Category: 19th Century Beauty

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

Gold and Silver Hair Powders for Fashionable Victorian Coiffures

The Empress Eugénie Surrounded by her Ladies in Waiting by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1855.

During the mid-nineteenth century, Empress Eugénie of France was the undisputed arbiter of Victorian fashion. When she appeared at a Paris theatre in 1853 with her fair hair dusted in glittering silver powder, the fashionable world sat up and took notice. Ladies—from the upper echelons of the haut ton to the minor ranks of country gentry—were quick to imitate her and it was not long before perfumers, like Eugène Rimmel of London, began advertising glittering hair powder for the masses “as worn by the Empress Eugénie and the elite of the French nobility.”[…]Continue Reading

From Arsenic to Electricity: A Brief look at Victorian Hair Removal

In the Boudoir by Johann Georg Meyer von Bremen, 1870.
(Private Collection)

In the Victorian era, ladies with excess facial or body hair didn’t have the luxury of making an appointment at their local salon. Instead, women employed various methods of hair removal at home. There was shaving and tweezing, of course, but there were also more dangerous methods. These ranged from caustic depilatories made of arsenic and quicklime to surgeon’s needles dipped in carbolic acid or nitrate of silver. Below are just a few Victorian options for hair removal (not to be tried at home!).[…]Continue Reading

How Much Scent is Too Much?—Victorian Advice for Ladies and Gentlemen

La Mode, 1836.
(Met Museum)

In the Victorian era, perfumed products abounded. In addition to perfume, cologne, and toilet water, there were scented soaps, scented pomades, and even scented mouth waters and dentifrices for the teeth. But how much scent could a lady or a gentleman wear without being offensive? It’s a question many of us puzzle over even today. Fortunately for the Victorians, books and articles on proper etiquette offered plenty of advice to guide the unwary.[…]Continue Reading

Victorian Hairspray: A Brief History of Gum Solutions and Bandoline

Vanity by Gustave Léonard de Jonghe, 19th century.

Long before the twentieth century invention of aerosol hairspray, Victorian women were using sticky hair products to fix their wayward locks stiffly into place. Of these, the most popular was a clear gum solution known as bandoline. Liquid bandoline could be purchased at most Victorian perfumers. It could also be made at home from ingredients like quince-seed, rose-water, cologne, and spirits such as rum or brandy. […]Continue Reading

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