Category: 19th Century Beauty

The Scent of Violets: Perfume, Cosmetics, and Crime in the Late Victorian Era

“The fondness for violets increases with time, and many women of fashion will tolerate no other fragrance.”
American Soap Journal and Manufacturing Chemist, 1895.

The Nosegay Of Violets by William Worcester Churchill, 1905.

In 1893, a woman by the name of Margaret Gainer was arrested, charged, and ultimately sentenced to thirty days imprisonment for stealing a bottle of violet perfume from a hairdresser’s shop. The hairdresser had seen her take the bottle and slip it into her pocket, but when he gave her the choice of putting the bottle back or facing the consequences, Miss Gainer steadfastly refused to relinquish the violet perfume. Her motivation for the theft—and her subsequent unwillingness to part with her ill-gotten gains—is not entirely clear; however, I suspect it had more than a little to do with the late Victorian violet fad.[…]Continue Reading

A Fashionable Coiffure: Rolls, Plaits, and other Popular Hairstyles of 1863

“The MANNER of DRESSING the HAIR calls for much attention at the present day, and many are the inquiries addressed to us on this important subject.”
Peterson’s Magazine, 1863.

The Reluctant Bride by Auguste Toulmouche 1865.
The Reluctant Bride by Auguste Toulmouche 1865.

Hairstyles of the 1860s are, in my opinion, some of the most beautiful of the nineteenth century.  Hair was arranged in enormous rolls or plaited into intricately woven patterns.  Women donned crowns of flowers or bound their hair up into silken nets or velvet hoods.  These were soft, feminine styles, lacking the Gothic severity of the 1830s and 1840s while, at the same time, still far more conservative than the long, draped curls that would come into fashion in the 1870s and 1880s.  These were also the hairstyles that most of us recognize from the American Civil War era (1861-1865).  Popular coiffures changed from year to year, and often from month to month.  Today, we look at a few of the most fashionable styles of 1863.[…]Continue Reading

Victorian Fat Shaming: Harsh Words on Weight from the 19th Century

“All defects are in the nature of ugliness, but certain ones are more degrading than others; and of these obesity, which is a deformity, is signally ignoble.”
The Woman Beautiful, 1899.

Unknown Painting by Ivan Makarov, 1870.
Unknown Painting by Ivan Makarov, 1870.

During the early and mid-Victorian era, a great many health and beauty books echoed the popular 19th century sentiment that plumpness equaled good health.  It was leanness, not heaviness, to which beauty experts directed the majority of their criticism.  For example, in his 1870 book Personal Beauty: How to Cultivate and Preserve it in Accordance with the Laws of Health, author Daniel Brinton states that a “scrawny bony figure” is “intolerable to gods and men.”  According to Brinton, the only occasion on which excessive leanness had ever been beneficial to a lady was in an encounter with a cannibal.  As he explains:

“The only lady who we ever heard derived advantage from such an appearance was Madame Ida Pfeiffer.  She relates that somewhere in her African travels the natives had a mind to kill and eat her, but she looked so unpalatably lean and tough that the temptation was not strong enough, and thus her life was saved.”

[…]Continue Reading

The Beauty Rituals of 19th Century Empress Elisabeth of Austria

Empress Elisabeth of Austria by Georg Raab, 1867.
Empress Elisabeth of Austria by Georg Raab, 1867.

Born in Munich on December 24, 1837, Her Royal Highness Duchess Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie became Empress of Austria when she married Emperor Franz Joseph at the age of sixteen.  Though now widely acknowledged as one of the most beautiful women of 19th century Europe, Sisi, as she was known to her intimates, was not considered a great beauty in her youth.  Some biographers have even referred to her as sturdy and boyish with a “round peasant face.”  Highly sensitive to any perceived deficiencies in her appearance, Sisi embarked on a lifetime of starvation diets and extreme beauty rituals which have since become the stuff of legend. […]Continue Reading

This website uses cookies for a better browsing experience and to analyze site traffic to improve site performance. Find out more about how cookies are used on this site and how you can manage cookies in your browser by reading the Cookie Policy