Alright ladies and gents, let’s take a moment to be honest with ourselves. Please raise your hand and proudly admit: “Yes, I have imagined myself as a model, designer, photographer or even a plain spectator in London Fashion Week!” I mean, who wouldn’t want to be there? Flashy clothes, celebrities, cameras and the top-of-the-ladder designers of the fashion world!

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 beauty  industries are multi-billion dollar global enterprises devoted to the making and selling of clothes and beauty products with a tremendous effect on our society and how we view ourselves. It’s creative, it’s innovative, it’s fun!

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!

Personal Hygiene

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!

Poisonous Foundation

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?

WRONG!

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?

Corsets

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?

Bright Eyes

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)

Weight Loss

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

68 COMMENTS

    • Well, things are not so different from today, afterall! Happy you enjoyed Ms. Hamilton’s article, thank you for stopping by!

  1. Amazing. I love learning about the historical way of life. Hannah is my favorite author and purveyor of interesting and educational information

  2. Are we any better today? We still rub our faces with chemicals and apply makeup believing that it’s totally safe. We follow fad or strict diets trying to conform to an unattainable ( for the most part) beauty standard. We nip, cut, tuck, swallow and inject all manner of things. Future generations will look back at us in the same way we look back at the Regency period, I believe.

    • You’ve got a point there, Janis! Happy you enjoyed Ms. Hamilton’s article, thank you for stopping by!

  3. Interesting facts, have enjoyed reading them. Helps me understand some if the behavior I read about in the Regency and Victorian Historical Romances.

    • Haha, good one! We’re keeping that 🙂 Happy you enjoyed Ms. Hamilton’s article, Sharon! Thank you for stopping by!

  4. As safe as most cosmetics are today, I generally don’t wear any unless going out – bras? I still hate them and will go braless when at home. ( I live alone!) I can’t begin to imagine not bathing, wearing anything containing lead or using arsenic! In fact, I’d have been living in the sun! Sure am glad I live in the 21st century! Still don’t follow the “rules”!

  5. I did Know most of the this, other than the sparkling eye! I may have to find some whiskey to try that, haha. Really though it was not what is portrayed to be. Love reading anyway!!!!
    My

    • Well, whiskey always does the job, right? Haha! Happy you enjoyed Ms. Hamilton’s article, Barbara! Thank you for stopping by!

  6. Interesting!! I knew bits & pieces of this information but other parts…can we say…. eek & yuck!! Thanks for the info.

    • Well, now we know that this time was not perfect at all 😉 Happy you enjoyed Ms. Hamilton’s article, Debbie, and tank you for stopping by!

  7. This was so very interesting. I must get the book. I am so grateful to be living in the present time. Thanks.

  8. Thank you, Hanna. I appreciate this insight into this aspect of the Regency period. I had many questions that you answered here.

  9. Definitely horrid, not to mention menstruation. where they had to wash their dirtied pads, wealthy people
    had some one doing it for them; no posies could hide the smell.

    • Oh wow, you’ve got a point there, Ilse. Happy you enjoyed Ms. Hamilton’s article, thank you for stopping by!

  10. Wow!! I often do not wear makeup now. Even as a teenager & young adult I wore only blush & mascara. I can not even imagine going through those extremes. Thank you for sharing, I loved reading about it.

  11. Love reading your books of this era. Plots and story line really clever and so enjoyable to read. Keep writing!

    • Happy you enjoyed Ms. Hamilton’s article, Heather and also we are happy you are enjoying her books! We are very happy to be working with her 🙂 Thank you for your comment!!

  12. I’m thankful I wasn’t living then. I think I would be the first rebel. Also not married. The smell alone would be too much.

    • Lol, you’ve got a point there, Kitty! Happy you enjoyed Ms. Hamilton’s article, thank you for stopping by!

  13. Having read MANY Regency novels and watched MANY movies about that time period I did know all of this info. Thanks for bringing it to the attention of those who didn’t know. The “ladies” of the Regency period did NOT have a good time and even though I LOVE Regency novels/movies I would NOT want to have lived then. Keep your wonderful books coming, Hanna. We love you.

  14. I finished reading a novel on the regency period and they explained how the corset could actually cause women to have prolapsed wombs and how the pessaries caused infection and sometimes death to women who had worn corsets really tight for long periods of time. It sounded awful!

  15. I would not have liked to live in this time Era. No wonder they didn’t live very long! Women were not treated as equals with men also.

  16. Enjoyed the article immensely and am thankful that I live in an era of cleanliness is next to godliness. Can’t imagine those crowded ballrooms be enjoyable with all those strong perfumes.

  17. A mystery the human race has survived itself, especially the self
    inflicted problems of misusing chemicals.We are still doing it today
    with ingesting bad chemicals to find euphoria or a better look

  18. Very interesting but I think I would rather have pimples or skin rashes than put cat faeces on my face!

  19. I really enjoyed this article on make-up of the Regency period. Would love to read more similar to this. Thank You!

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