Category: 19th Century

The Girl with the 19th Century Curl: Hot Tongs, Setting Lotions, and False Hair

Il Bazar, 1869.
(Met Museum)

During much of the 1860s and 1870s, hair arranged in artfully placed curls and ringlets was all the rage. But for ladies with naturally straight hair, those curls weren’t always easy to achieve. Who can forget the scene in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women when Jo burns off her sister Meg’s hair with a pair of hot tongs?[…]Continue Reading

Ice Skating Fashions of the Nineteenth Century

Women Skating by Jean-Georges Béraud, n.d.

For most mid-nineteenth century ladies, fashionable outdoor sport consisted of little more than horseback riding, or a spirited game of croquet. But with the winter came yet another option for outdoor activity. In her 1877 book The Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s Etiquette, Eliza Duffey states that ice skating “is to winter what croquet is to summer.”[…]Continue Reading

Victorian Advice on DIY Christmas Decorations

Hanging the Mistletoe by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1860.
(Private Collection)

For many Victorians, homemade Christmas decorations were far preferable to those bought in a store. Why spend good money on glittery trinkets when you could make something much more meaningful yourself? An article in the 1887 edition of Household Words advocates for doing just that, declaring:[…]Continue Reading

Flattering by Gaslight: Fashion Advice for Nineteenth Century Ladies

The Ball by Julius LeBlanc Stewart, 1885.

The gas-lit ballrooms of the mid- to late nineteenth century weren’t as flattering to some colors as they were to others. For example, the 1897 edition of Hill’s Manual of Social and Business Forms warns that pale shades of yellow became “muddy in appearance by gaslight,” while shades of rose simply disappeared. Similarly, most shades of purple, as well as darker shades of blues and greens, were known to “lose their brilliance in artificial light.”[…]Continue Reading

Inside a Victorian Bathing Machine

Women bathing in the sea near their bathing machines. Wood engraving by J. Leech.
(Wellcome Images)

During the Victorian era, ladies visiting the public beach couldn’t simply wade out into the water and enjoy an invigorating swim. To protect their modesty, most ladies on a seaside holiday utilized a bathing machine. Though the name puts one in mind of a mechanized device, a bathing machine was really nothing more than a wooden dressing room set up on two wheels. The interior was usually equipped with both an entry and an exit door, and generally featured benches on either side, and hooks on the walls.[…]Continue Reading

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