Thank goodness the ladies today are not under the same courtship pressures as they were in the 1880s. The playing field between men and women is more level.
In Victorian times it was a matter of social survival for a woman of 1900 to look beautiful without showing any of the signs of powder and paint make-up. How did they do it? An article by Marilyn Johnson of Lake County gives us some of the answers as to how the magic was wrought.
Powder and Paint
‘The Victorian beauties of Lake County wanted clear sparkling eyes, white unblemished skin, long shining hair, a slender, hour-glass waist, and a buxom figure. Let us start with eyes, the windows of the soul. No unmarried woman wore glasses. She would have to be blind as a bat before that terrible alternative would even be considered. Rather than wear spectacles, it was better to have a close and understanding relative lead her around like a human guide dog. What passed for dreamy glances by a lovely lady for her beau was actually a near-sighted lady that couldn’t see beyond her nose.’
Without mascara or the eye-shadow concoctions that department stores advertise today, the ladies had a problem. As inventive as they were, the solutions were unique. One answer was Witch Hazel. Witch Hazel brightened and rested the eyes. Pads, soaked in that old stand-by, reduced unwanted swelling. Down South, Scarlet O’Hara of the story of the Civil War, ‘Gone with the Wind,’ dropped a little belladonna in their eyes. It made the pupils large as saucers, and the man that stared into that lady’s eyes was soon lost in pools of mystery.
Eyebrow care was a full-time occupation. They were plucked with care. Over a period of days and weeks, as the young lady matured, the girl’s bushy brushes appeared to become, in some miraculous way to the unwitting male, into a lovely, gentle, natural arch.
Sometimes, to really wow the men, a lady darkened her brows with a toothpick dipped in soot or stove polish. This was done discreetly, of course. Such a secret was hardly a subject for a gentleman’s smoking room.
Lashes were brushed with castor oil into which lemon peel had been soaked. The concoction was made for extra-long lashes… or what appeared to be longer than they were. That wasn’t all there was to the perilous operation. Lashes were made darker by running the lady’s finger around the inside of a lantern’s chimney. The oily soot was applied to the lashes. One had to be careful. A slip and the eyes watered with the burning. Soot also had a tendency to smudge and ruin the effect. In that unhappy instance, the operation had to be started from scratch.
No matter what the color of her hair, a young woman wanted alabaster white skin. A snowy bosom (they meant breasts, but nobody dared say that word for fear of going to hell) with blue veins pulsating beneath the skin and with purple hollows at her throat turned men into quivering jelly. To achieve such awesome beauty, as though the subject was close to death, or deep in her ‘vapors,’ was just about as good as a young Victorian lady could want.
On summer cruises, women were always provided with a shaded pavilion. There were plenty of skin-bleaching preparations such as Witchhazel and Lemon Juice rubbed on the lady’s skin. Buttermilk or a poultice of grated cucumber were two more preparations that women swore worked wonders to lighten their skin. A gruel of oatmeal packs and whipped egg white could also do the job. Such a concoction was doubly useful. The recipe could be used to make oatmeal cookies or to peel off the top layer of dead skin cells. A honey mask required that the lady pat her face until her fingers stuck to her skin and hurt to pull them away.
And freckles? Any female cursed with freckles was one of the great tragedies of the Victorian Age. But even that dilemma had solutions.
The writer does not tell us what those solutions were, only that ‘most cookbooks have an answer for ways to eliminate that terrible disfigurement.’
How did the women in the old album photographs look as though every mother’s daughter had a waist a man could circle with the fingers of one hand? Easy as pie. At dinner on a date, the men ate everything in sight… but the ladies ate before they came to lunch or dinner. A smart girl, who picked daintily at her food, was able to attend the conversation at all times to her advantage. Besides all that, they wore corsets. There was no room in their bellies for the sixteen-course dinners that were served. They couldn’t eat as much if they tried.
Next episode; How to handle ‘chubby’
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