A VICTORIAN LADY'S TOILETTE
One thing that always attracts my attention is how the Victorian woman appeared so well kept. My grandmother, who had a lovely complexion, taught me to wash my face once a week with sugar to slough off dead skin (a very light scrub on a wet face, adding more pressure as it melts). She also taught me to use a facial of crushed strawberries, to occasionally rinse the hair in lemon juice to add highlights, and her list went on. I asked her where she learned her little tricks and she said her mother instructed her. A little backtracking placed my great-grandmother, born around 1854, smack in the Victorian era. My grandmother, born around 1885 reaped the benefits of her mother's teachings.
Victorian women believed in lots of fresh air and exercise in the form of walking and riding, for the specific purpose of keeping the complexion fortified, from the inside as well as the outside. They believed in walking in weather that produced a fine mist or light rain without a parasol and with the face to the rain. These women were quite specific in how they cared for themselves and kept diaries filled with recipes. In one of the diaries of a Victorian noble woman I ran across, she wrote about her belief in personal care this way:
"As long as we are not ethereal spirits, as long as we have to live as mortals, we should submit ourselves to our condition, doing all that is in our power to ameliorate it. And indeed cleanliness already brings us a step nearer to the angels of light while slovenliness, on the other hand, keeps us down in the depths of our original mire."
Imagine your mother reciting that very thing to you as a child; or how about you reciting this to your small daughters over and over! Cleanliness, it seemed, was also a moral and spiritual issue.
Beyond my grandmother's recipes, I began collecting others I found from the Victorian period. They believed in cleanliness inside and out. Lemon juice and water drunk in the morning and at night was one way of keeping the internal organs flushed and clean.
The toothbrush, such as we use today, was not invented until 1938 (by DuPont), but Victorian women did clean their teeth with toothbrushes made from boars hair or horse hair (horse hair was preferred because it was softer—mostly used by the wealthy). Although one could purchase toothpowders, they were usually made at home, as were mouth rinses. Salt, although rough on the gums, was used to clean teeth on occasion, but thought to be better used on men. Marseilles soap, a delicate soap made from olive oil, sea water and ash, which had been around for 500-600 years, and still available today, was used in the mouth 2-3 times a week. You might get a chuckle out of the following recipe for a tooth cleaner:
1. Phosphate of dry chalk...2 ounces
2. Powdered myrrh...8 grains
3. Iris powder...1 ounce
4. Mix together and add:
5. Solution of cocaine...1 drop (yes, you read this right)
6. Eucalyptus oil...13 drops
7. Mix together and strain. Excellent for sensitive teeth and tender gums
In their baths, Victorian women used pumice stones after a good soak and sloughed their skin with dry salt mixed with glycerin (I've paid a good price for the same type of thing at spas today). They used flowers from the lime tree in their orangeries in footbaths.
Hair was washed in many things, from bicarbonate of soda to salted rainwater mixed with an infusion of colocynth. Rinses were lemon juice, herbal mixtures and even beer to bring out the luster and body. Hair was cut ¼ inch at the new moon during the first quarter. It was believed they would never have split ends, nor would the hair be robbed of any vitality using this method. My grandmother left the new moon stuff out, but was faithful to the ¼ inch a month. She possessed the most beautiful red hair, wound about on her head until she was 80 years old.
Victorian women used nail polish, something that was invented by the Chinese some 2,000 years ago. They called it nail lacquer, and sorry, I don't have a recipe for that.
Care of the face was a delicate matter. It meant washing in rainwater exclusively. There were those who believed in hot water only, while others believed in closing the pores with cold water
One concoction that was used universally was orange flower and rosewater mixed with olive oil. Many believed that was all one needed for the face to remain soft and supple. Another recipe was equal parts of brandy and milk. I found this recipe to refresh the face:
1. wineglassful of fresh lemon-juice
2. pint of rain-water
3. five drops of rose-water
4. This should be kept corked, and used from time to time will preserve the colour of the skin.
There were many ways of making rouge, the most dangerous contained lead, but by far the best were those invented by the Chinese, made from diluted beet juice.
Last, but certainly of vital importance to a Victorian lady, was her lips. Here is a recipe for pomade which could usually be found in her reticule or on her dressing table:
1. Pure beeswax...2 parts
2. Olive oil...11 parts
3. Tincture of benzoin or roses...3 drops
4. Melt wax over slow flame, add oil. Mix and remove from heat. When cool enough, add perfume. Put in miniature tins, allow to set.
Well, there you have it. These are only a few of the recipes I have collected from the Victorian Era, the period in which I write. What about you, do you have any old recipes you'd care to contribute?
Kathleen Bittner Roth is a prepublished author who writes Historical Romance in the Victorian time period. Her website is www.kathleenbittnerroth.com