Party Patches

The present epoch’s battle-lines between press and state are drawn up against a backdrop of long lenses, social media, silicon enhancement, laser correction and crystal adornment of every area known to man.

Yet brandishing our allegiances, prejudices and peccadilloes upon our skins while seeking to smooth the frayed edges of our jaded complexions is nothing new – from moleskin eyebrows, periwigs and white lead to a drop of belladonna in the eyeball, dissemblance is never far from our dressers.

Perhaps in these torrid times we may count ourselves fortunate, however, that the need to conceal facial blemishes are infinitely more likely to stem from the scourge of teenage acne as opposed to the vestiges of smallpox or the ravages of syphilis, and that the methods employed generally lean towards the subtle rather than the ostentatious. Our own skins, at least, should not misinform the populace as to our political leanings as they risked doing for the fashionably patched ladies of Joseph Addison’s 18th century London …

“About the middle of last winter, I went to see an Opera at the Theatre in the Hay-market, where I could not but take notice of two parties of very fine women, that had placed themselves in the opposite side-boxes, and seemed drawn up in a kind of battle array one against another. After a short survey of them I found they were patched differently; the faces on one hand being spotted on the right side of the forehead, and those upon the other on the left. I quickly perceived that they cast hostile glances upon one another; and that their patches were placed in those different situations, as party-signals to distinguish friends from foes. In the middle-boxes between these two opposite bodies, were several ladies who patched indifferently on both sides of their faces, and seemed to sit there with no other intention but to see the Opera. Upon inquiry, I found that the body of Amazons on my right hand were Whigs, and those on my left, Tories, and that those who had placed themselves in the middle-boxes were a neutral party, whose faces had not yet declared themselves. These last, however, as I afterwards found, diminished daily […] Nay, I am informed that some of them adhere so steadfastly to their party, and are so far from sacrificing their zeal for the public to their passion for any particular person, than in a late draught of marriage-articles a lady has stipulated with her husband, that whatever his opinions are, she shall be at liberty to patch on which side she pleases.


I must here take notice, that Rosalinda, a famous Whig partisan, has most unfortunately a very beautiful mole on the Tory part of her forehead; which being very conspicuous, has occasioned many mistakes, and given a handle to her enemies to misrepresent her face, as though it had revolted from Whig interest … This unlucky mole has misled several coxcombs, and, like the hanging out of false colours, made some of them converse with Rosalinda in what they thought the spirit of her party, when on a sudden she has given them an unexpected fire, that has sunk them all at once. If Rosalinda is unfortunate in her mole, Nigranilla is as unhappy in a pimple, which forces her, against her inclinations, to patch on the Whig side…

See Joseph Addison, Essays, Moral and Humorous, Also Essays on Imagination and Taste. Edinburgh: William & Robert Chambers, 1839: 40.


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