Victorians took their hair seriously: “Want Good Hair?” asked Godey’s Lady’s Book (1861). Throughout the nineteenth century, much advice circulated in magazines, newspapers, and cook books regarding how to cleanse hair (long before shampoo was invented), use of combs, whether or not to cut kids’ hair and more!
In an 1879 essay by Henry Ward Beecher, he persuades all to see that Old Maids may make the best of wives, for their youthful ways often pass right along with their marriageable years. Come mid-twenties, when a woman is an Old Maid, he argues she’s come into her prime of womanhood.
Beecher was, it seems, concerned about appearance.
What about those ladies who are consistently kind, gracious, and pleasant to be with? What of those good girls who finds no fault and never complains. Perhaps this Best Woman did make for the Best Victorian Wives.
Dr. Richardson, a London physician, spoke against corsets (tight lacing) and the damage thereby inflicted upon women’s intellect. This article was syndicated from New York Times and appeared in Kansas Farmer on May 5, 1880.
Judge John H. Arbuckle promised divorces to unsuspecting men duped by mail-order brides from the East who padded their limbs, hips, bosoms or employed false hair or used cosmetic paints. Such elements of beauty were common in the Victorian American Era, at least among the wealthy. It must have been common enough among disillusioned bridegrooms for the Judge to rule (April 3, 1873) that “marriages into which a man is seduced by the use of (his list of offenses like makeup and padded breasts) without the man’s knowledge, shall stand null and void if he so desires”. Victorian ladies were guilty of nothing today’s generation hasn’t done. But just what padding devices and cosmetics were readily available in the early 1870’s?
American women in the late Victorian Era often cut and curled bangs at the forehead. Many photographs (cabinet cards) show this hairstyle, with the rest being upswept and pinned, as women grew their hair to amazing lengths–all except those stylish bangs. If the curls about the forehead were not a hair piece (purchased by mail), then they most often required a curl. Victorian curling irons (their prices, designs, and heating methods) might surprise you–after all, it’s not (only) like Laura Ingalls Wilder described in her fictionalized memoirs of coming of age and cutting her hair in this style.