Saturday, April 16, 2011

Sepia Saturday - Demimondes and Loose Women

Irene Bordoni - French Singer, Broadway and Film Actress - 1885-1953
I recently acquired "The Ladies Book of Useful Information" compiled from "many sources" and published in 1896 in London Ontario.

If one wishes to enhance one's charms and maintain a rosy complexion this is THE book to have.  Every possible subject is covered - everything!  Hair and complexion care, how one can make a medicine to cure dyspeptic water brash, rid one's mattress of bedbugs, make a fine coffee starch for dark shirt bosoms and the art of Decalomania. Oh, and sex. It's all there.

Chapter I jumped right in on the subject most important to women who wish to find themselves a man and also maintain their youthful looks when they surpass the age when beauty often begins to fade - twenty - one.  Included are helpful hints and recipes for a graceful figure, melting eyes, brilliancy of the complexion, and luxuriance of the hair.

Make-up, or rather, paints is the first item of discussion. The authors may mince meat, but they don't mince words: These paints are "characterized as a species of corporeal hypocrisy as subversive of delicacy of mind as it is of the natural complexion...a destruction of beauty..." Women of all times and nations have fallen into this deceitful habit worldwide, including "the denziens of London and Paris...and certain ladies of the demimonde...The ladies of Eastern nations commonly heighten the hue and freshness of their lips by means of cosmetics, a practice which in Western Europe is only adopted on stage, and occasionally by courtesans and (it's them again) the ladies of the demimonde."
Lucky for us, I have an old unabridged dictionary which explains that a demimonde (demi-half and monde - world)  is of class of women who indiscriminately conduct themselves in such a way that their character is suspect. This might be, perhaps, a neighbor lady who is seen stepping  aboard a streetcar without an escort.  It could be a maiden of age who entertains a male who is unrelated, or related beyond first cousin, in her apartments.  Perhaps you see your cousin Elvira dining with several other ladies in a place where there is dancing and boisterous music.  Demimondes all!

But I digress.

Hair, the luxuriant crowning jewel of the lady, is discussed in great detail. It is recommended that one should wash one's hair no more than once every two or three weeks.  If some lady out there in bloggy-land would be kind enough to follow this instruction, along with before and after pictures we would all appreciate your doing so. Be sure and dress your hair daily using pomatum to which a few grains of carbonate of lead have been added.

The authors have apparently accepted the idea of hair colouring and have taken pains to suggest ingredients (do not try these at home) for safe and satisfactory hair colours of various shades:
shade: ingredient
auburn to black:  iron and bismuth
fine natural chestnut to auburn to black: salts of silver
reddish brown to auburn and black: lead
lead dyes are suggested for both ladies and children to impart a light reddish brown tint to hair.

Mrs. George Beltrious Megaboof died this morning at age 32. The cause of death is unknown, but suspected to be an ailment of the nerves, weak blood flow to the limbs and dyspepsia.  She will be remembered for her luxurious auburn hair.

A recipe for lovely golden hued hair:

1. procure a packet of gold powder from your hairdresser
2. Have a perfume atomizer filled with a weak solution of gum of Arabic and water at the ready.
3. After hair is dressed, spritz all over with the gum and water solution.
4. sprinkle liberally with gold powder.

This may be put on thick enough to hide the color of the hair and owing to the gum, will stay on while the lady is dancing.  The effect by artificial light is beautiful.

Despite their earlier thoughts about face paints, the authors were kind enough to include a recipe for liquid rouge - a harmless natural looking bloom and perfect imitation of nature:

Add to a pint of French brandy, 1/2 oz benzoin, 1 oz. red sandalwood, half an oz. Brazil wood, and the same quantity of rock alum. Cork the bottle, shake it well once a day and at the end of twelve days it should be fit for use.  The cheeks are to be lightly touched with it. 

Mrs. Aloyisous Billentort was last seen boarding a streetcar without an escort.  She appeared to be carrying a pint of French brandy, a little bundle of sticks and a druggist's brown paper packages tied up with string.

Stay tuned - this sepia text is filled with information to share. Perhaps we will discuss the lady's lips and complexion care in our next installment.  Or a delicious restorant made with mercury. Or sex.  One or the other.

In the meantime, check out our Sepia Saturday posts HERE!


Brett Payne said...

I can think of someone else who was familiar with "brown paper packages tied up with string." I wonder if she read this book, or one similar, before traipsin over the Alps without an escort.

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

Oh, my gosh ... this is all so cool! Do they have any ingredients in their recipes that you can find at grocery or health food store? Lead in your hair?

I'd only heard about Lemon Juice (which I use 2x a week, and it works) for blondes and vinegar for brunettes.

I sure did enjoy your post, and look forward to whatever else the book says. Real curious about the writings on sex, since the other stuff was very interesting to start off with, lol.

Oh, I fixed my link so that you guys can actually see my post now, if you want to try again if it didn't work before.

Happy Easter Weekend!

Kathy M.

viridian said...

Ladies, don't try the lead!

Lemon jiuce also gets stains out of your carpets and clothes. Of course a demimondaine would have a Frech maid to do all that.