7 “Innocent” Things That Would Shame Victorian Women, and We Do Them Every Day
The Victorian era lasted from 1837 to 1901. During this time in Great Britain, there were a lot of social reforms. The etiquette that we still use today was created at that time, but the state of women’s affairs was pretty miserable and very well regulated. In order to avoid being humiliated and mocked, Victorian women were supposed to follow a lot of rules that described every aspect of their lives: from their personal hygiene to the way they should respond to jokes with a double-meaning.
Bright Side discovered the true face of the corset era and the time of crinoline dresses. A lady of that time could have been publicly humiliated for the actions we freely do today.
1. It was inappropriate to even mention women’s underwear.
It was believed that even mentioning women’s underwear could spark an unhealthy interest in body parts. When talking about this, a Victorian lady said, “They are not the things we talk about, my dear; we try not to think about them.”
By the way, a modern person would most likely think that the underwear of the past were pretty vulgar. The thing is that the unmentionables (the pantaloons that they wore instead of underwear) did not have an inseam. So, instead there was a hole in the middle. This is why can-can was so popular and risqué in its time.
2. It was considered inappropriate and dangerous to take a hot bath.
In Victorian times, people didn't take baths very often, because they thought that a completely wet body lost its natural protection, which could lead to psychological disorders, fevers, or something even worse.
"During the Victorian era doing something the right way often meant doing it in the most uncomfortable manner," says Therese Oneill, in her book Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady's Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners. They were supposed to wash themselves in cold water, using a sponge soaked in cold water with a drop of vinegar. There was no such thing as a warm bath that could relax pretty much anyone. People believed that taking a bath in water that was warmer than 37.8°С could lead a woman to madness or even stimulate her to look for carnal pleasure.
We think that our modern jacuzzi would definitely terrify these virtuous Victorian ladies and gentlemen. They would have probably thought that it was some kind of devil's punishment.
3. Physical activity for women was unacceptable.
At the beginning of the 19th century, people believed that girls and women were supposed to preserve their bodies for one special purpose — childbirth. It was believed that physical activity was dangerous for women. And the bigger the physical difference between men and women, the easier it was to control women.
However, this “system” was not very consistent. It only worked for noble women. Words like, “Women are usually physically smaller and weaker than men, their brain is far lighter, and there is simply no way that they can do the same work as men, both physically and mentally,” did not apply to poor women. Working-class women did a lot in coal mines, steel mills, and in the textile and agricultural industries. Along with children, they transported coal through narrow mines. More than that, factory owners often preferred hiring women instead of men, because it was easier to make them do hard physical work and they could be paid less.
By the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, the attitude toward physical activity started to change. Girls from the middle and the upper class were finally able to play tennis, badminton, and cricket, they could also do archery, swim, and do gymnastics. The good physical shape of future mothers ensures the health of their offspring.
4. Asking questions in a conversation was bad manners.
19th century etiquette rules recommended for women to avoid asking any questions over the course of a conversation. They were not sure what could offend the other person, so all phrases were supposed to be statements, not questions.
So, instead of asking how someone’s brother was doing, women were supposed to say, “I hope your brother is doing alright.” And classic women’s conversation topics, like the weather and children, had to be avoided so they wouldn’t be called rude and unworthy of polite company.
5. Riding a bicycle was considered extremely dirty.
Women that rode bicycles on their own were judged for 2 reasons. First, they required more convenient clothing for their rides. So as a result, bloomers and special skirts appeared. And many Victorians had a very negative attitude toward bloomers because they looked a lot like men’s pants.
And second, doctors thought that riding a bicycle could be sexually simulating for women. And ladies, especially the young ones, were supposed to be clean and innocent.
However, there were people that protected women’s rights to ride bicycles. So because the bravest women continued to use this kind of transportation, society had no choice but to gradually get used to it and even admit the positive effect bicycles could have on our health.
6. Asking a man to carry shopping bags was shameful.
At that time, it was fairly easy to get rid of an unwanted man. All a woman had to do was ask him to carry a couple of shopping bags. In fact, it was shameful to appear with a lot of things, not only for a man, but also for a lady. A noble lady was supposed to only walk with a cute dog, a bouquet of flowers, or a small package of fruit in her hands. Only in some rare cases was it OK for her to carry one square-shaped box, and it had to be a small one.
7. Using lipstick was a thing that only women of loose morals did.
Queen Victoria thought that makeup was vulgar and unattractive. This is why if a woman used beauty products, she could have easily sparked negative rumors about herself. It was relatively acceptable to use powder and nothing else. Only actresses and prostitutes (and people didn’t see much of a difference between the 2 back then) could freely use lipstick and any other cosmetics. Up until 1921, the most trendy women in London used makeup secretly.
But all women wanted to look beautiful. So women used chemicals that contained arsenic and lead to bleach their faces, they put mercury on their lips, and ammonia on their faces and hair. They used some less dangerous things, too, for example, pinching their cheeks for blush or biting their lips to make them rosy.
Would you like to travel back to that time and try on their beautiful dresses? Which would you easily give up if you had to: hot baths or beauty products? Maybe you know some interesting things about the Victorian lifestyle? Tell us what you know in the comment section below.
Preview photo credit Gertrude Käsebier / Wikimedia