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The Vault: Georgian Era Patch Box

March 24, 2023
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Patches worn on the face were a curious fashion trend of the Georgian era. These beauty patches or 'mouches' were popular across Europe throughout the 16th and early 17th centuries. Beauty patches were often small pieces of black velvet, silk or satin that had been cut into shapes. Initially, these artificial beauty marks were a peculiarly French phenomenon, but as the country cemented itself as the leader of European fashion, the rage for beauty patches spread beyond its borders (Oatman-Sanford, 2017).

Patchbox ET857 2

The wearing of these patches was considered fashionable but were also a great way to hide spots, blemishes or scarring on the skin (Curzon, 2021). Smallpox affected perhaps a quarter of the population and left unsightly facial scarring; therefore, patches were an effective way to easily cover these markings (Rendell, 2014). Other venereal diseases that were treated by mercury would also cause facial disfigurement and were often associated with the work of harlots (Rendell, 2014). Therefore, the wearing of beauty patches could be seen across two distinct groups. The sex workers of the lower classes or in the exaggerated fashions of the elite classes as decoration to emphasize painted white skin.

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“The Morning: The Woman at Her Toilet” by Gilles-Edme Petit, c. 1745-1760. Via the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Patches worn for fashion were contrasted with a white complexion often accentuated by make-up. This represented being a part of high society as darker complexions were associated with working outdoors in the sun (Rendell, 2014). Amongst the elite classes the wearing of beauty patches took on new meaning with a coded language developing relating to the placement on the face. These coded meanings could be symbols of flirtation and courtship or could even relate to political allegiances. In England, a Tory would wear a patch on the right side of the face, whilst their political opponents, Whigs, would wear one on the left (Curzon, 2021). A lady could wear a heart shaped patch on her left cheek if she were engaged or the right if she were married. A patch worn beside the eye could indicate passion or one on the nose could be flirtatious (Oatman-Sanford, 2017). There were many different ways which beauty patches were worn in high society to create intrigue and allure.

18th Century Patches Wellcome LIbrary London
A selection of 18th-century fabric patches. Via the Welcome Library, London.

To facilitate this beauty trend, boxes to carry these patches were made for the home and smaller portable ones were also created. The larger patch boxes may also have compartments for jewellery and would sit on a ladies' or gents' dresser. The portable ones were made to be carried easily in a pocket and would contain a layer of fabric inside. Beauty patches were usually applied with saliva which would adhere to the dense layer of make-up. However, they would often need reapplying throughout the day and therefore a portable box containing fresh patches would be warranted.

Patchbox ET857 4

This patch box is made from ivory and inlayed with gold. It has the original owner's monogram 'F.M' applied to the side. This would have fitted easily into the pocket of a gentleman's waistcoat or lady's skirt.

This item is on permanent display as part of The Vault Collection at Kalmar Antiques.


Curzon, Catherine (21 Oct, 2021) '7 weird and wonderful Georgian beauty treatments'

Oatman-Sanford, Hunter (4 May 2017) 'That time French aristocracy were obsessed with sexy face stickers'; Collectors Weekly'

Rendell, Mike (21 July 2014) 'Make-up in the 18th century - a fatal attraction'

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