What do you think about when you hear the word “Victorian”? As people who belong to the twenty-first century, we have been exposed to hundreds and thousands of movies that showcase long and frilly dresses, corsets too tight for breathing, and of course, the adventures and perils of Victorian courting.
The Victorian era was a momentous period in British history. Named after Queen Victoria, this period lasted almost 70 years from the year 1837 to 1901. The Victorian age is known for revolutionary innovation and thriving culture and its rigid practices regarding social etiquette. However, the Victorian era was also a period when strange trends began to take over. If you wish to know more about some of the darkest trends from the Victorian era, then we’re here to spill the tea!
The 19th century saw a massive surge in popularity for hydrotherapy. People came to be under the impression that water could cure almost every illness, including female “hysteria” and male pattern baldness.
There were even hydrotherapy clinics where doctors would get people to float around in a bathtub. It became such a rage that people began to take hot or cold water baths in the hopes of curing everything!
Beneath all the ‘proper’ clothes that the ladies of the Victorian era wore every day lay a hidden secret – bosom piercings! Gold rings were trendy in the 1800s, and no fashionable young woman would dare to pass up on this trend!
Perhaps the reason for the popularity of the piercings was the belief that rings would enhance breast size and help correct their shape. Of course, this wouldn’t have worked, but at least we know that Victorian dames were as funky as the punk groups of today!
Nipple piercings aside, the Victorian era was a period that was huge on modesty. This was especially true for women, and ladies couldn’t bear any part of their flesh, right down to the ankle. It was for this reason that the ‘modesty board’ was invented.
These were boards that were either nailed to the ground or propped up to hide any glimpse of a woman’s ankles. Imagine the horror if a man caught sight of a woman’s ankle!
Sure, the Victorian era was known for the industrial revolution, but it is also reputed for almost everyone’s strict social rules. In fact, people had to go through a whole procedure to “pay a call,” i.e., visit their friends!
Such calls could only be made in the afternoons. Hosts would also never explicitly tell their guests when it was time to leave. Guests, therefore, had to keep a remarkable eye out for social cues that hinted that the fun and frolic were over!
Giovanni Schiaparelli was the Italian astronomer that was the root cause of a bizarre belief that rippled amongst the Victorian age people. The Victorians were convinced that there was life on Mars, all because this astronomer claimed to have seen something remarkable through his telescope.
What was it that Schiaparelli claimed to have seen? Waterways on Mars! The Victorians had such great belief in aliens that they even made sizable donations to causes that claimed to contact aliens.
Have you heard people say that even pregnant women and kids of the Victorian era loved drinking beer? Well, this was probably because the water during that period was so polluted that even beer was a better option at the time!
The water from the River Thames was always so murky and undrinkable that people pretty much preferred beer at any time of the day. Now we know where the British get their love of beer from!
Going to school was never a priority for the kids of the Victorian period. The vast majority of them came from families who were too poor to be able to let go of a pair of hands that would otherwise earn them some extra income.
On the other hand, kids from upper and elite families attended schools to master Greek and Latin things before attending prestigious universities such as Oxford University.
Whoever said that the Victorians were dull and boring creatures who only cared about being prim and proper? As it turns out, tattoos were all the craze back then!
The craze began with the Prince of Wales (who was none other than Queen Victoria’s son) spotted a tattoo on a trip to Jerusalem and fell in love with the idea so much that he got one for himself. Of course, everyone absolutely had to follow suit!
The Victorian age was filled with class disparity, which meant that the country was littered with the poor and the working class who had to ask their children to work for almost 12 – 18 hours every day in the coal mines.
Nobody had any objection to this until the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was formed in 1891, which protected child labor.
Women have been trying to improve their skin from time immemorial, and whacky face masks are actually not unique only to the twenty-first century. Apparently, women in the Victorian period would go to bed with a strange face mask on.
What was it, you ask? Well, if you really must know, it was raw slices of meat! That’s right. Women would tie up raw slices of meat to their faces before going to sleep, hoping to wake up to fresh and glowing skin.
It seems like gender-conforming clothes only came to the fore after the Victorian age, as the Victorians did not discriminate between little boys and girls. In fact, dressing up little boys in frilly white dresses was a sign of affluence!
This meant that the frillier that the dress was, the wealthier the family was. Whatever it was, it’s nice to know that at least babies were given a free pass to dress how they like!
Slums were pretty common during Queen Victoria’s time, and one of the most gruesome slums was called Angel Meadow. Located in Manchester, this slum was nothing like its name.
It was an area that stretched just about one square mile that was cramped to bursting with 30,000 Irish immigrants who had to resort to scavenging food to survive. Apparently, even children had to hunt for cats to fend for themselves.
Everybody knows Charles Darwin for his ground-breaking theory of evolution. Little do people know of his other propositions, including the teachings of “The Glutton Club,” of which he was a member himself.
According to Darwin, humans had to eat a diet that consisted of hawks, owls, squirrels, and even maggots (yum!). As a part of “The Glutton Club,” Darwin went as far as to explore eating giant tortoises, armadillos, iguanas, and even pumas!
Street food during the Victorian era was strange, to say the least, and perhaps the most peculiar of the lot was – no, not chicken legs, but sheep’s feet!
Apparently, vendors on the street would serve sheep’s feet to hungry workers after skinning and parboiling them. People loved eating these “trotters” as they were known as full of meat and fat.
It seems kind of bizarre that there was no toothpaste in the world at one point in time, but that’s how things were in the Victorian era. So how did people maintain their teeth? Well, people turned towards the French for a solution.
They began to use what is known as “dentifrice,” which was essentially a home-made solution of charcoal and honey that people used as a mouth wash to maintain their teeth!
When Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband, passed away, the whole country was shaken. But no one was as shaken as the Queen herself, who went into mourning for the next 40 years until her death.
Rumors abound that she went mad after Albert’s death, but what we know is that she never made a single public appearance after this tragic incident and refused to dress in anything but black.
Women from the higher classes in the Victorian era were never seen wearing any makeup. In fact, all forms of makeup, including lipstick was likened to witchcraft at the time, which meant that if you were a lady of class, you wouldn’t be caught dead in makeup!
What did people do instead? Women who were not as uptight as others just added on a dash of rouge to the cheeks or just pinched them for a natural blush!
Have you ever heard of people saying that shock can drive your hiccups away? Well, apparently, the nineteenth-century British thought that shock could do a lot more than that!
Shock therapy, i.e., electrotherapy, was a widely used form of treatment for all kinds of ailments that people faced. We’re not very sure how effective this form of therapy was, but it really did serve to shock the misconceptions about the Victorian era out of us!
Fitness was a significant phenomenon in the Victorian age, with almost 200 (elite-only) gyms spread across the continent. Several fad diets took hold of people as well, and several bizarre workout trends went popular.
People used to work out on what they thought was ‘high-end’ workout technology. The men were obsessed with bodybuilding, and even women joined in on the workout trend by using this equipment themselves.
The Victorian era was home to several inventions that we absolutely cannot live without today. The toilet, for instance, was invented in the Victorian era. Of course, Mr. Bell invented the handy telephone while Mr. Marconi invented the radio.
This period is also known for other inventions such as the railways, the camera, the television, and the vacuum. Nobody wanted to live in the countryside anymore. The cities were where the fun was at!
Mourning was an elaborate affair during the Victorian era. Apparently, women who lost their husbands would shed tears and save their precious tears in a bedazzled jewelry box or bottles encrusted with stones.
Bachelors were not going to miss out on the fun. Apparently, they hired people who were ‘professional wailers’ to cry at their funerals. The mourning of Queen Victoria doesn’t seem so unusual anymore, does it?
There was a huge obsession with all things Egyptian during the Victorian period. The obsession even had a term for it: “Egyptomania.” People would rush to attend museums and galleries that showed off newfound artifacts and exhibits from this exotic land.
Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaign revived interest in pyramids, pharaohs, and mummies amongst the people, ultimately resulting in the filming of the famous movie “The Mummy,” which was set a few years after this craze.
The Victorians were a freaky bunch of people, alright. They were crazy about all things supernatural to such an extent that they tried to capture supernatural creatures such as ghosts and spirits on camera several times.
Palm readers became prosperous due to people’s belief in their predictions. Hypnotism was also popular during the time, and the elite classes would regularly have hypnotic sessions to establish contact with the dead.
There was a trend during the 1800s where people liked showing off their archaeological, geological, and zoological ‘finds’ in their homes. Many people even dedicated a unique cabinet to host items such as old weapons, tools, jewelry, seashells, and even bones.
This cabinet was called the “cabinet of curiosities,” and people were so eager to show off their curiosities that many of them even housed fake items in the cabinet.
Mansplaining took on a whole new meaning in the 19th century, where women were almost always thought to be suffering from a case of “hysteria.” It didn’t matter if the woman was frustrated, sad, angry, dissatisfied, or anxious – it all boiled down to a case of hysterics.
Of course, there was no cure for this mysterious illness which meant that many women who were misunderstood because of their emotions were thrown into institutions where they had to spend the rest of their days.
The Victorians really knew how to have fun. Several parlor games that were invented during the time, including charades, cards, musical chairs, and even checkers, are popular even today.
We really do have to thank the Victorians for giving us these excellent party games. However, we must be even more grateful that some daring and dangerous games didn’t stick around till today. An example of this is Snapdragon, where people would light a bowl of raisins on fire, and whoever was able to eat the most number of flaming raisins was declared the victor.
People wandering around London in the 1800s would inevitably end up with a ton of soot on their skin and clothes, but nobody seemed to want to do anything about it. The truth is that with the industrial boom, there were no regulations put in place by then.
This meant that the cities became a smoky and foggy affair, and the air was always thick with smog. This was exaggerated by the River Thames’ moisture, making the city a very sooty prospect indeed.
No, not the ones that you are thinking about. We mean parties with actual kittens. Stuffed ones, of course, because taxidermy was a trend that was hugely popular amongst the Victorian population who just loved hunting.
In a famous incident, taxidermist Water Potter created a whole tea party out of stuffed animals, namely kittens, squirrels, and bunnies, complete with cups of tea, cigar rolls, and miniature furniture!
England continued to become wealthy due to its industrial and colonial practices. With the rise in the country’s wealth, the country’s people came to be divided clearly into three classes: The upper class, the middle class, and the lower class.
The upper class consisted of the nobility and those who held titles, but the middle class began to shine during this period. All they had to do was set up a successful business, and they became as rich as the upper class!
Medical advancement that the world has seen today is enough to increase people’s life expectancy to more than a century. The same, however, could not be said of the Victorian age when people were dying left and right from Tuberculosis.
Of course, no anesthesia was being used yet, which meant that people who needed surgery just had to endure the pain of it all. All forms of treatment other than surgery were done in workhouses instead of hospitals. Oh, the horror!
Candlelight dinners today are a sweet and romantic gesture that couples tend to indulge in every once in a while. However, back then, dimly lit dinners were popular not because they were thought to be conducive to romance but for digestion!
That’s right, people believed that not being able to see the food somehow helped with digestion. Another fun fact is that dining rooms came to be built on the first floors after a while, and servants generally took their meals in the basement.
There was an unusual love for all things ‘freakish’ and abnormal during the 1800s. In fact, ‘Freak Shows’ or ‘Freak Circuses’ with freaks, i.e., people who had all kinds of abnormalities and afflictions, would regularly make the tour of both cities and villages as a form of entertainment.
Everyone knows about these freak shows now, thanks to the movie that showcased the famous P.T Barnum, who became the “Greatest Showman” of freaks during those times.
The Victorians did everything they could to cover up a woman’s body. This meant that underneath all of those poufy and frilly clothes that women wore, they even had to wear a set of poufy bloomers that covered all of their legs.
Some women were radical, and they began to wear these bloomers as pants and shorter dresses. It’s definitely a questionable fashion choice, but kudos to them for wearing what they wanted!
As we have already seen, the Victorians loved working out and dieting. There were many fad diets that people went crazy over, but the most dangerous of the lot was the ‘air diet.’ Yes, this diet is exactly as it sounds – consume nothing but air for days on end!
Women such as Mollie Fancher made some ridiculous claims, such as having gone on an air diet for almost 14 days. People were clearly susceptible at the time and believed every word about these fad diets!
Children of the upper class in the Victorian era were typically taken care of by nannies, which meant that parents and children hardly ever interacted with each other.
It was also expected of kids to follow strict rules and social codes. One of the rules was that kids could never make any noise. They had to be quiet at all times and, of course, well-mannered throughout the day.
Before the 19th Century, people just did everything bathroom-related with servants and buckets of water. During Queen Victoria’s reign, a new kind of closet came to replace this in wealthy homes.
What was it? The water closet, of course! Indoor water closets were set up in affluent families’ homes around the 1870s, which meant that people no longer had to resort to sponge baths and strong perfumes to smell and look clean.
There were a lot of medical ‘breakthroughs’ during this time. Unfortunately, a lot of them proved to be ineffective.
There was a particularly bizarre breakthrough that stated that pneumonia could be prevented with the help of newspapers. No, not by staying updated on the latest medical information, but by staying wrapped up in them! Many even believed that cold water caused several illnesses too.
People back in the Victorian era had absolutely no idea about sanitation, which meant that everyone indulged in unsanitary practices all the time. They dumped all of the city’s waste into what would become a major tourist attraction today: The River Thames.
This polluted river was the source of drinking water for many, which of course, led to a whole slew of illnesses such as typhoid, dysentery, and cholera. Mineral water soon came to be sold, and things got better after that.
Tiny waists were the one thing every woman wanted for her own body, and the way to do this was with the help of a corset. A corset was made from whalebones and helped push in a woman’s stomach like nothing else.
Unfortunately, this meant that women couldn’t breathe in their own clothes, and they began to faint all the time! Of course, people just attributed this to women being ‘delicate creatures’ without ever realizing that the corset was the culprit.
Doctors during the age were still blissfully unaware of the highly toxic nature of arsenic. In fact, arsenic was even thought to be highly beneficial for women and their skin.
Several cosmetic products were laced with arsenic to help women fight the effects of aging on their skin. The era was full of trial and error, which meant that people found out about this poison’s deadly effects soon enough.
With medical intervention not being as advanced as today, people were dying during the era. During this time, the most tragic aspect was that most people dying were children whose prevalent illnesses and diseases could not save.
A strange way people tried to remember their loved ones who had passed away was to have them in the family portraits they took. That’s right. They would actually dress up the corpses and take pictures with their dead children.
It was famously said that Queen Victoria absolutely could not stand spicy food. She never added any spices to her own food (surprise, surprise!), but she was a diplomatic Queen who was considerate of India’s relations.
She always kept curry powder available for her guests, and if they desired some extra spice, she would have her servants sprinkle some curry on the food! Dear Queen, that’s really not how it’s done!
Nowadays, many people are generous enough to offer their bodies up for scientific research after they are dead. Back then, however, there weren’t enough of these generous people, and so students and scientists had to find another way to find subjects.
Their solution? Grave robbing! Medical professionals paid a lot of money to professional grave robbers who would dig up corpses and hand them over for research.
Divorce was not an option for people in the Victorian era until 1857 when the Matrimonial Causes Act came into force. Before that, men had found a sickening solution to getting out of unhappy marriages.
They would simply take their unwanted wives to the market and auction them off to the highest bidder, regardless of the woman’s feelings. This was also a big spectacle show that drew large crowds to the scene at the time.
Some of these food trends from the Victorian era are pretty baffling. Take the trend of making dough appear whiter, for example. People added alum and chalk to achieve this! What’s more, plaster of Paris, pipeclay, and sawdust were also occasional ingredients that made it into the mix.
Lead was used to bring a red color to the Gloucester cheese while jams, fruits, and wines were being preserved with the help of copper sulfates. Even beer was not spared, with additions of strychnine in them!
The Victorian era was littered with orphans everywhere, and no one knew how to manage the 30,000 and odd orphans that roamed the streets of London. Some people tried to take these orphans home and provide them with practical skills for employment.
Annie Parlane MacPherson was the founder of the Home Children scheme, where orphaned children simply emigrated to other colonies of Britain as servants or laborers.
Curly hair was the “in” trend at the time, but the curling iron as we know it was not available to the women of the Victorian era. They had to resort to a pair of tongs to heat up over the fire and use their hair to curl them.
Of course, this meant that many women ended up burning their hair and giving themselves several bald patches! These women tried several remedies for their baldness in vain, including various teas and even ammonia baths.
Nose jobs are not unique to the modern era. In fact, there existed several ‘nose machines’ or ‘nose shapers,’ which were basically metal contraptions that served to clamp down on the nose and ‘shape’ them.
These machines began with an invention made by Dr. Sid, who had used the gadget on a 15-year-old girl for three months until she had received satisfactory results.
Christmas was never an English tradition, and people until the 1840s didn’t celebrate Christmas the way we do today. It was a German tradition that was brought to England by Queen Victoria’s German husband, Albert.
Albert had a giant Christmas tree decorated in Windsor Castle for everyone to see. Several other Christmas trends took hold during this time, including Christmas crackers rumored to have been invented by Tom Smith, who was inspired by a crackling fire in his house.