Category: 19th Century

Little Ladies: Victorian Fashion Dolls and the Feminine Ideal

Three doll dresses from Miss Fanchon’s wardrobe, late 1860s-1870s, possibly France. Gift of Gardner H. Nicholas in memory of Mrs. Gardner H. Nicholas, 1922-58-9a—c, 14a,b,3.

In November, the Philadelphia Museum of Art will be presenting a new exhibition titled Little Ladies: Victorian Fashion Dolls and the Feminine Ideal. It features four gorgeous Victorian dolls and their equally gorgeous Victorian wardrobes. The dolls—known as Miss Fanchon, Miss G. Townsend, Miss French Mary, and Marie Antoinette—were all made in France during the 1860s and 1870s. They have painted bisque heads, leather bodies, and measure between 18 and 22 inches in height. The Philadelphia Museum of Art calls them “the ultimate toy for privileged girls of this period.” But these dolls were much more than mere toys. They were models of perfect Victorian womanhood.[…]Continue Reading

Victorian Advice on Civility Toward Women

Quarreling by James Tissot, c. 1874-76.
(Private Collection)

Nobody likes to be shouted at or spoken to in an abusive, combative tone. In the Victorian era, however, such behavior was especially distasteful when engaged in by a man and directed at a woman. Men were generally larger in size and more powerful in position. It was their duty as gentlemen to treat women with respect, whether those women be the lowliest of servants or the grandest of ladies.[…]Continue Reading

Teeth Whitening in the Victorian Era: From Charcoal Paste to Sulfuric Acid

A dentist looking at a tooth of a very attractive female patient, 19th century.
(Wellcome Collection. CC BY 4.0)

I like to make my historical novels as authentically Victorian as possible. However, when it comes to the subject of dental health, I’m guilty of fudging the facts. The truth is, not everyone in the 19th century had strong white teeth. Rather the opposite. In an era with no Crest Whitestrips, no veneers, and somewhat primitive dentistry, you were more likely to encounter a hero with brown or missing teeth than one with a gleaming white smile.[…]Continue Reading

On Elbows, Etiquette, and Evening Gloves

Sogni (Dreams) by Vittorio Matteo Corcos, 1896.
(Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna)

I can honestly say that I’ve never really paid attention to elbows. Certainly not as much as the Victorians seemed to do. They prized a delicately rounded female elbow—and abhorred one that was too sharp and pointy. Even gentlemen fell in for their share of elbow shaming. According to Victorian etiquette manuals, a pointy male elbow was worse than unattractive. It could also be dangerous. As the author of The Etiquette of Love, Courtship, and Marriage (1859) relates:[…]Continue Reading

A Parisian Dog Arrested for Theft

Newfoundland by Carl Reichert (1836–1918), n.d.

In December of 1888, the Gloucester Citizen reported on the arrest of a Parisian dog thief. Mind you, this was not a human who dognapped canines. It was, in fact, a dog who regularly absconded with goods from the fashionable shops of Paris. This dog thief is described as “a big Newfoundland.” On the day of his arrest, he entered a large shop located near the Bastille. According to the Gloucester Citizen:[…]Continue Reading

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