Looking the Part 2. Make up and Hair


  Right, now you have that perfect dress and silhouette, supported by all the correct underwear (as covered in part 1 here), the next step is the face and hair.  It is not much, you may think, but do not underestimate it – wrong hairdo or lack of headgear, modern make up or hairstyle will mar even the loveliest dress. Again, if you are dressing up for a party, or an eclectic photo shoot, and historical accuracy is not the main concern, that’s fine, you may actually enjoy the freedom of doing whatever your imagination prompts you to do –  and there is a lot of fun in it too, ( that’s why I used to like Steampunk and bridal/fantasy shoots so much – pure creative, unrestricted fun!), but if you want to strive for at least a semblance of correctness, this post is for you.

 There are several ways of achieving the desired effect as far as hair and face are concerned – some are period correct, some are modern substitutes, and it is strictly up to you whether you want to be 100% authentic ( and have the means for it) or whether you simply want to recreate the look using a mixture of modern and traditional techniques.

 A few generic remarks first

Make up – On the whole, in 90% of cases, less is more….  even if make up was used at the time, the odds are that it was used by actors, courtesans, masque players, fashionable courtiers etc, so if in doubt simply use less – or none. If your character needs make up, (Elizabethan courtier, 18th century actor etc), make sure you try and mimic the make up represented on the images from the period – modern make up styles will just look  bad. Whether or not you want to use gentle make up as a base, (foundation, powder, concealer) is up to you – if it is subtle and can pass unnoticed whilst covering a few wrinkles, blemishes, etc – perfect.  Just don’t plaster on too much, it really is very obvious!

 Hair –  don’t despair if you don’t have long hair – sometimes it is actually easier to recreate the hairstyles with wigs, hairpieces, etc – it is faster too.  So short hair is not an excuse! Headgear, be it a wimple, hood or a hat will not only finish your outfit perfectly, but it will also make you carry yourself differently – and you will feel different too. Nowadays few women wear proper hats, so donning period-appropriate headgear does have an impact on your carriage, behavior and above all, looks – authentic and stylish.

   I must say I love my wigs and extensions – they are easy to use, easy to style and they don’t cost much –   synthetic hair is getting better and better. Proper, full wigs will cost you a bit more, but they are worth it. good company here: Hair Story or a USA based one, The Historical Hairdresser


a part of my personal stash of wigs and hairpieces

 Let us have a quick run through the ages…


 As far as make up is concerned, none or hardly any was worn (I am speaking of Europe here). However, that doesn’t mean that ladies didn’t have some ways of looking more appealing.  Fashions have changed since then and we may not think much  of some of their beauty tricks – getting rid of one’s eyebrows entirely and plucking forehead hair to make the forehead taller or/and wider  is not always appealing to our modern sensibilities, and yet that was the fashion. If you are aiming to portray a fashionable 14th or 15th century lady, there are a few ways to  get closer to that look.  Surprisingly, the recent vintage and pin up revival means quite a lot of girls do pluck their eyebrows completely as drawing them on is so much easier, and you can get the shape you want.  If you are one of those who do, then you have the perfect opportunity to look like a high-born medieval lady – simply do not draw on any brows. If you do have eyebrows, simply powder over them to make them less visible. Often positioning of the edge of the veil  level with eyebrows will work.
Generic make up – use foundation and powder if you need to, some natural eye-shadows work if applied lightly and inconspicuously – but leave eyeliner, mascara and lippy at home. I often used honey on my lips when working/doing living history for longer periods – great for your lips, tastes lovely and gives a bit of a gloss too.


I am wearing foundation and even some eye shadows here – can you tell?

 Hair – A variety of styles are available, really depending on which period and status is portrayed. Generally, a head covering is preferred – if uncovered, then hair should be styled in an appropriate fashion. Consider practical aspects – it is techncalliy OK for Viking women to wear their hair uncovered and loose, but try that when living and working in a Viking village for a week , especially if you hair is long – it is a nuisance.   Loosely flowing tresses are represented in the iconography – though usually  it was worn for special occasions – coronations, weddings, etc. Sometimes a combination is used – a high headdress with hair flowing behind – though again, those are exceptions and dictated by the occasion. A great library of the late medieval styles is on Marie Cadieux site – here

 A few examples :

 12 century – long plaits were in fashion. Don’t have long enough hair -extensions rock! If your hair is short, it is possible to attach the ready-to-use plaits onto an Alice band – the band will be hidden under your veil anyway 🙂

19.plating extensions in 1

27. plait done

32. dress ready, front.

 In the later 12th century wimples and barbettes start to appear – perfect for hiding the hair completely


14th century – fashionable headgear is plaits, but coiled on the side of the hear. again, extensions can be used. There are lots of alternative and varied looks by then, from completely covered be-wimpled and be-veiled looks, to huge  edifices – a lot to have fun with – just check out this site for some ideas – http://www.kats-hats.co.uk/


My very first outfit, some 18 years ago – and even though I know now, the dress was crap, the fillet too, it is the braids, crispinette and fresh unmade face that make me still like this image…

green houppelande

padded rolls were perfect for hiding short hair..

Product Shots June 2018-52-44

Templers with a roll and a veil. Quirky, but again, short hair does work with these too!

and a couple of henins. Not the most practical headgear, I must say….

untitled -  December 12, 2015 - 18


 16th century

 Make up – again, the less the better, at least in the first half of the century. Situation changes with the Elizabethan period, and following the ways of the ageing queen, the courtiers tended to replicate the fashionable pale faced look.  Lots of opportunities here to have fun with, just don’t go the whole hog and make the cosmetics with lead – not the best for your skin, to put mildly. Theatrical make up is accessible, and for those of you who prefer  natural things, it is possible to source proper make up, giving the authentic look, but without the harmful substances –  Sally Pointer  makes some excellent ones – link to shop here


wearing thin foundation, powder and a bit of eye shadow, but all natural look

Peterborough Heritage


more make up here, for a bridal photoshoot – Not period


make up removed – good period look


Elizabethan fashions – note the pale face and darker lips.

Elizabethan Scribes - February 21, 2016 - 4

Elizabethan middle class – no make up, hair completely covered.


Hair – hardly seen in the first century as covered  by hoods, bonnets, coifs,caps etc. You would see front hair with French hoods and as the century progressed, more and more hair was being revealed – but always styled elaborately and with ornaments – billiments etc. that’s for the court.If you are portraying middle class, you would almost always wear something on your  head, especially if you portray a married woman.


Even with hoods, wigs and extensions are useful – Eleanor above wears a lovely wig with her posh coif and cap – and the picture above shows the hairstyling for late elizabethan – my own hair plus lots of extensions and padding!

I use false braids coiled at the back of my head to add additional support to my  french hoods – so a lot of options for both long and short hair. remember that wigs  were used even back then 🙂


And just a note – any kind of modern fringe/ bangs  worn with any of the headgear is just a huge NOPE…

 17th Century

Make up –  again,  as little as possible – with the Jacobean rule  more decorum is introduced and that means a tad less even in the court, especially  under the Commonwealth –  you are still fine with paler complexion. Make up is much more evident in the Restoration period, at court – both for women and men…. mind you, more make up does not mean modern eyeliner and mascara:-)

 Hair – lots of options, hugely dependent upon the decade, nationality, status, religion. Ringlets, buns, coifs, hats – lots of choice .  I tend to use extensions to achieve the curls as my own hair stays curled for about 5 minutes and then collapses…  It is easy to customize a weft – simply cut in bits and sew onto hair clips. I use these for 17th century, Regency and Victorian styles.



the ringlets in action – not clipped on best, i must admit, but it was the first time i wore them, i learnt how to do it better later….

ringlets for the lady, full wig for the bloke!


Julia and Molly looking great in their simple coifs – very, very effective!


another coif, this time with lace – perfect for hiding short hair!



 all extensions here….

and a periwig to go with a riding habit/hunting outfit…

Georgian and 1830s-32-18

18th century

 Make up – again, less to start with ( can you see the pattern yet? ), but getting heavy in the second half. Powders, lead based whitening pastes, rouge/blusher,  beauty spots, red lips – an epitome of the spoilt French Aristo comes to mind – and that’s just the men 🙂 Again – that’s  high fashion, if you are re-enacting lower and middle class, go easy on your face paint.  Powder rules and was used excessively – both on face, hands, necks, hair etc. Rouge  went on the cheekbones, and on the lips too.


not the best image, but Neil, ( the bloke with a stick) is wearing fashionable pale complexion. rouge in evidence too, though most got eaten during the picnic…

Hair –  lots of fun  and possibilities here, from the simplest hairdos, with a cap, to the elaborate wig/hair sculptures – all depending on which decade and social stratum you are re-enacting.  you can style your hair or wear a wig – up to you; I usually find wigs much better – they stay in the style I want them to, and take much less time to put on – love it! Even better –  hats are in fashion – from straw bergeres to huge Gainsborough affairs, tricorns for hunting etc  – you will be spoilt for choice. Reference material on my Pinterest board

Georgian Ball - Bath March 2015-34

great wig ( with a portion of my own hair brushed over the top) from the Historical hairdreser

Lots if interesting tutorials and fun with 18th century hair can be found on the American Duchess website – have a browse!

Versailles Grand Fete -  May 30, 2016 - 19Pierrot Jacket and Wide Brim in Oils-2

There is a fascinating book by Kendra – a lot of information on the hairstyling, dressing wigs and hairpieces and tons of reference material –  superb resource! http://18thcenturyhair.com/

lovely hat and wig from Sherri – http://www.farthingalehistoricalhats.co.uk/


cheap wig looks great with a good hat!

C18th Riding Habit-17

using my hubby’s wig and period suitable cosmetics from Sally Painter for that  1750  outdoorsy look…

 Regency, Victorian, Edwardian

 Make up –  slowly subsiding  after the revolution, though powder lingering on a bit longer.  With the more restrictive Victorian fashions most of the make up was discarded and was worn  usually by ‘fallen women ‘, actresses, circus performers etc.  Having said that, rosy cheeks and lips were often depicted – either induced by pinching to bring the blood into the cheeks or by some more nefarious means…. 🙂

 Hair – lots of hairstyles over the decades, styling changing a bit more rapidly now – and include some fabulous  looks – as well as some quite silly ones.  Wigs and hairpieces are worn a lot – as are the hats, turbans, bonnets, caps, riding hats,  etc, enormous variety – some styles shown here

  There are a few kind of curls & ringlets extensions available, and they often come attached to a grip – but it is easy to dismantle it to use and style the ringlets in whatever way you want to!

 Again, modern bangs or loosely curled strands ( the bridal  look …) hanging down the shoulders  is not quite the thing…


a few examples…


a beret with feathers, with ringlets attached – great or hiding short hair; I am sporting my ringlets:-)


ringlets and a tiara – Kindra is wearing a turban with curls attached

Lacemaker 1830s-11-45

Crazy 1830 hair ( clip on bespoke ringlets, with a lace cap and a hat….)


a superb hairstyle and a tiara for the 1880ties


1876 hair – all of it are extensions….


fringe again, hair twisted into a bun and hidden under the hat

Karen and Well Outfits -  January 06, 2016 - 33

a single plait can add so much!

1903 Outfit -  May 14, 2016 - 21

hair up and big hat for 1903

Edwardian Outfits July 2014-18

1914 hairdo and a hat



 There you have it,  a very generic overview – more of overall guidelines rather than strict rules, but to be honest going into details of each century and decade is very much like writing a book! hope you will find them helpful.

 more links to hats pictures, btw… – here

 and a few checked wigs suppliers:





6 thoughts on “Looking the Part 2. Make up and Hair

  1. Pingback: Looking the Part; 3. Accessorise! | A Damsel in This Dress

  2. Pingback: Looking the Part 1: Undergarments | A Damsel in This Dress

  3. Pingback: First Impressions – Regency Ball | A Damsel in This Dress

  4. Pingback: The most common mistakes in historical costuming/re-enactment – and how to avoid them! | A Damsel in This Dress

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