A Fashionable Coiffure: Rolls, Plaits, and other Popular Hairstyles of 1863

“The MANNER of DRESSING the HAIR calls for much attention at the present day, and many are the inquiries addressed to us on this important subject.”
Peterson’s Magazine, 1863.

The Reluctant Bride by Auguste Toulmouche 1865.

The Reluctant Bride by Auguste Toulmouche 1865.

Hairstyles of the 1860s are, in my opinion, some of the most beautiful of the nineteenth century.  Hair was arranged in enormous rolls or plaited into intricately woven patterns.  Women donned crowns of flowers or bound their hair up into silken nets or velvet hoods.  These were soft, feminine styles, lacking the Gothic severity of the 1830s and 1840s while, at the same time, still far more conservative than the long, draped curls that would come into fashion in the 1870s and 1880s.  These were also the hairstyles that most of us recognize from the American Civil War era (1861-1865).  Popular coiffures changed from year to year, and often from month to month.  Today, we look at a few of the most fashionable styles of 1863. Continue reading

Emblems of the Soul: Butterflies in Victorian Fashion and Folklore

Take the Fair Face of Woman, and Gently Suspending, With Butterflies, Flowers, and Jewels Attending, Thus Your Fairy is Made of Most Beautiful Things by Sophie Gengembre Anderson, (1823-1903)

Take the Fair Face of Woman, and Gently Suspending, With Butterflies, Flowers, and Jewels Attending, Thus Your Fairy is Made of Most Beautiful Things
by Sophie Gengembre Anderson, (1823-1903).

Victorians had a fascination with natural history.  This manifested itself in various ways, not the least of which was in fashionable clothing and décor.  A Victorian parlour, for example, might feature a scientific display of pinned butterflies.  While insects, such as butterflies, dragonflies, beetles, and grasshoppers, were often depicted in Victorian jewellery, with some insect brooches and hairpins set en tremblant (on a spring) so that the jewelled insect would tremble and shake as if it were actually alive. Continue reading

The 1890s in Fashionable Gowns: A Visual Guide to the Decade

(Individual Images of Gowns via Met Museum)

(Individual Images of Gowns via Met Museum)

The 1890s ushered in an era of modest, dignified gowns, some of which were almost prudish in appearance.  Necklines were high, skirts were straight, and enormous puffed sleeves—hearkening back to the gigot sleeves of the 1830s—contributed to an overall impression of women who were far more formidable than delicate.  This was the decade of the New Woman, the Suffragette Movement, and the tailor-made dress.  This was also the decade known as the Naughty Nineties in the United Kingdom and the Gay Nineties in the United States. Continue reading

Fashion and Beauty Essentials for a 19th Century Summer Holiday

Individual Collage Images via MFA Boston and Victoria and Albert Museum.

In women’s magazines today, we often see lists of summer vacation “must haves.”  These lists usually include such hot weather essentials as swimsuits, sunscreen, and a romance novel or two to read at the beach.  But what about ladies in the Victorian era?  By the end of the 19th century, beach holidays were certainly on the rise.  However, our Victorian sisters met the heat without benefit of air conditioning, skimpy clothing, or sun protection.  What did they have instead?  In today’s article, we look at a few fashion, beauty, and novel necessities for a 19th century summer. Continue reading

Medieval Hairstyles for Men and Women: Guest Post By Regan Walker

Today, bestselling historical author Regan Walker brings us a guest post on Medieval hairstyles for men and women!

Detail of Illustration form an Italian breviary showing women's figured silk gowns and a saint. Bilbliothèque Nationale, Paris, 1380.

Detail of Illustration form an Italian breviary, Bilbliothèque Nationale, Paris, 1380.

The Medieval Era spanned the 5th to the 15th century.  For my Medieval Warriors series, I did considerable research on the hairstyles of men and women during the Medieval Era, though my particular interest was the 11th century.  For my newest book in the series, Rebel Warrior, I also needed to know how the hairstyles might have differed in Scotland. Continue reading

The 1880s in Fashionable Gowns: A Visual Guide to the Decade

(Individual Images via Met Museum and MFA Boston)

(Individual Images via Met Museum and MFA Boston)

The 1880s ushered in an era of tailored, close-fitting gowns, some of which were almost masculine in appearance.  These gowns exemplified women’s changing roles in society.  No longer content to be flounced, ruffled, and beribboned drawing room ornaments, 1880s ladies were engaged in outdoor pursuits.  Some had jobs, some participated in sports, and many were involved in the ongoing fight for women’s suffrage.  This was the decade of Sherlock Holmes, Jack the Ripper, the Rational Dress Reform Movement, and the ready-made gown.  This was also the decade when black evening dresses became fashionable—and not just for those in mourning. Continue reading

Circassian Bloom: Cheek Rouge for 18th and 19th Century Ladies

Self-Portrait by Marie-Gabrielle Capet, 1783.
(National Museum of Western Art)

Circassian Bloom—also marketed as “Bloom of Circassia”—is perhaps the most well-known brand of cheek rouge from the 18th and 19th centuries.  Along with such luxurious sounding beauty products as Peach Blossom Cream and Alabaster Liquid, it was featured regularly in Victorian era newspaper advertisements.  It was also frequently mentioned in 18th and 19th century fiction, including short stories in magazines and popular comic verses.  Perhaps the most quoted of these verses is by the English poet George Crabbe who mentions Circassian Bloom in his 1785 poem, The Newspaper.  It reads in part: Continue reading

On Bluestockings and Beauty: 19th Century Advice for Educated Women

“Blue-stocking or not, every woman ought to make the best of herself inside and out.  To be healthy, handsome, and cheerful, is no disadvantage even in a learned professor.”
The Art of Beauty, 1883.

Portrait of a Woman by Henry Inman, 1825.(Brooklyn Museum)

Portrait of a Woman by Henry Inman, 1825.
(Brooklyn Museum)

Unlike the clever, witty bluestockings that populated the fashionable salons of the 18th and early 19th centuries, the Victorian bluestocking was considered to be, as one 1876 publication puts it, “a stiff, stilted, queer literary woman of a dubious age.”  This unfortunate stereotype was so firmly entrenched that it even made its way into an 1883 edition of the Popular Encyclopedia, wherein a bluestocking is defined as a “pedantic female” who has sacrificed the “excellencies of her sex” to education and learning. Continue reading

Victorian Fat Shaming: Harsh Words on Weight from the 19th Century

“All defects are in the nature of ugliness, but certain ones are more degrading than others; and of these obesity, which is a deformity, is signally ignoble.”
The Woman Beautiful, 1899.

Unknown Painting by Ivan Makarov, 1870.

Unknown Painting by Ivan Makarov, 1870.

During the early and mid-Victorian era, a great many health and beauty books echoed the popular 19th century sentiment that plumpness equaled good health.  It was leanness, not heaviness, to which beauty experts directed the majority of their criticism.  For example, in his 1870 book Personal Beauty: How to Cultivate and Preserve it in Accordance with the Laws of Health, author Daniel Brinton states that a “scrawny bony figure” is “intolerable to gods and men.”  According to Brinton, the only occasion on which excessive leanness had ever been beneficial to a lady was in an encounter with a cannibal.  As he explains:

“The only lady who we ever heard derived advantage from such an appearance was Madame Ida Pfeiffer.  She relates that somewhere in her African travels the natives had a mind to kill and eat her, but she looked so unpalatably lean and tough that the temptation was not strong enough, and thus her life was saved.”

Continue reading

Victorian Cosmetics: Red Lip Rouge and Lip Salve for 19th Century Ladies

A Winter's Walk by James Tissot, 1878.

A Winter’s Walk by James Tissot, 1878.

Attitudes toward cosmetics in the 19th century were notoriously negative.  Queen Victoria herself denounced make-up as being “impolite” and mid-century magazines like the Saturday Evening Review declared that cosmetics were “insincere” and “a form of lying.” (Pallingston, 13) Even more damning, to most Victorians, make-up was considered the province of only two classes of women: actresses and prostitutes. Continue reading