The Victorian Era was a time of change, of innovation, and of really strange social values. Victorian society had all sorts of quirks, especially the upper class. The Victorian upper-crust liked to pretend they were royalty, and made up all sorts of social rules and became obsessed with subjects you would never expect, mostly because they had nothing better to do with their time. Here’s seven amusing facts about how weird the Victorian Era truly was.
1. Egyptology Was All the Rage
During the early 1900s, the science of archaeology was still in its baby stages, and most of it was centered around Egypt. Victorians were obsessed with all of the fascinating artifacts brought back from dug-up Egyptian tombs. Mummies were often unwrapped and put on display, and Victorians attended hundreds of lectures and exhibitions on the subject.
2. Victorians Wore Black Because of Pollution
“London Fog” really did exist. There was no regulation on pollution from all of the factories during the Victorian Era, and the more run-down parts of London often caught fire. The combination of coal pollution, smoke, and the moisture from the Thames created a thick, ever-present smog. This smog often built up on the sides of buildings and stained clothing. Since there was nothing they could really do about it, Victorians wore a lot of black to hide the discoloring.
3. Sex Was Confusing
It was considered improper for a woman to enjoy sex, and so both genders were pretty sexually frustrated. Homosexuality among men was a quietly accepted practice, but nobody thought homosexuality among women even existed. Most believed women to be asexual, so lesbian couples often lived together without anyone thinking twice. However sexually repressed they were in public, Victorians were really raunchy in private. They had whole magazines devoted to erotica and pornography that would rival today’s Fifty Shades of Grey.
There’s also hysteria. If anything was wrong with a woman, it was all put down to hysteria. Doctors commonly cured hysteria by giving a woman an orgasm. In fact, the first vibrators were invented for this specific purpose (but remember, women were still, supposedly, asexual).
4. Girls Made Fasting an Olympic Sport
“Fasting girls” were a fad for a while. They were the talk of every newspaper – the stories of girls who, supposedly, could survive without food or water. For some reason, it was very fashionable to survive on nothing but air. These girls would pretend to eat nothing, widely publicize it for attention, and then stuff their faces in secret. Why? Probably just because people are weird. One popular case of this was the case of Mollie Fancher. According to the papers, she survived fourteen years without eating a thing.
5. Swooning Really Did Happen a Lot
The fashionable Victorian figure for young women wasn’t very practical. Tiny waists were all the rage, so women cinched up their internal organs, displacing their ribs with extremely tight whalebone, or sometimes even iron or steel corsets. Of course, all that squishing of internal organs wasn’t good for blood flow or breathing, and whenever their heart rate increased, they often momentarily passed out – hence the idea that women fainted from excitement.
6. Bathing Was Still Unpopular
While, by this point, many doctors advised bathing often for one’s health, many people still believed in the old wives’ tale that bathing was bad for you. The upper class, who had access to their own bathtub and somebody to go through the trouble of heating up gallons of water for them, bathed a few times a month, usually in tepid water with bran added. The lower class bathed maybe once a year. Once source even states that girls often washed their hair with a single egg cracked on their head!
7. Makeup Was Considered Tacky
Makeup, mostly lipstick and blush, was only worn by prostitutes, so it was extremely unflattering for a woman of high society to wear any. In fact, one judge even ruled lipstick to be akin to witchcraft, since it had the power to seduce men! Instead, women really did try to pinch their cheeks to give themselves a healthy glow. Some women liked to wear cold cream as a primer and would apply a tiny, tiny bit of rouge on their cheeks, but never lipstick.