“I take thy hand, this hand,
As soft as dove’s down, and as white as it;
Or Ethiopia’s tooth, or the fann’d snow,
That’s bolted by the northern blast twice o’er.”
Pretty hands—like sweet tempers and paragons of husbands—are largely a matter of care and cultivation. Much more so, in fact, than most of us are aware. While tapering fingers and perfect palms count for considerable, the general beauty of the hand lies not in its correct outline so much as in the whiteness and velvety softness of the skin and the perfectly trimmed, well-kept nails.
BATHING THE HANDS
With the hands, as with almost everything else in the strife toward beauty culture, cleanliness is the first great essential. You cannot keep your hands smooth and pretty without an occasional hard scrubbing. Unless the hands are unusually moist naturally, hot water should not be used. Have the bath tepid—just warm enough to be cleansing. Say a fond farewell to all highly-scented soaps and bring yourself down to a steady and constant faith in the pure white imported castile.
I doubt very much if there is a soap manufactured which can equal this for its harmlessness and purity. The best way is to buy a large bar, letting it dry thoroughly, and cutting off small slices as they are needed.
Never fail to let the soapy water out of the basin and fill again with a clear rinsing bath. When drying be sure that the towel is not coarse or rough, and that it absorbs every particle of moisture. Very gently press back the cuticle around the nail. A little orange-wood stick or a piece of ivory will assist you when the skin is inclined to stick close to the nail. Let the hands have their most cleansing bath just before you go to bed, and then is the time to apply your cold cream or cosmetic jelly, which—in nearly all cases—is all that is needed to keep the hands soft and nice.
Wearing gloves at night is very uncomfortable and quite unnecessary. Lotions can be put on an hour or so before one goes to bed, and by that time they are usually pretty well absorbed into the cuticle.
If the hands are red use lemon juice, applying cold cream as soon as the juice is dry. For callous spots rub with pumice stone.
I have seen hands as plump as rotund little butter rolls, with fingers like wee sausages, and I have also gazed upon long, slender hands as perfect of form and proportion as any hand ever put into a Gainsborough masterpiece. And both have been called beautiful. Of course, we all know that the Gainsborough model is perfection, but nevertheless we can content ourselves with the knowledge that really ideal hands are as rare as a few other nice things in this world, and that we can struggle along very well with our good imitations providing we are able to keep them clean and well groomed.
The poets have raved their wildest over the beauty of women’s hands from the time when Adam had his first desire to write jingles—if he ever was so silly—to the present day of Kipling’s entrancing verse. Shakespeare in his many tributes to the unfortunate young Juliet spoke of the “white wonder” of her hands, and there has probably never lived a versifier who has not, at one time or another, gone into paroxysms of poetry over “lovely fingers,” and “dainty palms,” and all that. And I don’t wonder, do you? for a woman’s hand—when it is beautiful—is certainly a most adorable thing. It should be soft and yielding and caressing—with small, dainty joints, a satiny surface and carefully manicured nails of shell-pink tint.
First of all, tight sleeves and very tight gloves must be condemned.
A beautiful hand that fidgets continually is not to be admired for anything beyond its ceaseless efforts to be doing. Ben Jonson once said: “A busy woman is a fearful nuisance,” and it’s more than likely that he had in mind some fussy dame whose nervous fingers were everlastingly picking at things and continually on the wiggle.
The hand can easily be taught to move gracefully. The ordinary Delsarte movements of swinging the wrist backward and forward, of raising the hands high above the head, and the general exercises for the cultivation of gesture and expression are all good and can bring about the habit of spontaneous relaxation and activity. No gestures at all, though, are better than awkward ones.
Large joints are very unsightly. It is said of the Countess of Soissons that she never closed her hands for fear of hardening the joints. Funny, isn’t it, to what extremes those old-time ladies went? And yet the Nordauites say we are degenerates!
Of Mme. Crequy it is recorded that “she was a woman most resolute,” and in proof of that assertion the chronicler says that if no lackey were within call she opened the doors herself—without fear of blistering her hands! It was the desire for dainty, delicate white hands that first gave nice little boys the task of trotting after stately dames and carrying my lady’s prayerbook or fan. Fancy one of those porcelain-like creatures of helplessness hanging onto the strap in a State Street cable car! Perish the thought! And what a jolly time Mme. Crequy would have had could she have indulged in a Christmas shopping scrimmage. After a few tussels with the swing doors that bar our entrance to the big stores, Mme. Crequy would have blistered her hands to the queen’s taste and the poultice stage. There’s no chance of a doubt about that.