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15 Facts (And Photos) Of The Victorian Era In England

15 Facts (And Photos) Of The Victorian Era In England

It can be fascinating to look back at how we did things in previous eras. There are certain things people did that seem bizarre to us nowadays, simply because they didn’t have all the technology and gadgets we do, and had to make do with what they had. And, of course, there are a lot of things that they just didn’t have knowledge about, that we later found out were extremely harmful practices. And, it was just a different world — they had different family structures, different beauty ideals, and just different views on the world in general. Victorian London has been glamorized in countless movies, but the reality wasn’t quite as luxe.

The Victorian era is a period that’s far enough to be a totally different scene, but close enough that it doesn’t seem centuries in the past. And they did some truly bizarre things. From their beauty practices to their standards of hygiene (um, low, let’s just say), it can be puzzling to learn about their day to day lives.

Here are 15 interesting facts about life in Victorian England — and we have a feeling you’ll be pretty thankful for some modern conveniences, and that a lot of these practices have been eradicated in the years since.

15. Women’s Underwear Was What?


Modern-day women are worried about things like VPL and what style of underwear will look best under their clothing, but Victorian women didn’t have that worry — they were buried under layers and layers of garments. However, they did have one particularity in their undergarments — they didn’t have a crotch. Apparently, Victorian women wore a type of long bloomer, like the reproduction pictured above, that covered their legs but left their lady bits, well, exposed. Of course, they wore so many other garments that anything scandalous was hidden beneath their dress — the bloomers were designed to help them go to the washroom a bit more easily. Still, though — it seems so strange to consider that they were walking around exposed like that, even if no one could see anything beneath their gowns.

14. The Streets (And Rivers) Were Literally Filled With Trash


In the movies, the streets of Victorian England always look so glamorous. There are buggies and everyone is wearing such fabulous clothing and the shops look utterly charming. While the real Victorian England definitely had great architecture and style, as portrayed in the movies, there’s one thing that they don’t always show — it was pretty gross. The best proof is through the account of a woman named Lady Harberton, who in 1891 said that, while she took a short walk in London, her dress collected two cigar ends, a pork pie, four toothpicks, two hairpins, a chewed tobacco plug, nine cigarettes, as well as excrement, straw, mud, and bits of paper. That’s right — those streets were majorly dirty, as were the big rivers snaking throughout the country. A lot of people, and no modern sewer systems quite yet.

13. Dress Styles Got So Wide, Women Were Unable To Walk Through Doorways


A lot has been said about Victorian women’s wardrobes because, well, those broads did not have it easy. From corsets to hairpins to the layers and layers of clothing required of their dresses, fashion was a painful and arduous process. And, apparently, it prevented them from moving around as well. During a specific period, from about 1850 to 1870, corsets weren’t the only big trend — women also got majorly into very, very wide dresses. Specifically, they would wear a big wooden hoop that they layered endless crinolines over to create a stunning silhouette. The problem is, if the hoop was wide enough, they often couldn’t get through doorways. Not to mention, since they often didn’t know where their crinolines ended, they’d frequently catch their dress on fire by walking past a candle. Yikes!

12. Some Women Put Raw Beef On As A Beauty Mask


Oh, how we wish someone would have documented this beauty practice, because it sounds truly horrifying. Now, we’re no strangers to face masks — the modern beauty industry has crafted masks for every purpose, from moisturizing to detoxifying, and they’re hugely popular. In Victorian times, things were a bit different. Apparently, one beauty advice writer at the time told Victorian women that they should “bind [the] head every night with thin slices of raw beef, which is said to keep the skin from wrinkles and give a youthful freshness to the complexion.” Uh… gross. We can’t even imagine what the smell would have been like. Sometimes you have to suffer for beauty, but beauty sleep is important too, and we don’t know how you could sleep with literal pieces of beef on your face.

11. Boys Wore Dresses Until They Were School Aged


Victorian men always look incredibly dapper in their suit and hat combinations, but you wouldn’t find young boys in that kind of get-up. Apparently, when it came to shopping for their children, wealthy families didn’t have to stop at two sections of the store — they bought the same thing for their boys as they did for their girls. That means white, frilly dresses with lace and ribbons and other embellishments. On the one hand, it would have made it easier to incorporate hand-me-downs in a large family, if you didn’t have to worry about gender, but we have a feeling wealthy families didn’t care as much about the cost. Apparently, frilly white gowns were just the chic thing to put on your child, regardless of gender. Hey, it’s a look.

10. People Ate Arsenic Regularly To Look And Feel Young


Not only did Victorian women go through physical pain in order to achieve certain beauty ideals, such as the teeny tiny waist that a corset helped achieve — turns out, they also straight up poisoned themselves (although they didn’t know it at the time). One of the biggest trends in Victorian beauty and wellness was arsenic. The poisonous substance was an ingredient in a ton of make-up at the time, which women slathered all over their faces in order to look youthful. And, men weren’t exempt either — apparently for men, arsenic pills were all the rage, because they were seen as a way to stoke the fires of their libido. Eventually, arsenic disappeared from common use because people learned it was poisonous. Unfortunately for many women who grew up covering themselves with arsenic, it was probably too late.

9. They Had Mummy Unwrapping Parties


Okay, the first thing you should know is that the Victorians were totally obsessed with ancient Egypt. They found everything about the culture utterly fascinating, and wanted to learn as much about it as possible. This fascination with Egypt led to a practice that would leave most of us utterly horrified today — mummy unwrapping parties. It’s basically exactly as it sounds — someone would acquire a mummy, wrapped in all the traditional ways, and would throw an event where people could come by and watch an expert carefully unwrap the mummy. Since many in England were likely unable to make it all the way over to Egypt, they might never have a chance to see a mummy up close and personal if it weren’t for the unwrapping parties. Still, though — it’s a pretty weird practice.

8. The Wealthy Often Hired A Live-In Hermit For Their Yard


You know how garden gnomes are a hugely popular item nowadays for people to display in their yards? Well, back in Victorian times, they weren’t willing to settle for an inanimate figurine — they wanted a living, breathing garden gnome. Yes, this is as weird as it sounds. Apparently, wealthy Victorian landowners would hire a live-in hermit, who would live in their yard, grow out their hair, wear clothing that made them look like a druid, and basically just act like, well, a hermit. Given how many staff many wealthy Victorians employed to keep their household running and look after the land, perhaps an extra staff member to just wander around the yard didn’t seem that weird. I mean, they were definitely more interactive than a regular garden gnome statue would be, that’s for sure.

7. They Wore Black Because of Pollution


Though many black and white photographs make it tough to tell exactly what shade gown Victorian women are wearing, we do know one thing — they heavily favoured black, and it wasn’t just because they thought it was chic, as fashion insiders do today. No, it was far more practical — Victorian women apparently wore black clothing because there was so much pollution in the air. If they went out in a light-coloured garment, by the time they came back home from their errands and visiting, their formerly lovely outfit would have a greyish hue thanks to all the coal pollution. So, they decided to just accept the reality of the pollution in the city, and wear clothing that would remain just as ravishing when they returned home as when they left.

6. You Could Only Visit Friends In The Afternoon


In Victorian times, visiting your friends was a serious business. Everyone had calling cards that they would leave, and they couldn’t exactly pop in for coffee or a drink in the evening just because they felt like it. There were a lot of rules involved in the process. When women paid a call to a friend, they were only allowed to do so in the afternoon — ideally between the hours of 3 pm and 5 pm. And, it was supremely rude to hog the entire calling time yourself, even though an hour or two is definitely not an unreasonable amount of time to chat with someone. They were only supposed to stay for a short period of time, and if someone else came calling while you were there chatting, you were supposed to gather your skirts and head out.

5. Women Truly Did Swoon — Because They Couldn’t Breathe


The swooning woman is probably one of the most iconic things that comes to mind when people think of Victorian women. Many assume they swooned so much because they had delicate sensibilities or something along those lines, but the fact is, all those women were swooning for one reason and one reason alone — they straight up couldn’t breathe in those crazy corsets. In order to achieve the ideal tiny waist, women wore super strength corsets that cinched everything in — and squished their organs in the process. They often couldn’t breathe, or found that their heart rate increased, and promptly passed out. If they were allowed to wear looser clothing, the swooning woman would be something that never existed. Seriously — the things women have to do for beauty! Those corsets were a nightmare.

4. Bathing (At Home) Wasn’t Very Popular


Nowadays, modern conveniences make bathing a whole lot easier. Most people can just go to their bathroom and get hot water from their shower or bathtub whenever they want and get all squeaky clean. In Victorian times, it was a bit different — even wealthier families who had their own bathtub and had servants to heat up water for a bath didn’t bathe all that often. How infrequently are we talking? Well, wealthier families would perhaps bathe a few times a month, if that, while lower class families might only bathe once a year. We can’t even imagine what the smell must have been like — thank goodness they buried themselves under endless layers of clothing, because that BO must have been absolutely atrocious. Seriously, what’s wrong with a good bath?

3. Taxidermy Art Was A Common Hobby


The Victorians definitely had different sorts of hobbies than we do today. One of the most popular hobbies was taxidermy — something that certain individuals do today, granted, but the Victorians did it in a different way. Rather than just mounting a deer head on the wall or something like that, the Victorians made taxidermy an artform, and they would not only craft stuffed animals, they would also arrange those animals into elaborate scenes. There were even famous artists who specialized in this particular artform, including Walter Potter. It seems a bit strange to us to create detailed scenes involving dead animals, but hey — it was a different time, and they had a whole lot less access to technology to make their artistic visions come true. At least they were creative…

2. What Was Safer Than Water?


People nowadays are obsessed with hydration — we’re constantly told how important it is to drink enough water, so we tote around water bottles and obediently guzzle H20 as often as we can. Victorians had a different perspective. Fresh water was hard to come by, and even the fresh stuff was often stored in such a way that it would get contaminated before it reached your lips. So, they found a simple solution — they drank more beer. Since beer was boiled and had a bit of alcohol in it to kill the bacteria, it was a lot safer to drink than water, which would often be contaminated with goodness knows what. Plus, it likely made it easier to deal with those stuffy clothes and dirty streets when you had a bit of a buzz on.

1. Victorian Author Mary Shelley Kept Her Husband’s Heart In A Desk Drawer


Okay, this wasn’t a common practice amongst all Victorian widows, but it’s bizarre enough to deserve a spot on the list. The famous author Mary Shelley was married to Percy Shelley for years, and when he died, he was cremated. However, a strange thing happened — his heart didn’t burn up with the rest of him during the cremation process. So, Shelley’s heart became a much desired item between his widow Mary and his many friends. It bounced back and forth between friends before finally Mary acquired it — and promptly wrapped it in silk and put it in her desk drawer for safekeeping. That seems a far stranger thing to keep in your desk drawer than papers and ink, but hey — perhaps it was her own way of keeping Percy close to her, even after his death.


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