The Victorian Era began with the reign of Queen Victoria on June 20, 1837, and is associated with industrial expansion, improvements in society paving the way for modern-day society, and some of the wildest beauty standards in history.
When Queen Victoria was crowned, she was 18 years old, and her style would affect the fashion world until she died in 1901. When Queen Victoria married her husband, Albert, she set a trend that still exists today. She chose to wear a white wedding dress on her wedding day. Stating:
"I wore a white satin gown with a very deep flounce of Honiton lace, imitation of old. I wore my Turkish diamond necklace and earrings, and Albert's beautiful sapphire brooch."
Before white wedding gowns, colored dresses were worn, as white was a rare and expensive color and was seen as a sign of wealth, not purity. However, Queen Victoria chose to wear white to show off the dress's delicate lace to help support lace makers in England at the time.
Queen Victoria was not the first Queen to wear a white wedding dress, but the most influential, as to this day, most brides choose to wear white on their wedding day.
Queen Victoria was also known for upholding strict morals and conduct maintained by British society. For example, the Queen declared that makeup was impolite, and only actresses and ladies of low morals wore obvious makeup.
Living in Britain at this time was about conforming, etiquette, and following the rules of society, blending in. Women were expected to look naturally flawless, and wearing makeup could be deceptive, and if it were noticeable, many would assume you could be involved in impure activities.
Makeup was utilized and worn and applied carefully so as not to let on that one was wearing makeup, a no-makeup-makeup look, to enhance the delicate and fragile look with a pale complexion and long curls. The pale face was representative of wealth, a sign of nobility, and everybody wanted it.
During this era, many of the products used on the skin have now been labeled toxic. For example, before applying makeup, many applied ammonia to their faces, white creams, and powders containing lead, arsenic, and mercury. Some used ¨Dr. Rose's Arsenic Complexion Wafers¨ as well, and they were marketed as ¨perfectly harmless¨.
The makeup was toxic, and the treatments to ¨ grow new skin¨ were unhealthy. And it said that "ammonia is the most healthful and efficient stimulus for the hair¨. Some even suggested coating the face with opium overnight, then washing the face with ammonia upon waking.
If you need help regrowing your eyebrows, apply a little mercury as a nightly eye treatment. Some reports stated that the ¨near-death¨ look was also popular. If desired, you had to use a few citrus fruit drops in the eyes. Some even recommended belladonna drops because the effect lasted longer but also caused blindness.
The fashion and beauty trend did not stop at skin care; it also carried over to clothing. Your clothing could poison you; arsenic is used to dye fabrics, especially dresses. Even Queen Victoria was seen in arsenic-dyed dresses.
Not only was it dangerous for those wearing the clothing, but the workers created the clothing inside an arsenic-filled room every day. Flowers were worn on the head, painted with arsenic and dead birds, and preserved with arsenic-laced soaps.
During this time, there was speculation that arsenic was poisonous, as it was used in murders. But many thought it was only dangerous if you ingested it, not in small amounts on the skin for a lighter complexion, and it was effective, the price for beauty.
Clothing was also one way that disease spread during the Victorian Era; clothing was cleaned or made in shops plagued by lice or other deadly parasites, spreading diseases between different classes via clothing. Clothing was often recycled and needed to be adequately cleaned after walking through the streets full of excrement and areas where deadly bacteria were flourishing.
Some would lift their dresses to avoid contact with the ground, but clothing was often only washed once a week, leaving plenty of time for bacteria to multiply. The long flowing skirts at times were not only unhygienic but dangerous, especially for those working in factories, as the skirts would often get tangled in the machines and were also hazardous for riding in carriages and could become tangled quickly.
Victorian women also wore corsets so tight that it would often restrict their breathing, which would often lead to women fainting. In addition, the corset would compress the abdominal organs, leading to poor digestion and muscle atrophy, especially in the back, and rib cage deformity.
Women were not the only ones who would die for beauty; the men were also at risk. During the Victorian Era, a man was always expected to have his hate on, as ¨no upper-class man was complete without his hat¨.
However, mercury was the cheapest and most effective way to turn felt malleable. It gave the animal fur a smooth glossy texture, the desired look. But unfortunately, mercury can enter the body through the skin or air and can cause convulsions, abdominal cramps, trembling, paralysis, and reproductive issues.
Queen Victoria ruled for 64 years, surviving the Cholera epidemic, leaving a mark on history today, and being the trendsetter for the no-makeup makeup look. However, we are still experimenting with beauty products, so have we evolved?
We have become more obsessed with beauty and creating a perfectly unwrinkled natural look, thanks to botox, also known as Botulinum toxin. This deadly poison is rumored to be when used in a specific way, not toxic. It sounds like how those in the Victorian era thought about arsenic or lead-laced makeup.
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