Those of you who have read our previous two articles about the topic know that Victorian times were more than just puffy skirts and frilly lace. In fact, their use of toxic makeup and their odd romanticization of death make them a lot more hard-core than most people realize. Our previous two articles covered a good chunk of these old-timey trends, but there was still plenty left for a third installment. Feast your eyes.
The Luxurious Face Bleaching
It is widely known that women in the Victorian era had an obsession with looking pale – and by pale, we mean dead-like. Having skin that was almost translucent meant that you didn’t spend time outside in the sun working and belonged to the upper class.
Among many other cosmetic tricks to achieve the “sickly” look, women used to bleach their faces. In fact, there was a beauty manual that told women to cover their faces with lettuce leaves and then use ammonia to wash their faces in the morning. Nothing like a little ammonia to make you look fresh in the morning!
They Threw Mummy Unwrapping Parties
With Napoleon's invasion of England in 1798, a fascination with ancient Egyptian culture spread across Europe. In Victorian times, the interest was particularly taken up by an unlikely source: macabre mummy fanatics! Their obsession with mummies far exceeded what could be described as a scientific curiosity, instead becoming something unnerving.
Wealthy collectors in London were known for throwing wild parties, with a mummified human body as their star guest. People would sip drinks while watching professional surgeons unwrap the ancient cadaver as though performing an art exhibit. Accompanying commentary explained what guests were witnessing, revealing details about the skin condition, hair length, and more.
The Convenient Bathing Machines
In Victorian times, it was greatly frowned upon for women to be enjoying a day at the beach in their swimsuits next to a male companion. (Good heavens, think of the disgrace!) But it seems that rules to keep men and women 60 feet apart at beaches wasn’t enough.
And so the famous ‘bathing machine’ came to be – it was basically a large wooden hut on wheels that was dragged by horses or humans into the water so women could go straight from changing into their bathing suits to jumping in the water without anyone having to see them.
Scheele’s Deadly Green Hue
People in Victorian times weren’t too concerned with their health, as they would often overlook some substances’ toxic and deadly side. In fact, there was one particular green dye that was especially deadly. It was called Scheele’s Green, after the scientist that created it, Carl Scheele.
The Victorians loved their green, and this particular shade was beautiful. The problem was it was made with copper arsenic, which was extremely toxic and often deadly. Regardless, people used it on carpets, wallpapers, toddler toys, etc. It is even rumored that Bonaparte died from exposure to Scheele’s Green, which adorned the walls of his mansion.
Physicians, surgeons, and other medical practitioners in the Victorian era faced a severe challenge — how to make strides with breakthroughs when dead bodies were nowhere to be found? Without capital punishment as an option for offenders, doctors had few opportunities to conduct experiments.
And so, this gave rise to a new breed of criminals: the resurrectionists. Despite their ritzy title, they were nothing more than grave robbers and organ traffickers who supplied doctors with fresh cadavers. The lack of available employment made the high fees paid by doctors even more attractive, so much so that people had to stand vigil over gravesites just to keep them safe.
The Human Garden Gnomes
In what was one of the most bizarre trends of the Victorian era, wealthy landowners kept living garden gnomes on their lawns. Think of your typical ornamental garden gnome, only instead of being made of ceramic, it was an actual human being. This human was usually a grizzly old man that lived in solitude in a secluded hut in the landowner’s garden.
These hermits represented wisdom and solitude and thus made landowners appear intellectual and deep. In fact, these hermits were often paid a lot of money to purposefully not bathe or change clothes for years to look more solemn.
The Trusty Carriage Covers
During the Victorian era, upper-class ladies had an interesting way of avoiding highway robbers when traveling by coach – the infamous carriage covers. They were gold or enamel orbs designed to cleverly conceal jewelry, much like a portable safe for expensive gems and jewels.
Of course, depending on the woman’s social class, these orbs could be gorgeous and ornate (which might defeat the purpose if you ask us) or quite simple. Sadly, few covers from that era remain and are rare treasures to come by nowadays. So, if you manage to get your hands on one, it may literally be worth its weight in diamonds!
The Little Chatelaine Belt
Since men were the ones that handled money and other large items back in the Victorian era, women’s dresses had minuscule or no pockets. This gave way to the famous Chatelaine – which means “female head of the household” in French, since she was the one who always held the keys to the palace.
The Chatelaine was a very elegant belt clasp that was worn at the waist, and it had several chains that hung from it. Each chain held another item – watches, perfume vials, pencils, scissors, smelling salts, and other everyday items. Of course, as bags started to appear, the cute little chatelaine slowly disappeared.
They Sent Eyes as a Sign of Affection
Another bizarre trend of Victorian times was the “Lover’s Eye,” a gesture of adoration where one would send a portrait of their eyes to their lover. It started with Prince George of Wales, who was the first one to send a miniature painting of his eye to his secret beloved, Marie Fitzherbert.
This gesture of love became so popular that Queen Victoria herself had several eye portraits commissioned. The portrait was at once a clear picture of the eye and a piece of jewelry since they were often embedded in a locket. For Victorians, to have someone’s eye meant they had their gaze, their look, and, therefore, their unwavering attention.
The Victorian Booty Lift
Kim Kardashian didn’t start the big booty trend; the Victorians did. They don't teach you that in history class, people. You have to go to the internet for information that is actually interesting. Back in the 19th century, women had a different approach when it came to drawing attention to their backsides – they wore bustles.
American inventor Alexander Douglas created this supportive undergarment which featured either metal cages or padded cushions, allowing glamorous skirts' hemlines to create that infamous curvature at the backside — all without breaking any modesty dress codes. As uncomfortable as it may sound, perhaps it was better than getting painful plastic surgery.
The Choking Collars
This fashionable but deadly Victorian trend was detachable collars. Men of stature wore collars that were starched enough so they could stay stiff throughout the day. Normally, there would be no problem with a nice, crispy collar. However, most of these well-to-do dandies visited their local pub after work and drank silly with alcohol. (This is still a pretty common custom in some parts of England, minus the starch.)
Unfortunately, this meant that they often got quite drunk and ended up being choked to death by their hard collars. This happened so much that the collars got quite the dark nickname – “Father Killer.”
The Explosive Nightgowns
One generally likes to feel safe when sleeping at night, but apparently, Victorians weren’t big fans of it. Even at nighttime, these people prioritized beauty over comfort. They even prioritized it over their lives! The most popular pajamas and nightgowns back then were made of a type of cotton called flannelette. The fabric looked wonderfully elegant, but it was also extremely flammable.
This meant that many Victorians would suddenly burn to ashes in their sleep if the tiniest candle came into contact with their pj’s. Come on, people, no potential suitors are about to watch you in your sleep. And if they are, then they are more stalkers than suitors.
The Killer Shoe Polish
Their fabrics had arsenic, and their hats had mercury, but you’d think at least their shoes were safe, right? Wrong. And how could your shoes poison you anyway? Well, never doubt a Victorian's ability to take something innocent and turn it into an elegant death trap. Shoe polish from the 19th century had high amounts of nitrobenzene, a toxic chemical that caused men to pass out if they touched the wet polish.
Shoe shiners were doomed, and so was any impatient man that didn’t allow the polish to dry properly. The chemical caused nausea, vomiting, asphyxiation, and even death. And combined with alcohol, it was a sure ending.
The Poisonous Socks
Perhaps it was the Victorian version of extreme sports to wear fabrics that could kill them at any moment. Not even the socks were safe! And we aren't talking about compression socks that were too tight. Nope, we're talking about the actual textile. The colorful dyes used to give socks their bright colors were made with acid that often caused chemical burns and sores.
In fact, one man reported having to have his boots sawed off because the acid from the socks had caused his feet to swell up abnormally. Basically, you had to choose between wearing fun socks and staying alive.
Spontaneously Combusting Combs
Just when a Victorian-era lady thought she’d cheated death by avoiding toxic makeup, arsenic and lead-filled gowns, and rib-crushing corsets, there was one more item she’d forget about – the exploding hair combs.
Yes, you read that right – because hair combs back then were made of celluloid, they would spontaneously combust if left for a minute too long under the sun. This meant a huge fire would break out in a woman’s dresser just like that. It obviously didn't help that the dresser was probably made of wood and full of makeup and other products that were also highly flammable.
It’s no mystery that hygiene in the Victorian era was a hard thing to sustain. (Having no running water or modern-day awareness of how diseases spread will do that to you.) Soldiers coming home from war were covered in disease and lice, which was a main factor in introducing pests. And the best carrier vehicles for these pests were dress fabrics.
Not even the wealthy were spared, as the people that cleaned or made their clothes had often been exposed to diseases. Just by touching a fabric, the pests would attach to the clothes, creating a wave of illnesses and deaths throughout the entire population.
No, there is no relation between the French Capital and this next Victorian dark trend (well, the origin of the name has, as this stuff was used to get rid of rats in Parisian sewers. You would think that this origin would deter people from using the substance in textile they are supposed to wear on their bodies, but you'd be wrong).
In the 19th century, this toxic material was used to dye fabrics too. The Paris Green was used to turn dresses into their favorite shade; however, the consequences were deadly. Fashion thrived at the cost of human lives.
No one can deny that there were a lot of scientific advances during the Victorian era, and some were a mix of progress with circus-like entertainment; one such science was the practice of phrenology. Phrenology consisted of determining a person’s personality and psychological traits by the shape of their head. Obviously, trouble ensued.
There were phrenological parlors where people would go to get their heads measured and use the information to make life-and-death decisions. Far worse were the prejudiced stereotypes that were created, claiming a certain race was inferior to another due to the shape of their head – a perfect justification for slavery.
Infinitely Long Hair
When it comes to hair trends nowadays, you can find anything from short pixie bobs and shaved heads to layered haircuts. But back in Victorian times, women were all about long locks – the longer the hair, the more desirable the woman.
The irony of this was that women always wore those locks in a tight hairdo since letting your hair down (from which the famous modern expression of “loosen up” comes) was seen as scandalous and improper. In fact, there were a pair of famous sisters from Victorian times called the Sutherland Sisters, who made a living by displaying their 37-feet long mane!
A Dash of Arsenic
In the peculiar beauty practices of the 19th century, the deadly poison arsenic was actually considered a cosmetic aid rather than a lethal toxin. Women would apply tiny doses of arsenic to their faces in the hopes of preserving their youthful appearance. However, there was always a risk of going overboard. Perhaps one unfortunate woman got a bit carried away one evening, resulting in disastrous consequences.
In those days, doctors seemed too engrossed in hydro and shock therapies, possibly overlooking the true effects of arsenic. Thankfully, our understanding of the dangers of toxic substances has significantly improved since then, sparing us from such perilous beauty routines. Lesson learned: when it comes to beauty, it's best to stick to safer alternatives!
Tragic Family Portraits
In an era marked by limited healthcare and tragically low life expectancy, parents often found themselves grieving the loss of their children far too soon. This was one of the greatest heartaches of the 19th century. Fortunately, healthcare and understanding have improved over time, but families resorted to rather peculiar methods of preserving memories back then.
It was not uncommon for grieving families, especially those who lost young children, to dress up their departed loved ones and have photographs taken with them. It may seem strange to us today, but for those families, it was a way to hold onto cherished memories and pay tribute to their dearly departed. It serves as a poignant reminder of the lengths people went to keep their loved ones close, even in the face of such heartbreaking loss.
Not the Spiciest Queen
Queen Victoria, known for her aversion to spicy food, faced an interesting predicament as the leader of a vast empire. When you have colonies spanning the globe, diplomatic considerations sometimes require adjusting one's palate. As the Empress of India and the head of the British Empire, she understood the importance of accommodating guests from various regions.
To ensure diplomatic harmony, curry was always on hand, even though the resulting dishes may have left some disappointed. Often, the British interpretation of curry consisted of cooked ingredients with curry powder sprinkled on top, much to the chagrin of those accustomed to authentic flavors. So, to all the self-proclaimed chefs, remember there's more to preparing a proper curry than simply adding curry powder. It's an art that deserves respect and exploration.
The Grave Robbing Career
To understand biology, scientists, doctors, and aspiring students needed real human bodies for study. However, the question remained: where would they obtain these bodies? While some science enthusiasts might be willing to donate their bodies posthumously, the supply was simply insufficient. Enter the macabre solution: professional grave robbers. Under the cloak of darkness, these daring individuals would creep into town graveyards, exhuming bodies to meet the demand.
Remarkably, experts in the medical field were willing to pay a handsome price for these stolen cadavers, making grave robbing a somewhat viable profession for those with a strong stomach and a lack of squeamishness. It was a truly bizarre time, where the boundaries between science, ethics, and the taboo blurred. Fortunately, modern medical education has evolved, and ethical practices now ensure a proper and respectful supply of anatomical specimens for study.
Divorce, a legal impossibility in England until the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857, didn't deter people from experiencing marital woes and seeking separation. However, the methods employed were far from what we would consider civilized today. In those times, the sentiments and desires of women held little weight. If a man found himself dissatisfied with his partner, he had the audacity to bring her to the market, treating her as a mere commodity to be sold to the highest bidder.
The scene must have been heart-wrenching and undeniably tragic. Yet, astonishingly, these auctions became public spectacles, drawing crowds eager for entertainment, despite the undeniable pain and humiliation endured by the individuals involved. It's a grim reminder of the societal norms and disregard for human dignity that once prevailed.
Lethal Food Additives
Move over MSG and food coloring because Victorian food additives were in a league of their own. In an attempt to achieve that coveted whiteness, bakers would sometimes incorporate chalk and alum into their dough, while more unconventional ingredients like pipeclay, plaster of Paris, or even sawdust found their way into the mix.
If you thought that was concerning, wait until you hear about brewers who, when low on hops, resorted to adding strychnine—a toxic pesticide—to their beer. And let's not forget about the ever-present lead, which seemed to be everywhere. From red lead used to color Gloucester cheese to copper sulfates employed in preserving fruit, jams, and wine, the Victorians certainly had a knack for unwittingly inviting danger into their diets. Yikes indeed!
The United Kingdom was overwhelmed with orphans at the time. According to writer and historian Sarah Wise (via Spitalfields Life), 30,000 children were living on London streets in 1869. Moneyed philanthropists set up some schools to teach the kids practical skills, but it was simply too hard to teach and 'employ' all of these children.
One woman named Annie Parlane MacPherson started an emigration program. She founded the Home Children scheme, sending poor and orphaned children to other colonies of the British Empire. Thousands upon thousands of these kids were sent to farms or homes around the world to be laborers or domestic servants.
In the 1800s, curly hair was the epitome of style, but the technology of curling irons was still in its early stages. These primitive tools resembled nothing more than tongs that had to be heated in a fire. Unfortunately, the iron would often become scorching hot, resulting in hair getting singed and burned off. Consequently, many Victorian women found themselves with unsightly bald patches.
Astonishingly, rather than abandoning the dangerous curling methods, women turned to teas and various remedies in their quest to restore their hair. Some even resorted to bathing in ammonia, believing it would miraculously stimulate hair growth. It's a testament to the lengths people would go to achieve the beauty standards of their time, even if it meant subjecting themselves to questionable practices with little scientific basis.
Nose jobs, it turns out, have a long history that predates the modern era of plastic surgery. In Victorian times, enterprising companies produced peculiar devices known as "nose shapers" or "nose machines." These contraptions, usually made of metal, were strapped onto the nose and applied pressure to the soft cartilage, supposedly reshaping or straightening it.
Dr. Sid, a renowned surgeon from Paris, proudly claimed credit for inventing such a contraption. He even shared a curious tale of a 15-year-old patient who dutifully wore the device for three months until she achieved the desired nose transformation. It's a reminder of the fascinating and, at times, peculiar methods employed in the quest for beauty throughout history.
The First Christmas Tree
The Christmas tree was actually more of a German tradition and dates back to the 1600s. It was only in 1840 that the English population embraced it, and that was all thanks to Albert, Queen Victoria's German hubby. Albert brought the iconic tree to Windsor Castle and had it lavishly decorated; they were royals, after all!
More festive customs originated during the Victorian era, including the exchange of Christmas cards, gifts, and even Christmas crackers. The story behind Christmas crackers, legend has it, was invented by a London sweet maker named Tom Smith, who sat by the fire one evening, inspired by the crackles and sparks of the flame.
The “Tuberculosis Beauty” Trend
Believe it or not, in the Victorian era, there were women who actually believed that looking sickly was the epitome of style. The physical markers associated with tuberculosis, including weight loss, pale skin, and flushed lips, became sought-after traits. Some women went to extreme lengths, voluntarily exposing themselves to the disease in pursuit of this fashionable aesthetic.
It's a bizarre notion by today's standards, highlighting the peculiar standards of beauty that once prevailed. Thankfully, our understanding of health and beauty has evolved, and we now prioritize well-being over hazardous trends. These Victorian women certainly took the saying "beauty is pain" to a whole new level, embracing a truly peculiar and risky notion of what it meant to be fashionable.
Corpse Cough Syrup
Prepare yourself for a rather macabre revelation from the Victorian era: the popularity of "corpse medicine" among those seeking remedies for their ailments. It was firmly believed that consuming various body parts of the deceased could miraculously cure one's afflictions. The concoctions could be rather peculiar, with one particularly eerie favorite being the combination of a human skull and chocolate.
Yes, you read that correctly. It seems the Victorian era had a taste for the morbid, as they explored unconventional remedies that would make even the bravest among us squirm. Thankfully, our understanding of medicine and healthcare has evolved considerably since those spine-chilling times.
Hold on tight as we delve into the realm of Victorian beauty practices, where some women resorted to extreme measures in pursuit of captivating eyes. Picture this: belladonna, a toxic plant known for its dilating properties, and lemon juice, an acidic ingredient. These daring individuals convinced that their eyes lacked brightness and allure, opted to apply a concoction of belladonna and lemon juice directly onto their delicate pupils. As you might expect, the outcome was far from glamorous.
Rather than achieving the desired effect, these ill-advised actions led to severe consequences, including blindness and even lacerations. It serves as a stark reminder of the risks taken and the misguided beliefs that prevailed in the name of beauty during the Victorian era.
Bedazzled With Bugs
In the whimsical world of Victorian fashion, beetle wings took center stage as an unexpectedly chic accessory. Believe it or not, no beetles were harmed in this curious trend. The ingenious "wing harvesters" would carefully collect the ethereal wings after the beetles had completed their natural life cycle during mating season.
It's a delightful reminder that even in pursuing unique style, the Victorians showed some respect for our tiny, shimmering friends. So, the next time you spot a beetle, just imagine the fabulous fashion potential of its wings and perhaps give them a little nod of appreciation for their unwitting contribution to the Victorian fashion scene.
It Was a Bad Time. Period.
Ah, the trials and tribulations of menstrual woes in the Victorian era! With no access to the convenient options we have today, resourceful women had to get creative. Picture this: sheep's wool and lard, the unexpected ingredients for their homemade makeshift pads. It was a testament to their ingenuity and determination to find a solution.
While we can't help but admire their resourcefulness, we're certainly grateful for the advancements that have made that time of the month a little less, shall we say, woolly and greasy. Cheers to the modern conveniences that make our lives easier!
Fits Like a Glove
Imagine the horror of waking up next to a loved one donning a Victorian-era rubber face glove or a toilet mask! These peculiar contraptions were designed with the intention of inducing excessive sweating to promote circulation. However, it's safe to say that the sight of a family member wearing such a mask could evoke equal parts fascination and fright.
One can only imagine the startled reactions and playful screams that must have ensued in those households. Oh, the lengths our ancestors went to in the pursuit of health and wellness! It's good that we have more subtle and less eerie methods for improving circulation nowadays!
Lead It Be
Looking back, it's hard not to raise an eyebrow and wonder, "What were they thinking!?" In the pursuit of beauty, many Victorian women resorted to using lead-based cosmetic products. Unbeknownst to them at the time, the consequences of dusting one's face with lead-laced powder were far from desirable.
While it achieved the coveted pale complexion so desired during that era, it tragically led to various health issues, including paralysis. It's a stark reminder that beauty should never come at the cost of one's well-being. Thankfully, we've come a long way in understanding the importance of safe and healthy beauty practices.
Navigating the complex world of romance in the Victorian era was no easy feat. For single men and women, the pressure to find a suitable partner was palpable. The social calendar revolved around "The Season," a period when eligible girls would make their debut and be presented to society. It was their way of signaling readiness for marriage and catching the attention of potential suitors.
Oh, how times have changed! Nowadays, we have the luxury of dating apps, where we can swipe left or right from the comfort of our own homes. No more fussing over elaborate presentations or fretting about societal expectations. It's safe to say that modern dating has its advantages!
When it comes to bizarre weight loss methods, the Victorian era takes the cake. Forget about tape measures because tape WORMS were all the rage. Imagine swallowing a pill containing a live tapeworm. Sounds like something straight out of a horror movie, doesn't it? The idea was that this intestinal intruder would feast on your food, effectively reducing your weight.
It's hard to fathom how anyone thought this was a good idea. Thankfully, we now understand the risks and dangers associated with such practices. These days, we have much safer and healthier ways to achieve our fitness goals. Let's just say we'll stick to exercise and a balanced diet, thank you very much!
Skirting Around the Issue
Ah, hoop skirts, the epitome of Victorian fashion. Women paraded around with their enormous contraptions, strutting like peacocks in a garden of fabric. But beneath the grandeur lurked a hidden danger. The sheer size of these skirts obstructed vision and played havoc with depth perception. Countless ladies, lost in the magnificence of their own attire, found themselves tumbling down stairs or perilously close to open fires.
It was as if they were navigating life with blindfolds made of silk and lace. Oh, the perils of fashion! Yet, even in the face of such hazards, these brave women remained steadfast, determined to maintain their impeccable style, no matter the cost to their well-being.
Picture this: instead of sending a mere photograph to a distant beloved, the people of that era took it to a whole new level. They would intricately weave a lock of their own hair into accessories, such as lockets and brooches. It was the ultimate sentimental gesture, a tangible connection to those near and dear.
And what better way to show off your affection than by wearing someone's actual locks as an accessory? The streets were filled with fashionable individuals proudly displaying their entwined tresses, proving that love knows no bounds, even in the realm of follicular fashion.
Bye Bye Birdy
Victorian women were truly devoted to their hats, considering them an essential part of their ensemble. However, the quest for fashionable hat ornaments took a dark turn for our feathered friends. Countless birds, such as herons, egrets, and even rare species, fell victim to the demand for feathers. The devastating consequence? Plummeting bird populations. It was a tragic price to pay for the sake of fashion.
Thankfully, conservation movements and growing awareness eventually led to the decline of this harmful trend, allowing our avian companions to soar freely once again. Let's hope we've learned from the past and can appreciate the beauty of birds without causing harm to these magnificent creatures.
In their quest for perfectly defined eyebrows, Victorian women were willing to take risks that would leave modern beauty enthusiasts wide-eyed. The obsession with full brows led them to an eyebrow-raising solution: applying mercury to their precious arches. Yes, you heard it right—poisonous mercury! Night after night, they would delicately rub this hazardous substance onto their brows, oblivious to the potential dangers lurking beneath their beauty rituals.
It's astonishing to think about the risks they were willing to take in pursuit of fashionable brows. Fortunately, our understanding of beauty and safety has evolved over time, and we now have safer alternatives for achieving the perfect brow game. Remember, beauty should never come at the expense of our health!
Off the Rails
The delightful medical theories of the Victorian era never fail to raise an eyebrow. Among the plethora of eccentric beliefs, one truly stands out: the notion that the railway itself was responsible for triggering mental breakdowns. According to some doctors, the thunderous sound of the train combined with its jolting, uncomfortable motion was thought to possess the power to push passengers to the very edge of sanity.
Just imagine the uproar had they been confronted with the advent of airplanes! It's truly fascinating to reflect on the evolution of medical theories, leaving behind such quaint notions of railway-induced mental disturbances in the annals of history.
Bringing a touch of whimsy from Lewis Carroll's iconic character, "The Mad Hatter," the Victorian era witnessed a peculiar fashion trend among men. Hats, a staple accessory for gentlemen of the time, were treated with none other than mercury! Yes, that's right—mercury was applied to the rabbit fur used to coat the hats, giving them a soft and luxurious feel.
However, those who worked in hat-making industries or came into prolonged contact with mercury experienced unfortunate psychological effects, and the price of fashion sometimes led to unforeseen consequences in those curious times. The phrase "mad as a hatter" may have its origins in this eccentric fashion practice, where exposure to mercury led to mental disturbances. Fashion has always had its peculiarities!
If you were around during the Victorian era, avoiding the River Thames at all costs would be wise. A lack of sufficient sewage systems meant that TONS of human waste was dumped into the river EVERY SINGLE DAY. Despite this, people during this time used the Thames as their main drinking water source...Yup.
It's safe to say that water filters and purification methods were not yet the norm. So, the next time you're sipping clean water from a fancy bottle, take a moment to appreciate how far we've come from the days of unwittingly consuming sewage-infested river water. Cheers to modern sanitation!
In the Victorian era, it was not appropriate for High-society singletons to flirt with one another unless a chaperone was involved. To get around these human buzzkills, people would slip one another "escort cards" with flirty messages. These small pieces of paper carried hidden messages of love and desire, allowing individuals to express their feelings discreetly. It was like a secret code of courtship, a game of wits and subtlety.
These days, in the age of instant communication, a quick text or swipe can convey our romantic interest in mere seconds. It's efficient, but perhaps a bit less enchanting than the delicate dance of flirtation carried out through beautifully crafted escort cards.
What may come as a surprise in the rather rule-bound and conservative Victorian era, crotchless underwear was extremely popular. Ok, so it was more functional than flirty. Due to the excessive layers that women had to wear, they needed a pair of easy-access underwear when going to the toilet. These crotchless undergarments, known as "drawers," allowed women to relieve themselves without the need to remove layers of clothing.
It was a practical solution to the challenges posed by their intricate attire. While it may not have been the most scandalous or seductive aspect of Victorian fashion, it certainly provided convenience and efficiency in an era where modesty and etiquette were highly valued.
We all grew up with Kellogg's cornflake cereal in our breakfast bowls. Besides being a great start to the day, the cereal had another strange purpose during the Victorian Era. John Harvey Kellogg, the cereal creator, suggested that the cereal could be used to douse any inappropriate thoughts. In his belief, a plain and bland diet, including cornflakes, would help suppress desires and promote a more chaste lifestyle. Kellogg even went as far as advocating for circumcision without anesthesia to discourage being physically intimate with oneself.
While his ideas may seem peculiar and extreme by today's standards, they reflect the prevailing moral attitudes and beliefs about intimacy during the Victorian era. Thankfully, our modern understanding of human natural ways has evolved significantly since then.
Dentistry is not for the faint-hearted, but Victorian dentures are a whole other level of macabre. If you needed some new teeth, you would have to deal with having cadaver teeth in your mouth. The process of obtaining these teeth was not for the squeamish. Grave robbers would dig up bodies and extract the teeth to sell to dentists. These "resurrected" teeth would then be cleaned, filed, and fitted into dentures for those in need.
Imagine unknowingly flashing a smile with teeth that once belonged to someone else! Despite the unappealing nature of this practice, it was considered a relatively common and accepted method of replacing missing teeth during the Victorian era.
Giving birth to "attractive" children and securing their future prospects for marriage was indeed a top priority during the Victorian era. In their quest for beauty, some parents believed that the positions during intercourse could influence the physical traits of their offspring. The popular belief was that certain positions, such as the missionary position or the woman lying on her left side, would result in more aesthetically pleasing children.
They believed that the gravity or alignment of the positions would shape the child's features. While this may sound strange to us today, it reflects the prevailing mindset of the time, where physical appearance and societal status held great importance.
In the pursuit of comfort and convenience, Victorian women who were breastfeeding turned to lead nipple covers as a means to alleviate pain and prevent leakage. However, little did they know that this seemingly innocent solution would have dire consequences. Lead, being a highly toxic substance, ended up poisoning both the women and their infants. It is a tragic reminder of the limited understanding of the dangers posed by certain materials and chemicals during that time.
While their intentions were driven by the desire to provide for their babies, the use of lead nipple covers unwittingly put their health and the health of their infants at risk, highlighting the importance of informed choices and advancements in medical knowledge.
As Victorian-era women had limited avenues for expressing themselves and their emotions, they resorted to peculiar methods of signaling their interest. One such method involved fainting. Yes, you read that right. The act of intentionally fainting was seen as a subtle yet effective way to capture the attention of a potential suitor.
Perhaps the idea was that the gallant gentleman would rush to the aid of the swooning lady, creating a dramatic and romantic moment. It's hard to fathom the lengths to which some would go to make their desires known, but in an era characterized by strict social conventions, even fainting became a form of communication.
Life in the Victorian era was filled with peculiar gender distinctions, even extending to the very furniture people sat on. Believe it or not, there were chairs specifically designed for men and chairs specifically designed for women. Men's chairs prioritized comfort, with plush cushions and soft upholstery that allowed them to sink into relaxation. Meanwhile, women's chairs took a different approach, emphasizing proper posture and decorum.
These rigid and stiff chairs were meant to ensure that women maintained an upright position, promoting the ideals of grace and refinement. The stark contrast between these gendered seating options is enough to make anyone teeter on the edge of their seat with astonishment!
The Victorian era was notorious for its plethora of peculiar rules and regulations, but one particular law truly takes the (wedding) cake. Can you believe that it was actually deemed ILLEGAL to hold a wedding celebration after midday? Yes, you read that right. Victorian lawmakers saw fit to criminalize the act of celebrating a joyous occasion with friends and family during the afternoon hours.
One can't help but wonder, with all the pressing matters of the time, couldn't these legislators have focused their attention on more significant issues? Perhaps addressing women's rights, improving sanitation standards, or ensuring equal access to education for all children, regardless of their social standing. It's enough to make one question the priorities of the era.
Curious Christmas Cards
Ah, the holiday season—a time of merriment, joy, and exchanging heartfelt Christmas cards with loved ones. But brace yourself for a Victorian twist: during that era, the trend was to send Christmas cards that were more macabre than merry. Imagine opening an envelope to find a card adorned with depictions of deceased animals or eerie anthropomorphic figures.
It seemed that even in the midst of the festive season, the Victorians found a way to blend the peculiar with the traditional so, as the saying goes, "Happy Christmas!"—though your Victorian-era card may have left you with a touch of bewilderment rather than the anticipated cheer.
Ah, the peculiar world of Victorian medicine—where the belief in the four "humors" reigned supreme. According to this theory, each person was thought to be composed of four bodily fluids, known as humors: phlegm, yellow bile, blood, and black bile. It was believed that an imbalance of these humors led to illness and discomfort.
So, if you found yourself unwell, Victorian doctors would aim to restore balance by adjusting the levels of your humors. This could involve various treatments, such as bloodletting, purging, or even consuming peculiar concoctions. It's fascinating to reflect on how medical understanding has evolved over time, leaving behind these peculiar notions of bodily humors.
The roads of the Victorian era were indeed a sight to behold, and not in a pleasant way. Hygiene and garbage disposal were not top priorities, leading to streets that were often dirty and filled with all sorts of unsavory substances. It was not uncommon for women's dresses to inadvertently collect a medley of trash during a simple stroll, ranging from the unpleasant remnants of human and animal waste to decaying food and muddy residue.
One might ponder why the fashion trends of the time didn't adapt to these circumstances—why didn't platform shoes make an earlier appearance or dresses get hemmed shorter? Perhaps it was a testament to the persistence and resilience of the Victorian spirit, a determination to carry on despite the less-than-ideal conditions of the streets.
If you were seeking amusement and entertainment during the Victorian era, a visit to a local fair would offer an entirely different experience compared to today. Unfortunately, one dark aspect of that time involved the exploitation of individuals who looked different as human attractions. Among them was "The Dog-Faced Boy," a child who suffered from a rare condition that caused excessive hair growth on his face and body.
Rather than understanding and supporting individuals with such conditions, they were put on display for public curiosity and amusement. It is a grim reminder of how society's perception of differences and the treatment of those who deviate from societal norms has evolved over time.
Theater of Death
Public safety was not a top concern during the Victorian era and this lack of emphasis on safeguarding the public extended to public spaces such as theaters. Surprisingly, theaters of that time lacked emergency exits or fire escapes, making them potential tinderboxes. With stage lanterns, wooden stages, and stage curtains all susceptible to catching fire, the risk was ever-present.
In the unfortunate event of a fire, the audience found themselves trapped with no means of escape, leading to chaotic stampedes and a tragic loss of lives. The absence of proper fire safety measures serves as a stark reminder of the importance of prioritizing public safety in our modern era.
The Gloves Never Came Off
In the Victorian Era, having soft, white hands was a sign of social status, as they revealed that one had not been subjected to hard physical labor. To keep up appearances and hide their working-class roots, both men and women donned gloves as armor against rough environmental elements...and even harsher judgment from high society.
What’s more, regardless of their class, women always wore gloves when leaving their homes, as exposing their hands to someone other than close family or friends was dishonorable. And, of course, there were different gloves for different occasions – some high-class men used seven different pairs of gloves in one single day!
The Art of Fan Seduction
Etiquette and proper behavior were everything back in the Victorian era, so even flirting had to be done within the social norms. For this, women had their trusty fans – without uttering a single word, women could be playfully flirty with any gentleman in the room through their fan movements.
There was even a book written about “The Language of the Fan” that explained what each gesture stood for – putting a fan close to one’s lips meant “come and kiss me.” Women of every social class used this nifty prop, with upper-class women obviously having the most opulent and adorned ones.
The Water Cure
During the 19th century, hydrotherapy became a prevailing trend in the medical field. It gained popularity as a seemingly miraculous solution for a wide range of ailments, from hair loss in men to the treatment of female "hysteria." The practice involved immersing oneself in hot or cold water with the belief that it could bring about healing and rejuvenation. Hydrotherapy clinics catered to the wealthy who sought these therapeutic experiences.
People flocked to these establishments, eagerly indulging in the treatments, hoping for a cure. While the effectiveness of hydrotherapy remains dubious, it undoubtedly provided a lucrative business opportunity for enterprising physicians. Whether it was the placebo effect or genuine belief in the healing powers of water, hydrotherapy served as a symbol of the era's fascination with medical advancements and the pursuit of well-being.
Beneath the tightly laced corsets that defined the fashion of the 1800s, there was yet another secret: piercings. Bosom piercings, to be precise, were a daring trend that captivated the European fashion scene. Women who wanted to make a statement and push societal boundaries adorned themselves with gold rings, each carefully placed through the delicate skin of their bosoms. While the notion that these piercings could enhance breast growth or correct their shape may seem far-fetched today, it was a prevailing belief at the time.
Victorian women were willing to endure pain and discomfort in pursuit of societal acceptance. The presence of these hidden piercings serves as a reminder that even in the primmest and proper of eras, individuals were willing to challenge norms and express their individuality through daring and unconventional means.
The Modesty Boards
While certain fashions were quite daring back then, modesty was the name of the game - especially for women. Revealing flesh was highly taboo, and that rule went for even the juiciest part of the woman's body - the ankle. To curb all and any of these monstrous fashion transgressions, Victorian society invented the modesty board.
These boards were propped up or nailed to the ground in order to ensure that a woman's ankles were not exposed while seated. Heaven forbid a gentleman caught a glimpse of that sensual little bone. The whole tea room would be aghast in horror, and hot tea would be everywhere.
The 19th century was a time of not only the industrial revolution but also rigid social codes. Among these customs was the practice of "paying a call," which involved visiting friends and acquaintances. However, this activity was strictly confined to the afternoons, and one had to navigate the intricate rules of social etiquette. When paying a call, it was essential to be attuned to subtle social cues.
The host would never directly indicate that it was time to leave, relying on more subtle hints. A discreet yawn or a glazed-over stare might be a polite way of signaling that it was time for the visitor to make their departure. Adhering to these unspoken rules was crucial to maintaining proper decorum and social harmony in a society where appearances and manners held great significance.
The Victorians and Aliens
The Victorian era was characterized by a fascination with science and exploration, leading to peculiar beliefs and theories. One such belief was the idea that there was life on Mars. Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli fueled this notion when he reported observing artificial waterways on the Martian surface through his telescope. These "canals" were interpreted as evidence of intelligent life and advanced extraterrestrial civilizations.
The Victorians enthusiastically embraced this idea, which sparked interest in scientific endeavors related to contacting aliens. Many individuals made significant contributions to unconventional scientific causes, hoping to establish communication with beings from other worlds. These efforts ranged from elaborate experiments to spiritualistic practices, all in pursuit of connecting with extraterrestrial intelligence.
There's a reason why the English love their beer so much; their water (at least for so many years) was undrinkable. Clean and unpolluted water was hard to come by, and beer was considered a safer option, even by pregnant women and children. Kids, after a hard day's work in the mines, would love a cup of warm, frothy beer, too. What a time to be alive!
Beer was considered a safer alternative to water due to the brewing process, which involved boiling the water and adding hops, which helped kill bacteria and make it drinkable. The low-alcohol "small beer" was commonly consumed by children, who worked long hours in labor-intensive jobs such as mining. It provided them with hydration and some nourishment in a time when clean water was scarce.
Back in the good old days, education wasn't exactly a top concern. Kids had more important things to do, like earning a living! Who needs to know how to read and write when you can be a pint-sized chimney sweep, right? Sure, there were some fancy-pants church schools that were supposedly "free," but let's be real, most poor families needed every penny they could scrape together.
Meanwhile, the rich folks were sending their snobby offspring to prestigious institutions where they learned fancy stuff like Latin and Greek. Talk about priorities! Thankfully, someone in the government finally woke up from their afternoon tea-induced slumber and decided to make education compulsory for all kids under 13.
The Tattoo Craze
Tattoos!? One might never guess we're talking about the 1800s. But don't let those prim and proper ladies and gentlemen fool you. Tattoos were rather trendy throughout the Victorian era, especially among nobility and royals. Though the late Queen Elizabeth and the gang wouldn't be caught dead tatted up, back then, they felt rather differently.
It all started when Queen Victoria’s son, the Prince of Wales, visited Jerusalem and spotted the inky trend on his travels. He loved it so much that he decided to get one of his own. On his return, he sparked a trend. If the Prince of Wales had Instagram, he would be one heck of a social media influencer.
While the 19th century was filled with decadence for some, it was less so for others. Many families could barely scrape a few pennies together for a meal. With growing industries and a struggling working class, the nation sadly turned to its children for help, sending countless poor kids down to coal mines and chimneys.
Their small bodies could easily maneuver around tight spaces, but of course, this was extremely dangerous, and kids would be slogging away in coal and soot-saturated air for 12 to 18 hours a day. Thankfully in 1891, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was formed, offering some protection to child laborers, but society had a long way to go.
Unique Face Masks
Oh, the lengths people would go to for beauty! The 19th century sure had its fair share of peculiar practices. Picture this: women with raw slices of beef slapped on their faces like some bizarre carnivorous face mask. Who needs fancy serums and creams when you've got a juicy slab of meat, right? They believed that this meaty concoction would banish wrinkles and keep their skin looking as fresh as a butcher's display.
But let's be real, the only preservation happening there was the potential for a midnight snack if hunger struck during the beauty ritual. Thankfully, we've come a long way since then, opting for a more sensible skincare routine or going under the knife.
Gender Nonconforming Babies
Ah, the fashion rules of yesteryear! The Victorians had their own unique way of determining what babies should wear, and it was quite a sight to behold. Forget about pink and blue; it was all about the frills and lace. Little boys and girls alike were decked out in delicate dresses, complete with ruffles and bows that could rival even the most extravagant wedding gown. The wealthier the family, the more lavish the dress, as if they were competing in a baby fashion show.
And let's not forget the crowning glory of the ensemble – the bonnet. Those adorable bonnets perched atop tiny heads adding an extra layer of cuteness to an already over-the-top outfit. It was a time when even the tiniest tots were dressed to impress, leaving no doubt in anyone's mind that they were indeed the most precious little darlings around.
In the grimy and densely populated world of Angel Meadow, survival was a daily battle for the struggling poor. This Manchester slum, with its approximately 30,000 inhabitants crammed into a mere square mile, was far from heavenly. The stories from this place painted a picture of hardship and despair. In the relentless pursuit of sustenance, residents, including children, resorted to scavenging for food, sometimes even hunting down stray cats as a means of survival.
With squalid living conditions and little support from welfare programs, the residents of Angel Meadow endured a tough existence devoid of the comforts and assistance that we often take for granted today. It's a stark reminder of the challenging realities faced by the impoverished during Queen Victoria's reign and a testament to the urgent need for social progress and compassionate policies.
The Darwin Diet
While we're sipping our avocado smoothies and enjoying matcha lattes today, in the 1800s, Charles Darwin, the renowned naturalist and pioneer of the theory of evolution, was at the forefront of a rather unconventional food trend. It seemed that nothing was off-limits for Darwin and his adventurous palate. From hawks and squirrels to owls and even maggots, these critters were all the rage among the daring food enthusiasts of the time.
Darwin himself was a member of "The Glutton Club," a prestigious society of naturalists who embraced the culinary exploration of these unusual creatures. On his outdoor expeditions, Darwin would extend his "natural selection" to include iguanas, giant tortoises, and armadillos, and he even made headlines for devouring a puma. Talk about pushing the boundaries of gastronomic exploration!
Bizarre Street Food
In the past, before the era of hotdogs and pizzas on street corners, the English had their own peculiar street foods that were surprisingly popular. One of these curious delicacies was none other than sheep's feet, commonly known as "trotters." Street vendors would meticulously prepare these trotters by skinning and parboiling them, resulting in a savory treat (for those with adventurous palates, at least).
Hungry workers would eagerly flock to these street vendors, indulging in the unique experience of sucking the tender meat and flavorful fat off the bones. It may sound unusual to us now, but back then, sheep's feet were a hearty and affordable option that satisfied the hunger and taste buds of many Englishmen and women on the go.
In the Victorian age, maintaining dental hygiene was a bit of a DIY affair. Toothpaste, as we know it today, had not yet been invented, but the resourceful Brits found their own solutions. One popular homemade toothpaste recipe involved a simple mixture of charcoal and honey. While the thought of brushing with charcoal may seem odd, it's worth noting that activated charcoal is actually used in modern dental care to whiten teeth.
So, perhaps the Victorians were onto something with their charcoal-based dentifrice. As for adding honey, it's unclear how effective or pleasant it was in pursuing oral cleanliness. Nonetheless, it's fascinating to see how dental care has evolved over the centuries, moving from humble homemade concoctions to the wide range of oral care products we have today.
The Widow of Windsor
Following the tragic demise of Queen Victoria's beloved husband, Albert, England's ruler plunged into profound grief that endured for decades. The loss weighed heavily upon the queen, leading her to embrace seclusion for the remainder of her existence. She adamantly declined any public engagements, donning somber black attire for an astonishing four decades until her eventual passing.
The monarch's profound mourning earned her the moniker "the Widow of Windsor." As time passed, whispers of her descending into madness began to circulate, further distorting the image of the once vibrant queen that lingered in people's memories. Throughout those years, she starkly contrasted to the regal figure she had once embodied.
During the Victorian era, adherence to strict societal norms governed the behaviors of high-society women, including their approach to makeup. It was deemed inappropriate for refined ladies to wear any cosmetic enhancement. The use of makeup was associated with women of a different profession, leading to a stigmatized perception. Lipstick, in particular, was considered suspicious, as its allure was considered bewitching and potentially manipulative to men.
Instead, cultured women seeking a touch of color would resort to more acceptable means. Some daring individuals might resort to pinching their cheeks or discreetly applying a hint of rouge, cautiously exploring their risqué side while still conforming to the era's restrictive beauty standards.
In the 19th century, electrotherapy, also known as shock therapy, gained popularity as a treatment for various ailments across the United Kingdom. It was believed that this "advanced technology" could rid the patient's system of ailments ranging from gout and liver problems to arthritis. The approach involved subjecting the body to electric shocks in the hope of purging the perceived negative elements.
While shock therapy still finds application in certain specific cases today, it is safe to assume that the methods employed during that era were far from subtle. Moreover, the efficacy of such treatments for liver problems was questionable at best. As medical understanding has evolved, more refined and targeted approaches have replaced the indiscriminate use of shock therapy.
In the Victorian era, physical beauty held great significance among the upper echelons of high society. Similar to contemporary times, individuals with considerable wealth and leisure time dedicated significant effort to self-care. Men of the upper class engaged in bodybuilding, while women sought to maintain their figures using what were then considered cutting-edge exercise contraptions.
Countless fad diets and workout trends emerged during this period, catering to the beauty aspirations of the elite. Astonishingly, there were nearly 200 gyms scattered across Europe at that time, a testament to the importance placed on physical well-being. Although by today's standards, this might seem commonplace, during the Victorian era, these pursuits were exclusive to the privileged few, adding to their sense of elitism.
The Era of Inventions
The late 19th century witnessed remarkable strides in technological advancements. In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell revolutionized communication with the invention of the telephone, while Guglielmo Marconi's creation of the radio in 1895 opened up new avenues of wireless transmission. The period also witnessed the emergence of transformative inventions such as the television, the train, the camera, and the vacuum cleaner.
Among these remarkable innovations, one stood out as particularly invaluable—the toilet. This essential invention vastly improved sanitation and hygiene standards, contributing to public health and comfort. The industrial ingenuity of the era propelled England into a state of profound transformation, as these inventions shaped and reshaped society, marking a defining period in history.
The Business of Mourning
In Victorian England, the expression of grief became a significant affair, far surpassing the mere shedding of tears. Women, in particular, embraced preserving their sorrowful emotions by collecting tears in intricately crafted jewelry boxes or bottles adorned with somber black gemstones. Being mourned was of utmost importance, and the idea that no one would shed tears for the departed was simply inconceivable.
Remarkably, even unmarried men took measures to ensure their lamented passing, hiring professional wailers who would weep in mournful display at their gravestones. These elaborate mourning rituals reflected a society deeply entrenched in the customs and rituals surrounding grief, illustrating the profound significance attributed to remembrance and the expression of sorrow during the Victorian era.
Mummies Were Trending
During the early 1900s, a remarkable fascination with Pharaohs, mummies, pyramids, and everything Egyptian swept across archaeology and culture. This craze, aptly labeled "Egyptomania," consumed the Victorian era, captivating the public's imagination. Enthusiasts eagerly flocked to exhibitions and lectures, hungry for the newfound artifacts and knowledge about ancient Egypt.
The resurgence of interest in Egyptian culture owed much to Napoleon's Egyptian Campaign, which exposed Europe to the wonders of this ancient civilization. Such was the enduring impact that, even in later years, popular culture continued to be influenced by this infatuation. The iconic Hollywood film "The Mummy" emerged as a big hit, transporting audiences to a world steeped in the mystique and allure of ancient Egypt, keeping the flame of Egyptomania alive.
The Victorians were indeed a peculiar bunch with a fervent fascination for the supernatural. The 19th century gave birth to many ghostly tales and stories involving spirits. Perhaps this fascination was fueled by the emergence of the newly invented camera, which could produce photographic tricks and illusions, sparking intrigue and mystery. Moreover, one cannot dismiss the possibility that the affluent Victorians sought amusement and excitement through the exploration of the paranormal.
It was not uncommon for Lords and Ladies to dabble in hypnotism for sheer entertainment or attend séances in hopes of contacting departed relatives or enigmatic spirits from the ethereal realm. Palm readers, capitalizing on this fascination, thrived and earned substantial wealth from the curious socialites who sought insights into their future.
When it came to home decor, the Victorians took great pride in their magnificent "cabinet of curiosities." These grand displays showcased a captivating assortment of geological, archaeological, and zoological findings from all corners of the globe. Inside, one might discover an array of enchanting objects—antique weapons, exotic seashells, enigmatic bones, and intricate jewelry—all contributing to the allure of these cabinets.
Yet, amidst the fervor for curiosities, it's worth noting that not every item within these collections was a genuine artifact. The Victorian penchant for replicas and expertly crafted imitations blurred the lines between authenticity and artifice. Determining the veracity of curiosity was a daunting task, leaving even the most astute observers uncertain of what was truly genuine in this world of remarkable deception.
Hysterical Women Everywhere
Throughout the 19th century and beyond, numerous women found themselves burdened by a perplexing affliction known as Hysteria. This enigmatic condition seemed to encompass a wide range of symptoms, afflicting women who expressed sadness, spoke up, and felt anger, anxiety, or dissatisfaction. This became the scapegoat for various emotional and psychological struggles faced by women. In their quest for a remedy, physicians grappled with finding a suitable cure, often resorting to ineffective treatments.
Tragically, women suffering from Hysteria were frequently misunderstood and marginalized, banished to institutions where their days would be spent in perpetual misunderstanding. These institutions, lacking the necessary understanding and empathy, perpetuated a cycle of misdiagnosis and mistreatment, leaving countless women trapped in a perpetual state of misfortune.
Fun in the Parlor
Victorians were renowned for their enthusiasm for parlor games, seeking entertainment in various forms. While several enduring games, like charades, musical chairs, cards, and checkers, have transcended time, there were also more audacious pastimes that remained in the annals of history. Among these fascinating relics was a game known as "Snapdragon." This peculiar activity involved igniting a bowl filled with raisins, turning them into miniature blazing orbs, and daring participants to snatch and consume as many fiery treats as possible.
Such a daring and unconventional game showcased the Victorians' propensity for exhilarating and unconventional forms of amusement, underscoring their spirited and adventurous nature. It serves as a testament to the vivacity and unique revelry that characterized the Victorian era.
Smoggy Foggy London
During the Victorian era, the rapid proliferation of factories in towns led to a significant surge in smog and air pollution. Coal combustion emitted copious amounts of pollutants that permeated the atmosphere, engulfing the cityscape in a thick haze. Compounding this issue was the presence of the Thames River, which added moisture to the air and exacerbated the effects of pollution.
As a result, venturing through the city streets meant inevitable contact with the pervasive grime and soot that coated surfaces. It was a far cry from a pleasant experience, as individuals would find themselves returning home with their skin and clothes stained by the ubiquitous residue.
Victorian enthusiasts found delight in the peculiar hobby of taxidermy. A house adorned with an array of preserved animals became a source of fascination and conversation. However, for those creatures forever frozen in stillness, their presence sparked the creative imagination of their owners. In an effort to breathe life into their stuffed companions, Victorians ingeniously transformed them into characters of whimsical tea parties and make-believe scenarios.
Walter Potter, a renowned taxidermist, and artist, gained fame for his extraordinary creations, such as miniature rabbit schoolboys, kittens elegantly sipping tea, and squirrels engaging in the indulgence of smoking cigars. With a meticulous blend of real stuffed animals and meticulously crafted miniature props, these peculiar tableaus ignited the imagination and captured the public's attention, becoming a bonafide craze in Victorian society.
The Class Gap
During the pre-industrial era, the United Kingdom was divided into three distinct societal classes: the upper class, the middle class, and the working class. With the advent of the industrial revolution, the nation's wealth began to expand, triggering a consequential shift in social dynamics. As the population burgeoned, the middle class, composed of individuals engaged in successful business ventures, started accumulating wealth, bridging the gap between themselves and the upper class.
This transformation shattered the notion that prosperity was solely reserved for those born into noble lineages. Instead, the rise of entrepreneurship and economic success meant that anyone with astute business acumen could amass wealth and ascend the social ladder, redefining the criteria for financial prosperity and establishing a newfound sense of upward mobility within Victorian society.
Not an Ideal Time to Get Sick
In the Victorian era, maintaining good health was challenging due to limited advancements in medicine. With medical practices still in their early stages, people often faced numerous difficulties. Tuberculosis, a highly contagious disease, reigned as the leading cause of death during this era. Seeking treatment meant entering workhouses rather than proper hospitals, where conditions were far from ideal.
The fortunate few who managed to reach a hospital were subjected to surgeries performed without anesthesia or painkillers, making the experience excruciatingly painful. The absence of modern medical advancements and the primitive state of healthcare during that time makes it difficult to imagine a more daunting scenario for those seeking medical assistance.
Dim lit Dinners
In the Victorian era, a peculiar belief circulated that dining in dimly lit rooms aided the process of digestion. As a result, many families had their dining rooms constructed in the basement, conveniently close to the kitchen. This practice might help explain why English cuisine, notorious for its lack of aesthetic appeal, didn't prioritize visual presentation.
For years, the diners scarcely caught a glimpse of their food. Over time, dining rooms gradually shifted to the first floor, but according to depictions in literature and film, it was common for servants to have their meals in the basement, reflecting the social hierarchy and class divisions prevalent during that era.
The Freak Show Phenomena
Driven by a morbid curiosity for the macabre and unusual, the Victorian era also saw the rise of freak shows as a popular form of entertainment. Showmen, often referred to as "circus freaks," who possessed various physical or medical abnormalities, would travel around London and rural towns, captivating audiences nationwide.
Among them, P.T. Barnum, the iconic American showman, gained immense fame and recognition as the most successful figure of his time. Fortunately, societal attitudes have evolved, and such exploitative forms of entertainment are no longer prevalent in today's more compassionate and inclusive society.
In the conservative Victorian era, the concept of bloomers was quite radical. Designed to cover the entire leg, even while sitting, they offered a more liberating alternative to the restrictive and voluminous skirts of the time. Some women's rights activists even pushed boundaries further by wearing bloomers as actual pants paired with shorter dresses.
Although they may appear comically oversized to contemporary eyes, in the context of 19th-century England, bloomers represented a daring departure from societal norms and embodied a symbolic shift towards greater comfort and freedom for women.
During the Victorian era, an intriguing and concerning trend known as the "air diet" gained popularity among teenagers and young women. This extreme diet essentially involved fasting, often without even consuming water, as the prevailing notion was that respectable ladies should refrain from indulging in food.
Mollie Fancher, one of the well-known "fasting girls" of the era, claimed to have gone without food for an astonishing 14 years. Curiously, some of these girls, including Fancher, asserted that their prolonged fasting endowed them with special magical powers. Astonishingly, the public not only believed these claims but also eagerly embraced and perpetuated the narratives surrounding these extraordinary individuals.
No Kids Allowed
We've all heard the saying, "Children should be seen and not heard." Can you guess where it came from? Yep, you got it— the Victorian era! Back then, wealthy toddlers didn't spend much time with their parents; nannies were in charge. Kids had to follow strict rules and be on their best behavior all the time. Being well-mannered was a big deal, and staying quiet was super important.
Luckily, people soon realized that children have important things to say too, and things changed for the better! Now, we understand the value of letting children express themselves and be active participants in conversations and decision-making processes. It's a more inclusive and empowering approach that recognizes the unique perspectives and insights that children bring to the table.
The Water Closet
In the Victorian era, access to indoor water closets was a luxury that many wealthy families did not have until around 1870. The water closet's main attraction? The toilet itself! Prior to the industrial revolution, bathroom-related activities were often handled by servants using buckets, which sounds quite inconvenient for all parties involved.
One can only imagine the challenges and discomfort the servants had to manage such tasks. As a result, individuals often relied on sponge baths as a substitute for full bathing, while perfume was used to mask any lingering odors. It's a stark reminder of the stark contrast between modern conveniences and the limitations of the past.
Medicine and science have come a long way through endless trials and errors, and we're grateful for the progress! Take an example from 1875: to prevent pneumonia, people would wrap themselves in sheets of newspaper. Can you imagine? It was believed to provide a warm and cozy sleep while warding off illness.
Oh, and don't forget the notion that cold water was the culprit behind countless ailments. Thankfully, our understanding has evolved, and we now have effective treatments and knowledge to keep us healthy. It's a reminder of how far we've come and the incredible strides made in the realm of medicine and science. Cheers to progress!
The Fainting Epidemic
In the quest for fashion, Victorian women squeezed themselves into corsets made from materials like whalebone or even steel. These contraptions were meant to create those coveted tiny waists that were all the rage. However, the tight pressure around their torsos often led to women fainting left and right! England was a nation of fainting ladies.
It was a curious phenomenon at first, but the truth was simple— they couldn't breathe properly, and the lack of oxygen reaching their heads took its toll. Victorian women were not just easily overwhelmed; they were literally gasping for air in the name of fashion!