Category: 19th Century

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

Strawberry Water, Lemon Cream, & Grape Lotion: A Victorian Sun Care Primer

Portrait of a Lady with Hat by Anton Einsle (1801-1871), n.d.

Victorian women didn’t have our knowledge of ultraviolet rays and SPF, but like us, they had a healthy respect for the damage that too much sun could wreak on their complexions. A fair, unblemished countenance was one of the hallmarks of a lady. It helped to distinguish her from the lower classes. To signal that she wasn’t obliged to engage in any outdoor labor.[…]Continue Reading

Have Carpet Bag – Will Travel

Going into the World by Evert Jan Boks (1838-1914), 1882.

Victorian ladies have a reputation for tight-laced respectability, but not all women of the era were content with home and hearth. Some ladies traveled the world, living their lives in far off lands like Egypt or India. Getting to such places was an adventure in itself. For example, a journey from London to Darjeeling in 1860 often took as long as a month and required passage on a combination of railways, steamships, dak carts, and bullock trains.[…]Continue Reading

A Cure for the Common Victorian Cold

“The abrupt violation of the decencies of social existence is one of the most annoying consequences of coughing and sneezing.” -Western Journal of Medicine and Surgery, 1844.

The Invalid by William Powell Frith, 1890.

The cold that’s going around this season is intense. As of today, I’ve had it for two weeks. Between the coughing, congestion, and laryngitis, it’s been difficult to function. One wonders how our nineteenth century forbears managed in similar circumstances. Did they take to their beds and slowly succumb? Or were there plasters and potions to help them through it? In fact, Victorians had a multitude of (sometimes questionable) medicinals at their disposal.[…]Continue Reading

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