Sunday, January 25, 2009

Circassian Beauties

The Circassian Beauty 'Zoebida Luti'.
English sideshow poster circa. 1870

Females from the Circassian mountains close to the Black Sea were said to be the most beautiful, purest, caucasian women in the world. Prized in the harems of Turkish sultans, the legendary beauty of these women can be found in literary works dating back to the early 1700s.

In the 1860s P.T Barnum popularised the myth by exhibiting his own 'Circassian Beauty' which he claimed he had bought from a slave market in Constantinople (- actually just a local woman whom he instructed to wash her hair with beer to make it frizzy). . An instant crowd-puller, all the circuses and sideshows of the day followed suit.

So widespread was the popularity of the 'Circassian Beauty' with her frizzy afro-like hair and milky white skin, that many cosmetic products of the era, from hair dyes to skin lotions, were labled and advertised as containing 'circassian' ingredients.

As the trend for Circassian Beauties died down, the women were utilised in other circus roles as sword-swallowers and snake charmers.

'Circassian' hair dye advert c.1840s

This image currently under restoration - available soon as fine art print.


Helena said...

What a classy vintage site. This is something else than the vintage housewife blogs. :-)

Marie Reed said...

That is totally fascinating! Great blog!


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