Friday, August 07, 2009

Pepys’s Patches

Not Poetry, Poetics, or Portland, but help me out people with a little Pepys. In his diary entry for 14 May 1660, he notes Dutch ladies of fashion wearing “black patches.” By August, he’s pleased to see his wife with them; in November he writes:
“The Princess Henrietta is very pretty, but much below my expectation; and her dressing of herself with her hair frizzed short up to her ears, did make her seem so much the less to me. But my wife standing near her with two or three black patches on, and well dressed, did seem to me much handsomer than she.”
This helpful site explains that the patches “are not eye-patches, but the black (occasionally red) patches cut from paper, cloth or even fine leather in the shape of stars, crescent moon, even a coach and six horses that were stuck upon the face as ‘beauty spots’ and which remained in fashion for many years. They could, of course, have been put to practical use in covering a blemish but a significant part of their function was to emphasize the fashionable whiteness of a lady’s complexion.”

Does anyone know where to find pictures of these, or some approximate modern version? I came up empty on Google Images. Sounds sexy (esp. that coach and six), but I’m having trouble imagining what they looked like in situ. Ripe for a comeback?

For men on fashion, you can’t top Pepys. He frets about his spending on clothes, goes fabric shopping with his wife, takes huge delight in new outfits, and signs himself “Dapper Dickey” in letters to the ladies. No kids, a heavy purse, and the whole of Restoration London to parade in, but still, impressive commitment to adornment.


Nada said...

I am absolutely positive I have seen these patches in movies. Maybe Amadeus? Also in drawings, but not online, and I can't remember where.

I love that you are fixated on this. I think this would be a swell new trend. Actually a quick google image search for I think beauty patch did show some newfangled blingy versions, but I've lost the link and anyway should be grading right now instead of focusing on serious frivolities like this.

lauren said...

hi rodney,

here's an article about them, with an illustration of the coach patch whirling across the forehead:

nice to meet you at melissa & brent's wedding!

best, lauren

Nada said...

p.s. sam's hair looks just like mine does on a humid NYC summer day

rodney k said...


These are terrific--even stranger than I imagined. Can't believe you tracked down the coach and sic Thank you! See you Thursday.

P.S. Still wondering about a "patch" comeback.

rodney k said...


One of the things I dig about male Restoration fashion is how the entire body disappears, or becomes at best a serious frivolity, a trinket to set off the cloth.

Nada said...

Lauren: I totally bookmarked that page. What a treasure trove.

Rodney: yes. "body-conscious" fashion is the least democratic, in
terms of being "fair to everybody": fashion should be about
(artificial) FORM, DRAPING and VOLUMINOUS fabric creatively employed.

The body SHOULD be secondary to the clothes; this is one of the
secrets to the power of Shonibare's headless mannequins. These days,
sadly, no one (except for maybe gothic Lolitas) seems to want to dress like that, but I'm thrilled to see that Indian women will not be
parted entirely from their saris.

rodney k said...

Hi Lauren,
I'm with Nada--that site's an amazing resource. Fascinated to learn that the patch was a male accessory at first, at Elizabeth's court. So I guess the revival, if there is one, could start with me. Not sure I can manage it, though facial tattooing is a precedent, I guess.

That part below about women dying of painting their faces was remarkable, too. Lady Wortley Montagu's a recent hero of mine; will have to think of her cheaply painted next time I leaf through the letters. (Or at least think of Walpole's slander. Pope turned on her too, for reasons I don't think we're sure of.)

Lesley said...

You are adorable.