A lot of things have changed since the 19th century. When Barkham Burroughs wrote his Encyclopaedia of Astounding Facts and Useful Information in 1889, he devoted a full chapter to the “secrets of beauty,” and for good reason. To quote Burroughs, “If women are to govern, control, manage, influence and retain the adoration of husbands, fathers, brothers, lovers or even cousins, they must look their prettiest at all times.” Here are 11 of his tips for doing just that.
At least once a week, but if possible, a lady should “take a plunge or sponge bath three times a week.”
… in a household cleaning solution.
What’s better than soap? Ammonia. “Any lady who has once learned its value will never be without it.” Just a capful or so in the bath works as well as soap and cleans the pores “as well as a bleach will do.”
Wash your eyes…
Nothing is as attractive as a sparkling eye. The best way to achieve this is by “dashing soapsuds into them.” If that’s not your style, perfume dropped into the eyes is a reasonable alternative. For the same bright-eyed look without the burn, “half a dozen drops of whisky and the same quantity of Eau de Cologne, eaten on a lump of sugar, is quite as effective.”
… but don’t wash your hair.
Water is “injurious” to the hair. Instead, wipe “the dust of the previous day” away on a towel. You can also brush your hair during any long, idle breaks in the day. 30 minutes is a good hair-brushing session.
And never, ever wash your face.
Simply rub the skin with “an ointment of glycerine” and “dry with a chamois-skin or cotton flannel.” One “beautiful lady” is admired who had “not washed her face for three years, yet it is always clean, rosy, sweet and kissable.”
And try not to wash your hands, either.
A well kept hand is soft, pale, and really, really dirty. Red hands can be relieved “by soaking the feet in hot water as often as possible,” but don’t dare touch water with your hands. As with the face, a regimen of ointment and cotton flannel should be used, and gloves worn for bathing. (Burroughs notes here that “dozens of women” with gorgeous hands “do not put them in water once a month.”)
Hang out naked by the window every day.
This is also called vapor-bathing, which is a different kind of vapor than the aforementioned ammonia soak, and one more likely to bring the attention of unwanted suitors. To take a proper vapor bath, “the lady denudes herself, takes a seat near the window, and takes in the warm rays of the sun.” If you’re a lady of the restless sort, dancing is advised. A good vapor bath is at least an hour long.
Go heavy-metal on the eyes.
Nothing says “handsome lady” like a lined lid. The proper solution is “two drachms of nitric oxid of mercury mixed with one of leaf lard
.” Lacking these components, a woman may just as easily produce a nice effect with “a hairpin steeped in lampblack.”
Say goodbye to that fringe.
In your great-grandmother’s day, lashes had a tendency to become “unruly.” They were therefore “slightly trimmed every other day” with sharp, tiny scissors, because who wants eyelashes, anyway.
Nice lips are essential to a woman’s prettiness. As early as possible, a girl should begin thinking about the shape of her lips and how it might be improved. Thin lips “are easily modified by suction,” which “draws the blood to the surfaces” and over time provides a “permanent inflation.” Thick lips “may be reduced by compression.” There are no instructions for this procedure.
And try not to be single.
The author’s female acquaintance, after disclosing to her favorite suitor that she had gone those three long years without using soap, found herself back on the market. A note from the gentleman read, “I can not reconcile my heart and my manhood to a woman who can get along without washing her face.”
So remember, ladies: Whatever methods are used, “it would be just as well to keep the knowledge of it from the gentlemen.” Because being married is better than ammonia-water for the complexion.