Trying to Look Pretty in the Mid-19th Century

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"Southern Belles" by Alan Maley
In the Encyclopaedia of Astounding Facts and Useful Information (1889), there is an entire chapter dedicated to the "secrets of beauty" because…

"If women are to govern, control, manage, influence and retain the adoration of husbands, fathers, brothers, lovers or even cousins, they must look their prettiest at all times."

So how did Victorian ladies try to “look their prettiest at all times"? These are some beauty tips from the 19th century:

Olive oil baths: Our Victorians ladies could make their own olive oil baths by pouring a full cup of virgin olive oil in their warm bath water. Most probably just rubbed olive oil on their bodies, left it on for 5 to 10 minutes, then rinsed it off with warm water. Olive oil contains vitamins A and E, which are very nourishing, along with antioxidants that guard against environmental toxins.

Face mists: Victorian ladies liked to spritz their faces before going outside. They believed face mists protected their skin against inflammation and infections. Floral scented spritzes were a favorite. Many made their own by layering flowers petals in a bottle and dousing them with cider vinegar and distilled water. This was covered tightly and allowed to infuse for two days. The liquid was strained away and used to spritz their faces.

Body wraps: Apparently some Victorian ladies enjoyed body wraps. They thought they fortified the immune system and boosted metabolism. Some 19th century wraps were made out of hay. The hay wrapping practice was supposedly discovered by tired field workers who found themselves refreshed after sleeping in hay at night despite long hours of manual labor. This is a real thing – one you can enjoy at select spas today.

Face masks: Our Victorians had a really simple and effective way of toning their complexions with face masks. Sisi – Empress Elisabeth of Austria (1837-1898) had a favorite face mask that consisted of 2 ounces of rose water, 1 ounce of milk, ½ ounce of grape juice, 5 drops of frankincense essential oil and 2 whipped egg whites. All ingredients, except the egg whites, were combined. When everything was well mixed, the egg whites were folded in and the paste was immediately applied to the face. Ladies slept with the paste on their faces and rinsed it off in the morning.

Exfoliation - To keep their complexions soft, our Victorian ladies massaged their cheeks with pure honey and crushed berries. The effects of the fruit acids cleansed, exfoliated and brightened their skin.



Sources:
Montez, Lola. The Arts of Beauty: or Secrets of a Lady’s Toilet (1858)
The Beauty Gypsy
Encyclopaedia of Astounding Facts and Useful Information (1889)
 

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19th Century Ladies (Pinterest)

I was happy (and relieved) to read that there were other areas of beauty that were considered important in the 19th century. Deportment was actually lauded as the most essential element of beauty because “the most beautiful and well dressed woman will fail to be charming unless all her other attractions are set off with a graceful and fascinating deportment. A pretty face may be seen everywhere, beautiful and gorgeous dresses are common enough, but how seldom do we meet with a really beautiful and enchanting demeanor!”


Source: Montez, Lola. The Arts of Beauty: or Secrets of a Lady’s Toilet (1858)
 
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The Household Companion: The Home Book Of Etiquette, written by Alice A. Johnson, Mrs. Janet McKenzie Hill, and Dr. Henry HartShorne extolled a beauty regimen. In addition to protecting the skin from the sun and encouraging mild forms of exercise, the book also recommended adequate sleep. The authors quoted a charming old lady, who …

“… revealed the secret of her fair and rosy complexion to a group of young women as follows:

”Late hours,” said she, ” and oversleeping ruin the complexion. Go to bed early, arise early, and you will grow old slowly, and retain your good looks to an advanced age. If, however, your position forces you into society and you are obliged to be up late at night, sleep an hour every afternoon. Before going to bed take a hot bath and remain in the water only a few moments. Then drink a cup of bouillon, and a small glass of Malaga wine. Sleep will soon follow, and last until the natural time of awakening, which is about ten o’clock in the morning under these circumstances. Take a cold plunge or sponge bath, a light breakfast of café au lait, and bread without any butter.” She continued: “Out-of-door exercise is an absolute necessity, but must not be carried to excess. A daily walk is excellent, and it is scarcely necessary to say that whole days of lawn tennis, croquet, etc., are not favorable to the complexion.”

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"Sleeping Beauty" by John William Waterhouse
 



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