doing things the victorian way

Tag Archives: history


Could anyone tell me what these are? I found them amongst my grandmother’s things and I know the hooks are steel with the fancier handle being ivory. I’m thinking, probably, hooks for lacing shoes or, possibly, tambour embroidery but the hooks themselves seem too big. Any information would be awesome!


I really don’t understand America’s obsession with daily hair washing.  I blame it on ad campaigns and ignorance mostly but it makes me a bit angry. It irks me in particular when people assume that, pre-WWI, everyone walked around with greasy, smelly hair (and also that everyone smelled in general, but that’s a different post). Our society is so much healthier now, isn’t it?

Let me dish out some science here – the scalp and body only produce as much oil as it needs to be healthy. The reason modern folks “need” to wash their hair everyday is because they wash their hair everyday. Your scalp is just trying to fight back. The more you strip the oil, the more oil your body produces in order to compensate. I only wash my hair once a month, and even then without any soap, and it looks perfectly fine. In fact, it’s incredibly healthy, shiny, and soft because I’m not damaging it on a daily basis. It also grows like a fiend. I know it sounds gross by modern standards but I’ve even had several beauticians ask me what my secret is. Seriously, stop spending so much money on hair care products and just stop washing it so often. You can thank me later.*

All right, lecture over. On to Victorian Hair Care!

rosemarySoap was incredibly harsh back in olden times and the average person didn’t have the luxury of running water. That meant hauling and heating water to bathe and, as someone who does that, I can attest that it’s a big pain in the ass. So, at the very least by necessity, washing hair didn’t happen often. Instead, there were many remedies and solutions to keep hair looking healthy and I’ve listed just a few of the healthier treatments below.

  • To Strength Hair and Improve Growth – A handful of box (buxus sempervirens) leaves added to a pint of boiling water. Infuse until cold, drain liquid and add to it several drops of alcohol to preserve. If box leaves are unavailable, add instead one ounce black tea.
  • For Dandruff – Beat thoroughly one egg yolk, one pint of rain-water, and one ounce of rosemary spirit. Use warm and massage into scalp repeatedly.
  • To Wash – Boil one pint of water with a handful of bran and a dash of white soap, and wash with this solution once every two weeks. Next, rub a beaten egg yolk into scalp and let it remain for several minutes before rinsing with warm water.
  • To Maintain Healthy Hair – Brush 100 strokes twice a day, being sure to maintain a clean hair brush by washing it in warm water and bicarbonate of soda.
  • In Between Washes  – Add five sprigs of fresh rosemary to a pot of boiling water. Infuse until cold, drain liquid and add several drops of alcohol to preserve. Rinse hair weekly with mixture, being sure to massage scalp.
  • To Prevent Hair Loss – Steep six ounces of boxwood shavings in twelve ounces of alcohol, at room temperature, for two weeks. Strain and add two ounces of rosemary spirits and two ounces of spirit of nutmeg. Rub into scalp morning and night.
  • To Soften Hair – Beat four egg whites until frothy and apply to the roots of hair, leaving to dry. Wash clean with equal parts rum and rose water.
  • For Growth-Inducing Pomade – Boil half a pound of green southern wood, a pint and a half of sweet oil, and half a pint of port wine. Strain and add two ounces of bear’s grease.

I haven’t tried all of these nor, perhaps, should anyone but I can attest to using both egg and rosemary. Rosemary has natural astringent properties and, in between washes, I regularly use it on my scalp to keep oil at bay and promote growth. I also wash my brush every other day and brush my hair often, as the action helps redistribute the oils throughout the hair – a natural conditioner.

* Note: It’s really hard to wean yourself off of daily washing, I know. If you’d like to give it a try, I suggest lengthening the time between washing as opposed to going cold turkey. When going cold turkey, your scalp doesn’t realize you’ve stopped abusing it and, thus, it still produces the same amount of oil. Try, instead, to wash every other day for a week, every three days for the next week, every four days, et cetera. Your scalp will rapidly adjust and you won’t have to worry about going to school or work looking like a 50’s greaser.

I received a pleasant surprise for Christmas this year. Though my grandmother died several years ago, sorting out her affairs has been a nightmare for her children. Her house, while semi-organized, was a hoarder’s paradise. Food that expired before I was even born. More Christmas decorations than a dozen families would need in a lifetime. Pots and pans, books, clothes, toiletries. I believe my mother said she hauled away fifty-seven bags of items to Goodwill and it’s still full of “junk.”

For Christmas, though, while my parents were up to visit, they took me to her home to look around and pick up anything I might want or need. Besides more cookbooks and gauzy scarves than I could shake a stick at, I came home with four large containers of fabric and trim. Serious jackpot but it has taken me forever, obviously, to work through. I’m not even close to having sorted it all out. I did discover some surprising finds, however. Buried in a container full of old crochet trim and lace were these items.

I’m not sure if these are family items or not, what with my grandmother having been born in 1922. They’re in surprisingly good shape, though, with only a few stains here and there.  I could actually use them with confidence if I were so inclined. At the moment, though, I’m more interested in preserving them. The structure of crochet is such that it can’t be reproduced by machine, which means these were hand-created for wear and I can almost feel the history when I hold them. That’s something, I think, that should be honored and treasured for as long as I can keep them around.