The proverb was first found in Alexander Barclay's Eclogues in c. 1514. The Eclogues were the English translation of Johnannes Baptista Spanolo Mantuanus (1448 - 1516), a Mantuan Latin poet and Carmelite monk.
"A man cannot make a cheverill purse of a sow's eare" - Randle Cotgrave, Dictionary: Pigeon (1611)
"You will never make a satin purse of a Sowe's eare" - James Howell, English Proverbs, p13. (1659)
"A hog in armour is still but a hog" - Thomas Fuller, the British physician (1732)
"Hog in armour" alludes to "an awkward or mean looking man or woman, finely dressed." - The Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1796)
First attested to in th U.S. in Modern Chivalry by Hugh Henry Breckenridge (1816).
"A hog in a silk waistcoat is still a hog" - The Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon, in his book of proverbs The Salt-Cellars (published 1887).
In an article in the Quad-City Herald (Brewster, Washington) from Jan. 31 1980, it was observed that "You can clean up a pig, put a ribbon on it's [sic] tail, spray it with perfume, but it is still a pig."
After that it became a more common phrase.