexion was in vogue during this period. It epitomised the vanilla glow of someone rich enough to avoid outdoor toil. Men and women alike used creams and powders to achieve the pallid look. Powder from white chalk or lead, combined with egg and vinegar, was thought to be the ideal make-up mixture. Cherry-red cerise powder was dappled onto cheeks as blush. The formula was not healthful for skin and could cause blemishes. Facial patches to obscure blemishes also became the norm.

The Rubenesque

Peter Paul Rubens glorified the full feminine figure in his artwork. The artist crafted women endowed with ample bosoms and hips, who were considered signs of fertility and stimulants for sexual desire. To emphasise a plentiful form, women would don a tight bodice that revealed a hint of cleavage. Lean, sinewy bodies were thought of as too thin; plump, round proportions were considered superior. However, excess flab and sag were also frowned upon.


The fear of entering water influenced hygiene standards of the day. Clothes were not washed. In fact, rings of dirt around shirt collars were thought to be signs of the garment's ability to draw out dirt from the skin. For women, perfume proved especially popular. Drenching themselves in fragrances helped to ward off the stench of others. Madame de Montespan sprayed bands of perfume to drown out the smell of her lover, Louis XIV.

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