During Queen Victoria’a reign, 1837-1901, very little changed in the way ladies wore their hair or presented their faces. Natural beauty was favoured, it was considered shameful or at the least very lower class to have a “painted face”, make up was reserved for the stage or prostitutes.
Pale skin was desired as it symbolised class and wealth, upper class ladies wore long gloves and used parasols to shade themselves from the sun, also to show they were wealthy enough to not have to work outside. Dresses were always to the floor so there was no chance of their legs being exposed to the sun. Some ladies wore a dusting of powder on their faces so as not to appear ‘shiny’, often with a tint of blue or lavender to make them appear very pale in the yellow gas light or candle light. These powders could be made up and purchased at the pharmacist, rose petal waters and other ‘scents’ could also be purchased, ladies often used the back door to enter so that they were not seen purchasing them.
Young girls let their hair grow long, it was braided or tied up with ribbons and sometimes left flowing on special occasions. When a young lady reached maturity, generally 18years of age, she was ‘allowed’ to wear her hair ‘up’ to symbolise that she had reached adulthood, this was a much awaited moment for many young women. During the 1800’s hair was seldom washed ( neither were their bodies) so although they applied powder to their faces, dabbed on rose water and put their hair up to look elegant their general body odour must have been very unpleasant.
At the onset of the short Edwardian era, 1901-1910, ladies started to take more care of themselves. They washed their bodies more frequently and washed their hair. They applied brilliantine to give it shine, henna was used to dye hair a copper colour, sultanate of iron to darken it or ammonia to lighten (bleach) it. Grey hair was thought at the time to be caused by dryness so glycerine, oil or rum was rubbed into the hair in an effort to prevent greyness!
It was still generally considered fashionable to look pale, but the earlier stigma of having colour on your face had passed so ladies started pinching their cheeks to appear healthier and biting on their lips to give them a bit of colour. They no longer wanted to have to creep in the back door of pharmacists in order to purchase their requirements.
Then in 1909 an American businessman, Harry Gordon Selfridge opened a large department store in Oxford Street, London, which was then the richest city in the world. Selfridges had the first ever beauty counter where ladies were encouraged to ‘try before you buy’ – from that day the “Cosmetic Counter” was born!
Newspapers spread this astonishing news and before long small beauty counters appeared in pharmacies and stores in most towns and cities around the country, ladies then wanted to be seen making purchases.
Love Betty ….. X