Category: British History

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

Beauty and the Beast: From French Folklore to Victorian Romance

An illustration by Warwick Goble for Beauty and the Beast, 1913.

In 1740, French author Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve wrote and published a collection of stories entitled La Jeune Ameriquaine et les Contes Marins. Within, was the fairy tale La Belle et la Bête. Widely viewed as the oldest version of Beauty and Beast, La Belle et la Bête contained all of the now familiar elements of the much beloved story. There was a handsome prince cursed to live out his days as a monstrous beast and a courageous beauty who consents to be his prisoner in order to save her father.

[…]Continue Reading

Companion Dogs as Seers, Healers, and Fairy Steeds

Johnson’s Household Book of Nature, 1880.

When considering dog folklore, we generally think of those stories which feature the Grimm, the Gytrash, or other sinister black dogs roaming the moors in the North of England. But there is more to canine folklore than the ominous black dogs of legend. Companion dogs, such as pugs and corgis, have their place in dog folklore as well.[…]Continue Reading

Mermaids Sightings in the 19th Century

Illustration of a Mermaid, The Brown Fairy Book by H. J. Ford, 1904.

According to historians, tales of mermaids and mermen can be traced back to the Babylonian sea deities Oannes and Atargatis in 1000 BCE. Since then, mermaid folklore has appeared in every era and every culture, from ancient Greece to Victorian England. But mermaid lore was not limited to the realm of folklore and mythology. During the nineteenth century, mermaids appeared with some regularity in art, literature, and music. They also featured in the nineteenth century news, with both sailors and coastal residents reporting real life sightings of mermaids well into the Victorian era.[…]Continue Reading

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