Tag: History

Ether for Every Occasion: Wedding Nights, Frolics, and Flammable Binges

The First Use of Ether in Dental Surgery By Ernest Board, 1846.
(Wellcome Images, CC BY 4.0)

Derived from ethyl alcohol, ether was a sweet-smelling, colorless liquid that came into medical prominence in the nineteenth century. When vaporized and inhaled, it produced varying degrees of unconsciousness. First employed as a general anesthetic by American doctors in the 1840s, its popularity quickly spread to Victorian England. But ether wasn’t only used during surgeries. It was also used recreationally, as well as to address myriad calamities of life in ways that ranged from the mundane to the outright creepy.[…]Continue Reading

Flattering by Gaslight: Fashion Advice for Nineteenth Century Ladies

The Ball by Julius LeBlanc Stewart, 1885.

The gas-lit ballrooms of the mid- to late nineteenth century weren’t as flattering to some colors as they were to others. For example, the 1897 edition of Hill’s Manual of Social and Business Forms warns that pale shades of yellow became “muddy in appearance by gaslight,” while shades of rose simply disappeared. Similarly, most shades of purple, as well as darker shades of blues and greens, were known to “lose their brilliance in artificial light.”[…]Continue Reading

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

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

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

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