Category: American History

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

An Informal Afternoon Tea: Etiquette, Fashion, and Excess in the Late 19th Century

5 O’Clock Tea by David Comba Adamson (1859-1926), n.d.
(© Dundee Art Gallery and Museum)

During the late nineteenth century, an afternoon tea was one of the most informal entertainments to which a fashionable lady could invite her friends and acquaintances. The menu was simple, as were the dress requirements, and etiquette only required that a guest stay—at minimum—half an hour. It was an easy method of entertaining and one that soon grew in both popularity and extravagance, leading an 1895 edition of Table Talk to declare that the once inexpensive ritual had evolved into “a party in the daytime…[a] large, gas lighted ball at five o’clock where half of the ladies were in décolleté dresses, the other in fur tippets.”[…]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

The Truth About Reformed Rakes: Victorian Views on Marrying a Scoundrel

The Kiss by Carolus Duran, 1868.

If you’ve ever read a historical romance novel, you’ll likely be familiar with the oft-quoted belief that “reformed rakes make the best husbands.” This matrimonial maxim did not, however, originate in the world of Regency and Victorian fiction. In fact, when it came to marriage, many a nineteenth century lady firmly believed that a reformed rake was superior to other men. Not only was a rake more sexually experienced and (presumably) a better lover, but—after having sown his wild oats—a rake was believed to be more attentive to his business and more indulgent toward his wife.[…]Continue Reading

A Brief History of Victorian Veils...for Babies

The New Arrival by Jules Trayer, 1862.

When taking a baby out of the house, many Victorian mothers first covered the baby’s face with a veil. These veils were believed to protect infants’ faces from extremes of weather, as well as from harmful pollutants which might mar their delicate skin or injure their eyes. By the 1870s and 1880s, baby veils had become so ubiquitous that sewing books, ladies’ magazines, and even etiquette manuals often included knitting or crochet patterns for them. […]Continue Reading

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