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Ban on lipstick was attempted in 1650, not 1770 – but didn’t pass

Was lipstick banned in 1770, because of its supposed power to seduce men into marriage, as a meme on Facebook says?

“Fun fact: In 1770, British parliament banned lipstick, saying it had the power to seduce men into marriage, which was classified as witchcraft,” the meme reads.

But was this really a law? We checked.

Rumour repeated often

In various books, academic articles, blogs, legal notes, and social-media posts, “you can find references to a law passed by England in 1770 that made it legal for a man to divorce his wife if she tricked him into marriage using witchcraft, such as makeup, to enhance her looks,” says a 2017 article by Ranked.

“Except it never happened” in the 1700s, the article says. “But generations of researchers have been fooled, some stating that the law was passed in 1774, others saying that it was voted down by parliament, and another group claiming that under the counsel of their mistresses and wives, members of parliament decided not to vote on it at all.”

A letter written to the Spectator, a British daily paper, in 1711, shows there was public antipathy towards makeup.

The letter was from an “injured gentleman” who had married what he called one of the “women who do not let their husbands see their faces till they are married” and are “that part of the sex who paint”.

But there is no hard evidence that a law banning lipstick ever made it through the British parliament. 

The bill ‘doesn’t appear to have received reading’

We contacted the national archives in the UK and asked whether they had any information about any such act.

They told Africa Check that they had “identified that the original 1650 quote can be found in the Journals of the House of Commons”. 

It is entered under the heading “Immodest Dress” and says that “an Act against the Vice of Painting, and wearing black Patches, and immodest Dresses of Women” is to be read “on Friday Morning next”.

But the archives said that “the bill was introduced on 7 June 1650 but doesn’t appear to have received a reading” as far as they could tell. That’s 120 years before the year the meme claims lipstick was banned. 

“Given that the bill never received a full reading”, the archives said, “it was likely introduced at the behest of a Puritan member of parliament but the council of state chose not to pursue it”. 

While frowned upon, lipstick or other “immodest painting” was never banned by the British parliament. While it may be “fun” it is definitely not “fact”. Taryn Willows.


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