Category: American History

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

The Jersey Pug's Funeral; and Other Dog Funerals of the Late Victorian Era

“If this sort of thing keeps growing, it won’t be long before we shall hear of dog undertakers, and perhaps marble cutters who devote their time and talent to the construction of monuments to pet dogs. There is no calculating the extent to which infectious folly will go.”

The Saint Paul Globe, 25 November 1888.

Sous le Berceau by Eva Gonzalès, 1879-1880.

Of all the animals buried and mourned in the Victorian era, it was dogs who received the lion’s share of the funerary honors. The Hyde Park Dog Cemetery opened in London in 1881 and the Hartsdale Canine Cemetery in New York—the oldest pet cemetery in the United States—opened in 1896. One might think that this indicated a normalization of dog burial and mourning. However, as late as 1901, there were still those who railed against the idea of funerals for dogs, calling the practice ridiculous and absurd. One French bishop even went so far as to formally denounce the dog funeral fad in a religious publication, decrying “the lack of decent feeling on the part of modern society women.” 1[…]Continue Reading

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