Ye Olde Grooming Disasters: Mouse Eyebrows

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We’ve certainly had some questions about taming our eyebrows over the years, but it turns out, there are worse things than a quick trim that turns you into a Jersey Shore regular. Don’t believe us? At the beginning of the 18th century, people used to replace their eyebrows with strips of rodent fur.

The 1700s were a strange time to be into personal grooming. On the one hand, beauty standards were meticulous and precise, while on the other, actual washing and bathing was mostly considered an unnecessary chore (and even by some as being bad for your health). The end result was an aristocratic class with increasingly beautiful, elaborate clothes and wigs, most of which were crawling with lice and stank to high heaven.

It’s a period we’ll be returning to pretty frequently in this column, but in today’s edition, we’re focusing on those vermin-based brows. Dark eyebrows were extremely desirable in order to contrast with the pasty white complexion that was the fashion of the day. A common way of achieving this was to shave off the brows completely and glue strips of mouse pelt in their place.

This is unpleasant enough, but it’s important to remember that ladies of the day were not buying a 10-pack of mouse-brows in the drug store. Many women would trap and skin the mice themselves, a process that makes plucking those nose hairs seem a joy by comparison. The poet Matthew Prior composed an ode to the ritual in 1718:

On little things, as sages write,
Depends our human joy or sorrow;
If we don’t catch a mouse tonight,
Alas! No eyebrows for to-morrow.

The celebrated satirist Jonathan Swift also refers to the practice of removing the brows and pressing them flat overnight in his 1734 poem, “A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed: Written for the Honour of the Fair Sex:”

Her eye-brows, from a mouse’s hide,
Stuck on with art on either side,
Pulls off with care, and first displays ’em,
Then in a play-book smoothly lays ’em:

In short, the 1700s were a pretty terrible time for fashion. And an even worse time to be a mouse.