Friday, October 3, 2014


Beauty in the 1800s


Women have always cared about their appearance. Here are a couple of shampoos guaranteed to do the job!


Old Time Hair Tonic Recipes from the Early 1800’s:

½ Pint olive oil
1/8 oz. each oils of rosemary and origanum
Mix well and apply freely.

Note: Olive oil and rosemary oil are quite common to find. Origanum is easily obtained from any store that sells essential oils and is an oil with antifungal, stimulating tonic properties. Since this mixture would be very oily, the recommendation is for use as a deep conditioning treatment with steam before shampooing.

2 lbs common soap
3 pints spirits of wine
3 oz. potash
Cut the soap in small pieces and melt all ingredients together, stirring it with a clean piece of wood; then add a quarter of an ounce each of essence of amber, vanilla and nervoli and mix well. Use as a shampoo.

Note: These are quite old recipes and difficult to find such ingredients as 'common' soap which could be no more than harsh detergent or lye soap. The name potash comes from the English wording Pot and Ash. Ashes from burned hardwood trees would be used to make lye, which could either be used to make soap or boiled down to produce valuable potash. So you can see this recipe was primarily just soap-and not necessarily good quality soap. Spirits of wine is merely rectified ethyl alcohol or grain alcohol - defined as the intoxicating agent in fermented and distilled liquors; used pure or denatured as a solvent or in medicines and colognes and cleaning solutions and rocket fuel...that doesn't sound good. I don't recommend doing what early Americans did to curl their hair with this recipe.


European noblewomen used to bind their faces, every night on going to bed, with thin slices of raw beef, which is said to keep the skin from wrinkles, while it gives a youthful freshness and brilliancy to the complexion. Others used whale sperm to give them a youthful appearance.


Next time you dry your hair, why not follow this advice from a 1858 book, Dick’s Encyclopedia of Practical Receipts and Processes by William Dick, which recommends a hair drying process that seems perfect for budding arsonists. He said the woman should lie on a couch with her hair falling over one end. Place beneath the hair a pan of burning charcoal bits sprinkled with benzoin powder (benzoin is the fragrant dried sap from Southeast Asian trees). The smoke would dry and perfume the lady’s lovely mane.


Here’s a fun tidbit I found on the internet about the ever-changing female silhouette.


1700s: The pear 

    • Necessity of field work makes a large, muscular physique ideal.
    • Eyebrows are shaven and replaced with press-on mouse-skin brows.
    • The average woman is a mother of eight; large hips are sign of fertility.

Early 1800s: The rectangle

    • “Corset Mecaniques” make corsets more user-friendly.
    • Indoor lifestyle makes women pale and frail.
    • Small feet and rosebud lips accompany prim and reserved personality.

Mid 1800s: The bell

    • Ideal woman is curvy with big hips.
    • Corset becomes controversial because of restrictiveness.
    • Clothing sizes are developed.

Late 1800s: The hourglass

    • Beauty culture develops in the U.S.; first notions of mass-produced beauty.
    • Through early 1900s women have small waists and large updos.

Early 1900’s: The thin rectangle

    • The average woman is 5′ 2″ tall and weighs 129 pounds.
    • The brassiere is patented in 1913.
    • In the 1920s women bind their breasts to gain more boyish figure.
    • “Flappers” show skin and women become more self-conscious.
    • Shaven armpits become popular.
    • Comfort and freedom are priorities; bobbed hairstyle popular.
    • First Miss America pageant is held in 1921.

Mid 1900s: The hourglass

    •   Marilyn Monroe embodies the ideal figure.
    • Pin-up girls make large breasts popular.
    • Large hips come back in style with the baby boom of the 1950s.
    • Shaven legs become popular, sometimes by use of sandpaper.
    • First official weight-loss drug approved by FDA in 1959.
    • The ideal thins out again in the 1970s, repeating trend of the 1920s.



1980s: Muscular and toned

    • Death of Karen Carpenter raises awareness of eating disorders.
    • Excercise tapes become the new trend.
    • Muscular woman is prominent but boyish figure is popular and voluptuous curves gain popularity.

Styles keep changing, some reverting to vintage styles. What will the future hold for women’s beauty? Will it be a combination of all of them from the past?   

What was the craziest thing you’ve ever worn?


   Multi-published and Best-Selling author Cynthia Hickey had three cozy mysteries and two novellas published through Barbour Publishing. Her first mystery, Fudge-Laced Felonies, won first place in the inspirational category of the Great Expectations contest in 2007. Her third cozy, Chocolate-Covered Crime, received a four-star review from Romantic Times. All three cozies have been re-released as ebooks through the MacGregor Literary Agency, along with a new cozy series, all of which stay in the top 50 of Amazon’s ebooks for their genre. She has several historical romances releasing in 2013, 2014, 2015 through Harlequin’s Heartsong Presents, and has sold more than 250,000 copies of her works. She is active on FB, twitter, and Goodreads. She lives in Arizona with her husband, one of their seven children, two dogs and two cats. She has five grandchildren who keep her busy and tell everyone they know that “Nana is a writer”. Visit her website at




  1. Great post, Cynthia! Craziest thing was probably those horrid tall platform shoes in the '70s that have come back in style! And those stupid micro mini skirts!

  2. Now if only the more voluptuous woman would become the trend again rather than the ultra skinny, waif that seems to still be the average sized model in the popular magazines, I would finally be "in trend!" Great post Cynthia, thanks!

  3. I had a pair of those platform shoes! Oh, how I loved being tall

  4. Well... no wonder I write about the 1800s. Ahem. The craziest thing I ever wore was a knit dress I made. It didn't end well and was the tackiest thing ever, but I'd worked on it all day and wore it anyway. It was horrid.

    And, Carrie, I wore those platform shoes in the '80s. Honestly, I'd break my neck if I tried that now!

  5. Although I don't follow fashion and beauty trends, your post sure kept me interested, Cynthia. My first thought for a crazy item was a pumpkin costume, but that was for a Harvest Ladies Night at church, so I don't think that counts. I dress comfortably to fit the occasion. In other words, I wear black swede Air Walker's to go with dressy pant outfits and then I don't worry about tripping, etc.

    Oh, I just had a memory of being on my own when I was 17 and going to buy a TV in downtown Winnipeg. Being in high school on the basketball and track teams, as well as working a full-time fast food job, I was very much in shape - more muscular than slender, but not overweight. I remember the TV salesman gawking at me as I pointed out which TV I wanted and then laid out $700 cash. The thing is, it was a very hot summer day and at the time I was wearing a braless halter top, bare midriff, and jean shorts cut so short that the front pockets hung out a tad. Thinking back, I wonder how I ever had the nerve, never mind where they thought I'd got the money. LOL. But they delivered my TV on time and that was that.

  6. Loved reading your post about the history of beauty! The raw meat wrap must have been awful! I don't remember the craziest thing I ever wore except for the very short skirts in the late 60's-couldn't even bend over at all. sm wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com