To help achieve this ‘plain open face,’ ladies in the Medieval and the early modern period would also remove their eyebrows and even their eyelashes for an entirely hairless look. However, by the nineteenth century, the pendulum of fashion had swung the other way. Now, ladies didn’t want to pull their eyelashes out: they wanted long, thick lashes instead.
Books and magazines began to publish helpful hints to help the fashion conscious to lengthen their lashes. Some suggested cutting the ends off existing eyelashes to encourage growth. Others prescribed eye baths made of walnut leaves steeped in water.
Sadly, these methods did not supply the thick, seductive lashes ladies craved. So more extreme methods were employed. In 1882, a Parisian newspaper reported how some ladies in the French capital were attempting to implant extra eyelashes. This eye-watering procedure involved a practitioner threading human hair through the subject’s eyelid with a needle. Despite the pain caused and the procedures dubious success rate, it continued for some years as it was also reported on by the Scottish press in 1899.
Some women tried to stick eyelashes onto their lids with glue-without success. Then in the early twentieth century, false eyelashes were invented. On November 2, 1902, Karl Nessler a German-born hairdresser living in London patented “A New or Improved Method of and Means for the Manufacture of Artificial Eyebrows, Eyelashes and the like.” Instead of applying lashes individually, Nessler’s eyelashes were sewn onto a fabric base and then adhered to the eyelid.
The idea quickly caught on, and when film director D W Griffith wanted Seena Owen, one of the actresses on his film “Intolerance” to have longer lashes, he ordered her a pair made of human hair woven onto gauze. The lashes were applied using spirit gum. However, this had a nasty effect on Seena whose eyes swelled so badly they were ‘nearly shut” when she arrived on set one day- fortunately, after all her close up scenes were concluded!