Alright ladies and gents, let’s take a moment
Fashion and putting on makeup, especially for women, is a fun experience. We can express ourselves, feel beautiful, stay classy or go over the top. The fashion and
Was it always like that? Definitely not!
We’ve all seen the movies and we’ve all swooned at the flamboyant dresses, the feathered hats and the delicate fans that ladies of the Regency Era used to gossip behind and steal looks at equally fashionable Lords. They paint vivid pictures in our minds of well-bred, well-mannered gentlemen in breeches and cravats wooing perfumed ladies of high birth across crowded ballrooms.
But when it comes to the saying “Beauty is pain.” those esteemed ladies of the British ton, took it literally. A bit too literally.
Life for 19th century women, even those of high birth, was harsh enough at a time where men held all the power, both over politics and their wives. And truth be told, it’s a sad reality when women can’t find comfort even in their own makeup. Especially considering that same makeup poisoned them.
Regency Era ladies went to extremes to follow the beauty standards of their society. And that usually came with a lot of pain and a lot of health problems.
Take a look at a few shocking facts about Regency Era fashion and beauty! These will definitely create within you a whole new level of appreciation for soap. And normal lipstick. And proper, clinically-tested concealer!
Up until the first half of 1810, when it was discovered that dirt and bacteria were credible causes of death for people, washing was not a popular hobby. In previous years, the Romans were the only ones that took pleasure in bathing, considering how large they built their bathhouses.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the public’s interest in personal hygiene decreased considerably. Among other things, this caused an issue of acute stench. The wealthy had the financial ability to disguise the problem with strong perfumes. As for the poor, it is quite possible that their stench was so potent, that they probably couldn’t stand each other for long! (“Horrible History”, Macdonald Young Books, 1996 )
The complete lack of personal hygiene lead to infections from parasites, like ticks and fleas, which in turn helped in the spreading of dangerous diseases, mainly the plague.
The cleanest people of the time were nuns and monks as most monasteries and abbeys had their own bathhouses. Monks were given warm water to bathe four times a year! Lucky people!
We’ve all heard the warnings regarding the dangers of using non-clinically tested products on our skin. Considering our face is one of the most sensitive, if not the most sensitive, part of our body, it goes without saying that we must be extra careful with what we put on it. The health hazards of using questionable makeup products have been gaining a lot of publicity the past decade, considering what an important part makeup has become of our everyday routine.
Even women of the British ton back in the 18th and 19th centuries knew that, right?
Women – and men- back then went to the extreme to achieve the desired results, meaning: the alabaster white skin that was considered a testament of wealth and social status.
People of lower social status, commoners, were known to get tanner even in Britain since they had to labor outside to survive. That’s why the aristocrats of the time didn’t allow themselves to tan even in the slightest –hence the constant presence of a parasol at their side- and even tried to enhance the paleness of their skin using white powders.
However, the white skin those women were known for came at a price; sometimes deadly.
The white powders they used were lead-based and therefore toxic. Imagine rubbing lead on your face every day for years upon years and having your skin slowly absorb the heavy metal. Many women and men poisoned themselves while trying to achieve and maintain the raved snow-white paleness that was considered a testament of beauty and social status.
This type of beauty product and stereotype became less prevalent during the Regency Era, when people started appreciating “natural beauty” more, but many women, either obviously or in secret continued to use lead-based powders to whiten their skin until later years, when it became apparent that lead was responsible for poisoning and many times killing them.
Aren’t you happy for your store-bought foundation right now?
Did you know that bras were not invented until 1914?
I know, I know, bras aren’t a woman’s favorite article of clothing and we often find ourselves complaining about how uncomfortable they make us feel.
However, I’m going to make you feel better about that and give you a new appreciation for modern conveniences in a jiffy!
Regency Era women definitely had it bad when it comes to undergarments. They didn’t have underwear like the ones we have and had to rely on chemises, which actually were just long, short-sleeved shirts meant to absorb women’s sweat and skin oils. Charming, ain’t it?
The most dreaded article of clothing however was definitely the corset.
The short corset was very popular during the Regency Era. It laced up the back in a zigzag fashion and stiffened in the front with a carved wooden or bone busk in order to straighten the posture and create the look of a woman’s bosom that was so popular at the time.
If you’ve watched at least one movie that takes place during that time, you’ve certainly seen what a woman’s bosom looked like in a short corset: high, as if placed on a shelf for display!
Still, despite the effect it created, women definitely didn’t have fun while wearing those corsets. More often than not, they caused oxygen restriction and lead to fainting spells. That’s why it became very popular to carry around smelling salts.
In the words of Lady Elizabeth Swan from “The Pirates of the Caribbean”, women in London must have learnt not to breath!
I bet you’re mighty glad for your bra right now, aren’t you?
Also known as, when you take the saying “The eyes are the windows to the soul” a bit too seriously.
Besides a proudly displayed bosom, it seems that to the Regency Era women and men, nothing was as attractive as a sparkling pair of eyes to catch the attention and to speak of a well-bred individual.
And a lined lid just wasn’t enough.
In order to achieve the ‘sparkling eye’ effect, women employed a variety of ‘beauty hacks.’ One such strange beauty hack was consuming a mix of whiskey and sugar that allegedly made the eyes look brighter.
A less pleasant alternative was the dropping of either soapsuds or perfume into the eyes.
Can you imagine that sting? Ouch!
Pimples, beauty spots…and cats.
Both men and women in Georgian –including Regency- England strove to follow their era’s fashion and beauty trends.
Their skin, ruined by the use of lead-based powders and makeup and their admittedly bad diet, suffered from rashes and pimples that they used to cover with a type of Band-Aid made from fabric. Some of those coverings were shaped after beauty spots, stars, half-moons, even birds. (“Horrible History”, Macdonald Young Books, 1996 )
A popular remedy to cure pimples included ground meat!
In order to cure head rashes, that were the result of their coups and lack of hygiene, those more bold would pull off or cut their hair and spread a mixture of vinegar and cat feces to make the pimples go away. The peculiar mixture also allegedly helped with hair growth! (“Horrible History”, Macdonald Young Books, 1996)
Women have always struggled with their body image so it’s safe to say that Regency Era women – and sometimes men- were no different.
However, they once again make modern weight loss methods seem like God-sent gifts.
Their diets back then definitely left a lot to be desired. And of course, no prim and proper lady of the British ton would deign to put on her trainers and go for a run. Therefore, they had to turn to other methods to shed those persistent pounds and achieve the much desired figure of the time.
The weight loss remedies back then were definitely of questionable background and often contained life-threatening ingredients like arsenic, strychnine, cocaine and –as outrageous as it sounds- tapeworm larvae!
Go ahead, darling, wear that tracksuit you have in your closet. I’m waiting!
In short, Regency Era women were badasses!
As a person who spends most of her time makeup-free in oversized sweaters and yoga pants…
Hats off to you, ladies!
*Note:In the United Kingdom, the Regency is a sub-period of the Georgian era (1714-1830) and runs from 1811 to 1820. It is named after the Prince of Wales who, as Prince Regent, took over rule from his ill father, George III, during this time. For the purpose of this article, we consider the Regency era to be from 1800 to 1830, and look at some of the time’s beauty hacks.
Written by Hanna Hamilton