Saturday, June 30, 2012
Vantine's was a famous American importer of Oriental goods in the 19th and early 20th centuries. While they had a physical location, much of their sales were done by way of catalogue orders. A 1917 edition of the Vantine's catalogue is available online to give a sense of their offerings.
Much of their merchandise was custom-made for their company, and so wasn't really as exotic as it might have been presented. It was made to appeal to American tastes and familiarities. Take for example the Geisha Manicure Set pictured at left.
Nail polish as we know it didn't really appear until the 1920s, but women cared about their nails just a much as ever, endeavoring to keep them clean and well-groomed. Polish was a more literal term in the days of the Gibson girl: it referred to substances that were rubbed or buffed into the nails to enhance their appearance. The Geisha Manicure Set was first put on the market around 1912, and consisted of orangewood sticks, a bottle of nail bleach (which was also used as a cuticle softener) and a porcelain box containing a so-called "Geisha Nail Stone" that was apparently a cake of perfumed polisher which one applied onto the nails to shine them up. Instructions on the package read: "Rub ball of hand across stone and polish nails." (One assumes from this that it needed to be slightly warmed and melted before use.)
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Saturday, June 23, 2012
"The lady should recline on a lounge or a sofa, with her long hair hanging over the end. A pan containing 2 or 3 bits of ignited charcoal is then placed under it, and a little powdered benzoin sprinkled upon the lighted fuel. The thick smoke which rises and is strongly impregnated with benzoic acid combined with carbonic acid, rapidly absorbs the moisture in the hair, which should be previously well-wiped with towels, so as to be as free from wet as possible; and in a few seconds the hair is perfectly dry, beautifully perfumed, and ready for the operation of the brush."
--William Brisbane Dick
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
"The fad for distinctive jewelry made of semi-precious stones with artistic silver settings in which nearly all the designs are different, with very few repetitions, is rapidly coming in vogue.One charming example of this is a necklace made of carved silver beads, with a square pendant set with an amethyst from which hangs five strands of the beads tipped with amethyst balls. Other chains are set with flashing green tourmalines that look very artistic against the dull, almost lead-colored, silver.There are also most artistic belt pins, square in shape, made of combinations of bright and dull silver, with a huge turquoise matrix in the center. These are often used to fasten the evening scarf, though a long clasp pin set with amethysts is perhaps even more effective for the purpose."
(Picture swiped from http://www.flickr.com/photos/7711591@N04/524661555/ featuring a 1910 Tiffany necklace.)
Friday, June 15, 2012
By the Edwardian era, dentistry was almost as good as you'd find nowadays as far as common procedures (though you might not always be given anaesthetics while you had them done.) The importance of brushing and cleaning the teeth was also much better understood than it had been a hundred years prior, and mass manufacturing made things like toothbrushes easier to come by than they'd ever been in the past. In the time of Gibson Girls they were made with natural bristles, which (once wet) are a bit softer than modern synthetic bristles. (They also break more easily, I can say from experience. It's not fun if a piece of hair from the toothbrush breaks off and gets caught right by your throat, let me tell you.)
Tooth pastes existed, Colgate's being the original one. Pastes, however, were nowhere near as popular as tooth powders. These were made to be a slightly abrasive mixture for scrubbing the gunk off your teeth (which again, with a natural-bristle brush can be a helpful thing, due to the softness.) Some period recipes seem a bit excessive in the amount of abrasion offered, including tooth powders made from pulverized pumice stone.
Flossing had been recommended since 1815, and in the 20th century companies like Johnson and Johnson finally made a reliable dental floss available to consumers.
Mouthwashes were also used. Amongst long-lost brands like Dioxogen and Thy-cal-lol are also Listerine, which has been around since the 1890s, and was employed as a mouthwash in Edwardian times as well. Interestingly, Listerine was originally considered to be more of a general antiseptic liquid, and period advertisements also recommend it for an aftershave, hair tonic, and as a gargle to protect from inhaling germs. Other more old-fashioned mouthwashes included Hungary Water (another multi-purpose tool, used also as a facial toner, medicine and perfume) and the old standby, peroxide. In fact, before perfumes were being made with denatured alcohol, simply swishing a bit of your favorite cologne around your mouth was a tactic employed for sweetening the breath.
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
This is a picture from what is believed to be the first ever American fashion show, held in 1903 at the Ehrlich Bros. dress shop. Hardly the flamboyant spectacle we'd expect now.
Admittedly, in those days the endeavor might have seemed even less unusual: at a time when many dresses were custom made, high end dress shops sometimes kept models on staff to wear display versions of gowns that the store could produce: the customers then decided based on this living mannequin what gowns they wanted. In fact, this job was the very origin of the career of modeling. The Ehrlich Brothers was a shop aimed at the middle class, and their one time "parade" event may have been a more cost-effective way to add that high end touch to their wares.
Friday, June 8, 2012
Women of the Gibson Girl era put a lot of effort into their hair -- and no surprise, because not only did they lack many of the modern conveniences which we now can use to easily beautify the tresses, but also in a time when use of makeup and cosmetics was so discouraged, hair was second perhaps only to clothes in importance for making one's self attractive (maybe even moreso -- even a poor woman who couldn't afford fancy gowns could still have beautiful hair under the right conditions.)
Many tips were handed out for growing the long hair every woman desired. Most of them were similar to the advice you'd hear now: brush and comb the hair carefully to avoid breakage, and keep hair moisturized and conditioned to promote strength. Interestingly, the old time beauties also seemed to assume hair grew something similar to the branches of a plant: they believed occasional trimming would help promote new growth, just like pruning a tree tends to encourage new growth of healthy leaves and flowers.
Some took this superstition a step farther, and believed that cutting one's hair according to moon phases would produce or restrict new growth. For lengthening the hair, it was said, one should cut hair while the moon was in the waxing phase or on the full moon. If one wished to discourage growth (as for bangs) then it should be cut in the waning phase or on the dark moon. Another superstition was that if you would throw the hair clippings out in a place where they would keep moist, this would also produce a type of sympathetic magic on your scalp which would make it grow the hair more quickly (again, like a plant grows better in damp soil.) However, it was warned to never burn your cast-off hair or else you'd destroy the growth completely!
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Saturday, June 2, 2012
"The true gentlewoman never uses strong perfumes," says Qui-Vive, "yet her hats and clothing and handkerchiefs always send forth a faint scent of fragrant flowers. The odor is so very slight that it does not suggest the dashing on of perfume, but, instead, bespeaks scrupulous cleanliness of body and garments, with perhaps an added suggestion of the soft winds that blow over a clover field. No perfume at all is far better than too much, for who does not look with suspicious eyes upon the woman who, when passing one on the street, seems to be in an invisible vapor of white rose or jockey club — strong enough to work on the streets?"
She continues, "There is a secret about it all, and such a simple one! It is merely choosing one particular odor and using it in every possible way."
Mary Miglin's website, while not especially aimed at the Gibson Girl or Edwardian enthusiast, lists some suggestions for some new ways to use fragrance:
- Layer your chosen scent with bath and body products and apply your fragrance to pulse points--especially those below the waist.
- Spray lightbulbs. Heat dissipates fragrance.
- Spray your air conditioner, heating vents, humidifier and dehumidifier with fragrance.
- Sprinkle dusting powder on carpets before vacuuming and on clean bed linens.
- Shampoo your hair with fragranced bath and shower gel.
- Wash lingerie and delicate items in fragrant shower gels.
- Spray on a cloth shower curtain. The heat from the shower will dissipate the scent.
- Sprinkle dusting powder in your shoes to keep comfortable and smelling nice.
- Spray a damp cloth with fragrance and throw it into the dryer with your clothing to scent them beautifully.
- Heat oven to 200-250 for ten minutes, then turn off and place a small dish in warm oven with a few drops of fragrance of bath oil for about 30 minutes.
- Mix a small portion of fragrance with hair conditioner.
- Place a few drops of perfumed oil on the inside of a leather watchband.
- Pour a few drops of fragrance into the final rinse cycle of your wash.
- Spray a small amount of fragrance on your ironing board. Again, the heat will dissipate the scent.
- Place scented soap shavings inside your closet to keep it smelling nice.
- Spray padded hangers with fragrance.
Additionally, Qui-Vive suggests:
There is nothing sweeter than violet perfume, so suppose I illustrate with that? Begin by using orris root for your teeth, combined, of course, with the other necessary ingredients. Then, if you can afford it, get the expensive imported violet soaps, although as a matter of beautifying there is nothing better than the pure white castile. The odor of this, disliked by some, can be entirely done away with by using a little violet toilet water in the bath and touching the ear lobes with it afterward.
Thanks to synthetic perfumes, scented products are now easier and cheaper than ever to acquire. (Remember Eliza Doolittle's shock at the scented soaps in Pygmalion? Whilst nowadays even a hobo would hardly be stunned if you handed him a bar of scented soap to wash his hands with.) This can be both good and bad for trying out the above trick in the modern era: on the one hand, it makes it simple to find just about any product you could ever want in a scented form. However, since everything is scented now, it can make it a bit harder to force the fragrances to match with one another -- particularly as so many items don't even reveal what they're supposed to smell like, or else have vaguely defined odors like "Summer Breeze" that can be inconsistent from manufacturer to manufacturer. If you're intent on this, of course, I'm sure you will find a way. But watch out for further posts about this very topic!