Thursday, August 11, 2011

Fashion History and Makeup Series: Aztec Makeup

The Aztecs were a population in central Mexico and dominated parts of Mesoamerica in centuries 14, 15, and 16. Like all the other cultures, makeup was used to improve people's beauty. 
Although women had a natural brown complexion, they would paint their face yellow because it was more fashionable. Yellow earth or a substance made from crushed insects was used to achieve that color. They also used axin which was a yellow ointment made from boiled wings of certain (timbre tree flies) flies as a lipbalm to protect against skin dryness.

Courtesans had their own style and Sahagun describes them as having yellow faces, colored with bitumen or yellow ochre. They wore their hair short (the length was to their noses) and they dyed it with indigo to make it shiny. Also they stained their teeth with a substance made from cochineal insects because it was seen as a beautiful feature on a a woman. However, concubines were the only women allowed to wear makeup because it was seen as indecent by the rest of the people. When it came to hair, most women wore their hair long and straight. 

The common women of Tenochtitlan were more reluctant when it came to makeup; there’s a part in the Chronicles that contains the instructions a father gives to his daughter concerning her appearance. He tells her never to paint her face, because makeup is used by shameless women. However, she should always wash herself and her clothes to be loved by her husband. 
The mouth was seen as indecent and drawing attention to it was only a practice done by prostitutes and concubines, so lipstick was out of the question for most women. 

The Aztec idea of masculine beauty is also described by Sahagun: “slender like a reed; long and thin like a stout cane; well-built; not of overfed body, not corpulent, and neither very small nor exceedingly tall. ”  
Face hair was not pleasant and mothers were careful to apply hot cloths on their sons faces and plucked their hair with tweezers.

As I mentioned earlier, cleaning was an important part of their culture and unlike Europeans who preferred to use perfumes for their body odor, they took baths every day. However, floral perfumes were used and some women even wore flowers around their necks for their pleasant smell. 

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