Pop historian Therese Oneill used to romanticize the Victorian era — until she took a deep dive into the reality of life with inadequate hygiene in a decidedly filthy period in Western history. From crotchless underwear and corncob ‘toilet paper’ to ingesting tapeworms as a weight-loss plan, the curious writer discovered that even a woman of means suffered a slew of indignities.
Oneill paints a vivid picture of the pungent odors of the day, from the sulfur-choked air to the fecal-laden streets and waterways. A lady would only take a bath every few weeks — sponging off in the meantime — and rarely washed her hair. When she did, it was with a formula of diluted ammonia, so corrosive it would have stripped several layers of skin along with grime from the hair. The alternative was onion juice — a suitable ingredient, perhaps, to accompany the raw beef “face masks” favored by older women. Lead, carbolic acid and lemon juice also factored into the Victorian beauty regime.
These grim details about Victorian womanhood, and hundreds of others unearthed by Oneill, have been gathered by here into a humorous, illustrated book, Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage and Manners.
Read the full story at The New York Post.