Beauty Marks, Patch Boxes, and Their Hidden Messages

At one point in history, the fashion-conscious wouldn’t leave home without sticking a beauty mark or two on their face. And what better object to hold such things than a tiny ornamental box?

Small, beautiful and intricate boxes owned by ladies of high class between the 1600s and early 1800s did more than sit on a lady’s night stand all day. These hinged boxes have a more practical use than one might think.

A rare enamel patch box, available here.

A rare enamel patch box, available here.

The history of the patch box goes back to the 1600s. Using small patches (also known as beauty marks) cut in circles, hearts, crescent moons, insects, and even more intricate designs, women placed the patches as a kind of accessory on their face to hide smallpox marks or spots. In 1760 and beyond, men started using them too. The patches were made of various materials like velvet, taffeta and leather and were stuck on with a sticky substance.

One patch fad had people putting profile patches of their family and friends on their faces. No joke.

The alternative to patches meant putting on a thick coat of face powder full of flaked lead – not something modern science would advise!

One patch shape was an entire coach and horses, about which the author of England’s Vanity wrote in 1653 in a humorous account of the patch craze:

‘Methinks the mourning coach and horses all in black, and plying on their foreheads, stands ready harnessed to whirl them to Acheron, though I pity poor Charon for the darkness of the night, since the moon on the cheek is all in eclipse, and the poor stars on the temples are clouded in sables, and no comfort left him but the lozenges on the chin, which, if he please, he may pick off for his cold.’

Patch boxes were given as gifts, often as tokens of love. If your antique box has a mirror or a portrait in the lid, it was likely used as a patch box.

Even today, beauty marks are seen as a sign of beauty, though without the hidden message.

Even today, beauty marks are seen as a sign of beauty, though without the hidden message.

These patches not only hid unseemly marks but, according to some sources, gave a message depending on where the wearer stuck them. Take a look at this list, courtesy of The Louisbourg Institute:

  • The middle of the forehead – dignified
  • The middle of the cheek – bold
  • Heart shape to the right cheek – married
  • Heart shape to the left cheek – engaged or committed to a lover
  • Touching edge of lower lip – discreet
  • On nasolabial fold – playful
  • Near corner of the eye – on the look out for a new ‘friend’
  • Beside the mouth – will kiss but will go no further

Ladies might not have stuck to the codes since the messages probably changed too often to keep track of. But if you humor the possibility, the patches would be a great party trick, like wearing your Facebook relationship status on your face.

The trend disappeared when the smallpox vaccination was invented in 1796.

If patches were still in style, where would you wear yours?

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