Bored with your old trinkets? Want to surprise your coworkers during the next Zoom meeting? Well, look no further, because Victorians have what you need – hair jewelry! And we don’t mean hair accessories, we’re talking about jewelry pieces made of actual human hair. Earrings, rings, necklaces, brooches, you name it – everything can be woven out of hair or at least contain locks of hair.
The practice was prevalent throughout the Victorian era, with higher classes adopting the trend first thanks to goldsmiths and other artisans offering high-quality jewelry that could be personalized by adding a beloved person’s hair and precious materials. Such mementos could not only be a way to keep your family and friends close, but also objects of mourning. The mourning hair jewelry became especially common after the death of Prince Albert, when Queen Victoria decided to wear a locket of Albert’s hair around her neck, thus popularizing this way of showing love for the deceased. Around the same time, hair work became a common pastime for women of lower classes. Ladies would learn how to create these intricate items from each other or could use patterns printed in women’s magazines.
The topic of this week’s comic was suggested by IG @sewing_ducky, who also became one of the characters! If you would also like to become a character in one of the future comics, check out the Anatomist membership level on VeinityFair Patreon or try your luck in the next giveaways
“Madame X” was an infamous portrait of Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, painted by John Singer Sargent. In the painting, Virginie, a Parisian socialite known for her beauty, is wearing a sleek black dress. She has perfectly styled hair, and the paleness of her skin beautifully contrasts with the dark background. It seemed that the piece would become a great success for both the artist and the model.
And yet, the portrait was met with a very controversial reception at the 1884 Paris Salon. The viewers commented on the revealing dress cut, the shoulder strap inappropriately falling down on the shoulder, the weird position of the model, and her morbid paleness. How could it be? After all, it was still the society that applauded the sickly look caused by romanticized tuberculosis. What is more, the dress design wasn’t more revealing than other popular evening gowns at the time. It seems that a large part of the scandal was … gossip.
The 1884 Salon was a particularly mundane exhibition with almost no notable paintings. Moreover, visitors had to go through many rooms to see “Madame X”, which could have altered their moods. Besides, the majority of the patrons belonged to the bourgeoisie and could have been more critical of the aristocratic Madame Gautreau flaunting her jeweled straps and high fashion. It was also enough for a few respected people to openly describe the piece of art as ‘immoral’ to create an atmosphere in which anyone who disagrees could be seen as ‘immoral’ as well. The newspapers quickly jumped on the bandwagon, criticizing the painting, Madame Gautreau, and Sargent. They even printed caricatures! As you can imagine, at that point, new Salon visitors were already expecting to see something scandalous, even before seeing the painting themselves!
The scandal was so blown up out of proportion that Virginie’s mother threatened Sargent with a duel, and Sargent himself moved to Britain (after repainting the unfortunate strap, as can be seen in the portrait today.). After the initial backlash, the lives of Gautreau and Sargent went back to normal. The first remained a fashionable Paris figure, and the latter became a highly sought-after artist.
Fashionistas of the late Victorian and Edwardian eras were obsessed with hats. 👒 Particularly with feather hats, adorned with bird feathers, heads, wings, and even whole animals. 🐦🦜 The demand for birds was so high that the millinery industry decimated dozens of species and even drove one of them – the passenger pigeon – into extinction. The last passenger pigeon died in captivity in 1914.
As taxidermy was a popular Victorian pastime, it is said that not only birds, but also other animals such as squirrels, mice, and even cats fell victim of the over-the-top hat fashion. 🐿🐁🐈 In 1883, The New York Times published an article on French fashion stating that “The demand for kittens’ heads has become so important that cat breeding has become a regular business.”
To be honest, I’m not sure if this article wasn’t exaggerating about the French love for kitten hats, so let me know if you’ve come across any other sources on that. 😺
Scheele’s Green, also known as copper arsenite, was the name of a green coloring that was used in everything from wallpaper 👩🎨 through dresses 👗to toys and candies. 🍭
Thanks to the unique, vibrant look it quickly became a very fashionable color. As you can imagine, the arsenic-loaded dye was very dangerous to people’s health, especially if digested or breathed in. ☠️☠️ The latter could occur as a result of, e.g., molding wallpaper which would release arsine gas.
The toxic nature of Scheele’s Green (and its chemical cousin Paris Green) was unknown to the general public until a series of mysterious deaths and illnesses caught the attention of a few chemists and doctors who then called for boycotting green products. Despite the growing awareness, arsenic-based dyes were in use until the end of the nineteenth century. 😱
See what other dangers waited for the Victorians in their own homes in the “Hidden Killers” documentary series.
Victorian mourning veils were popular accessories worn by grieving women. ⚰️ The veils could be as long as six feet and were traditionally made out of black crape, a scratchy fabric believed to be the most appropriate for mourning. 🖤
Unfortunately, some of the black dyes (like logwood dye) used in the production were quite poisonous, 🐍 causing a variety of ailments from light rashes to serious respiratory problems. Widows were especially affected by these dangers as the Victorian society expected them to wear crape veils for at least a year and a day during the so-called deep mourning stage.
Crinolines 💃 were hugely popular in the second half of the 19th century, since their fairly light construction allowed women to play with fashion and big dress shapes without the need to carry the weight of several petticoats (as it was done earlier). This vast popularity of crinolines among women of all classes led to coining the word ‘crinolinemania’ and numerous caricatures in the media.
And while there were some hazards 😱 connected with wearing crinolines, especially in factories or near an open fire 🔥, they were definitely great at providing some personal space 😎