The Finishing Touch

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More About This Title The Finishing Touch


"The quest for physical beauty is essentially as old as Woman herself," according to A Complete Guide to Personal Loveliness from 1937. This fascinating new book explores some of the materials and methods that women—and men—have used in the past to enhance or hold on to their looks. Julian Walker opens up a curious, sometimes uncomfortable history of the human need to look beautiful. He reveals dozens of the (occasionally desperate) ways in which people have tried to make themselves more attractive. The book tells a story of ingenuity and imagination, but also of self-delusion, trickery, and exploitation. Among the bizarre home remedies and grotesque commercial innovations featured are a face wash based on minced and boiled pigeons; bear's grease used as a hair conditioner; a recipe for horseradish stirred into sour milk to lighten a tan; an Anglo-Saxon prescription for cosmetic surgery; and ways to prevent mice from infesting elaborate wigs.


Julian Walker is the author of Trench Talk and two books on the history of medicine and cosmetics, using historical texts, for the British Library, as well as Evolving English Explored. As an educator he has worked with schools, prisons, and refugee groups, and has run regular workshops for schools, colleges, and adults at the British Library, covering English literature and language, art, history, and the history of the book.