The Ladies Toilet (1872 Style)

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“Suppose then that this first and vital standing order for the toilet be stringent, and that refreshed, and therefore energetic, buoyant, and conscious of one duty being at least performed, the lady leaves her bed and prepares to dress.”  The Habits of Good Society

What duty? A good night’s sleep, of course. I suppose you could call it the need for beauty sleep in a rested young lady.

I am continuing to read through “The Habits of Good Society,” yawning here in there but also dropping my mouth open at some of the recommendations. Hang onto your Victorian hat, because here comes the next installment of life in 1872 England.

The second order of business, after getting out of bed, is the bath, which once again is reiterated upon regarding the healthy type to take to balance circulation and maintain the skin. After the bath, a lady moved onto the necessity of personal grooming of the skin, face, and hair.

Her great-grandmother, however, wore powder and only dressed her hair three times a week. She rarely washed her face because it was bad for her complexion, but merely dabbed it with a cloth. Apparently, they were afraid of cold water. Filtered rainwater is suggested in 1872 to be the best moisture for the complexion.

After the bath, the woman sits at her “toilet table,” which contains everything neatly arranged for her use. (Once again, in the Victorian mind, everything has a place and is the order of the day!) The author notes that having a pale complexion was at one time the mark of beauty and somewhat continues to be the preference of some women. “Pearly whiteness” of skin in this time period was enhanced by “pearl powder.” The use thereof is stated to be unhealthy because it clogged the pores, and if not applied correctly, was noticeable. Let’s face it, we still see a bit of clumpy powder on our faces now and then. Of course, the more one aged, the deeper the lines upon the face became, necessitating the additional application of powder. Eventually it would turn into a clumpy and undesirable state of affairs.

The thought of the day is that the extravagant use of cosmetics was evil, according to the author, who doesn’t think it’s a moral question but a physical one. Good skin should be attained by rest, exercise, and a healthy diet. If you were prone to occasional “eruptions” (which are pimples), it could be very stressful. The author states, however, to avoid such frequent occurrences that you should not rub or touch your skin unnecessarily, get fresh air, stay out of the intense heat, use pure water, and sparingly use cosmetics. Not bad advice for 1872, considering it closely adheres to twenty-first century practices for the control of eruptions (a much kinder word, I think, than pimple).

Brace yourself for hair care. The practice of some with thick hair was only brushed and not wash, which led to smelly heads. It was not the author’s preference, who focuses on the puritanical view of Victorian cleanliness. Brushing alone was not recommended. To cleanse hair, the best possible solutions are noted below. In addition, a lady’s hair should be dressed twice a day (meaning styled), but taken down during the middle of the day for a thorough brushing.

“Wash the roots of the hair from time to time with weak vinegar and water, or with a solution of ammonia, cleanses it effectually, whilst a yolk of an egg beaten up and mixed with warm water is excellent for the skin and hair; bit it is troublesome to wash out, and must be done by a careful maid.”

Whether this concoction was used by all, I have no idea. However, the thought of ammonia and its smell had to leave a residue behind. I suppose the yolk of a beaten egg might eliminate the odor. The author seems to think that any scents applied to the hair itself is injurious.

I am finally gathering that the anonymous author must be male, which I think lends to a few of his slanted views. Where he gets his information regarding best practices for the feminine toilet routine is unknown. Frankly, I don’t think I’ll be searching my kitchen stash of cleaners, along with vinegar, to wash my hair any time soon. Thank goodness for Pantene.

(By Vicki Hopkins, Author)

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