The Etiquette Of The Toilette


In 1881 John H. Young published “Our Deportment. Or the Manners, Conduct and Dress of the Most Refined Society; Including Forms for Letters, Invitations, Etc., Etc. Also, Valuable Suggestions on Home Culture and Training.” Wow! What a mouthful! In short, it was a book about etiquette. So, why am I mentioning it? Well, there’s also a chapter dedicated to the toilette, which explains the importance of taking care of your appearance and shares tips on to achieve that. I thought I’d share a few extracts with you:


To appear at all times neat, clean and tidy, is demanded of every well-bred person. The dress may be plain, rich or extravagant, but there must be a neatness and cleanliness of the person. Whether a lady is possessed of few or many personal attractions, it is her duty at all times to appear tidy and clean, and to make herself as comely and attractive as circumstances and surroundings will permit.

The same may be said of a gentleman. If a gentleman calls upon a lady, his duty and his respect for her demand that he shall appear not only in good clothes, but with well combed hair, exquisitely clean hands, well trimmed beard or cleanly shaven face, while the lady will not show herself in an untidy dress, or disheveled hair. They should appear at their best.

Upon the minor details of the toilet depend, in a great degree, the health, not to say the beauty, of the individual. In fact the highest state of health is equivalent to the highest degree of beauty of which the individual is capable.

Perfumes, if used at all, should be used in the strictest moderation, and be of the most recherche kind. Musk and patchouli should always be avoided, as, to many people of sensitive temperament, their odor is exceedingly disagreeable. Cologne water of the best quality is never offensive.

Cleanliness is the outward sign of inward purity. Cleanliness of the person is health, and health is beauty. The bath is consequently a very important means of preserving the health and enhancing the beauty. It is not to be supposed that we bathe simply to become clean, but because we wish to remain clean. Cold water refreshes and invigorates, but does not cleanse, and persons who daily use a sponge bath in the morning, should frequently use a warm one, of from ninety-six to one hundred degrees Fahrenheit for cleansing purposes. When a plunge bath is taken, the safest temperature is from eighty to ninety degrees, which answers the purposes of both cleansing and refreshing. Soap should be plentifully used, and the fleshbrush applied vigorously, drying with a coarse Turkish towel. Nothing improves the complexion like the daily use of the fleshbrush, with early rising and exercise in the open air.

In many houses, in large cities, there is a separate bath-room, with hot and cold water, but in smaller places and country houses this convenience is not to be found. A substitute for the bath-room is a large piece of oil-cloth, which can be laid upon the floor of an ordinary dressing-room. Upon this may be placed the bath tub or basin, or a person may use it to stand upon while taking a sponge bath. The various kinds of baths, both hot and cold, are the shower bath, the douche, the hip bath and the sponge bath. The shower bath can only be endured by the most vigorous constitutions, and therefore cannot be recommended for indiscriminate use.

A douche or hip bath may be taken every morning, with the temperature of the water suited to the endurance of the individual. In summer a sponge bath may be taken upon retiring. Once a week a warm bath, at from ninety to one hundred degrees, may be taken, with plenty of soap, in order to thoroughly cleanse the pores of the skin. Rough towels should be vigorously used after these baths, not only to remove the impurities of the skin but for the beneficial friction which will send a glow over the whole body. The hair glove or flesh brush may be used to advantage in the bath before the towel is applied.

The teeth should be carefully brushed with a hard brush after each meal, and also on retiring at night. Use the brush so that not only the outside of the teeth becomes white, but the inside also. After the brush is used plunge it two or three times into a glass of water, then rub it quite dry on a towel.

Use tooth-washes or powders very sparingly. Castile soap used once a day, with frequent brushings with pure water and a brush, cannot fail to keep the teeth clean and white, unless they are disfigured and destroyed by other bad habits, such as the use of tobacco, or too hot or too cold drinks.

Foul breath, unless caused by neglected teeth, indicates a deranged state of the system. When it is occasioned by the teeth or other local case, use a gargle consisting of a spoonful of solution of chloride of lime in half a tumbler of water. Gentlemen smoking, and thus tainting the breath, may be glad to know that the common parsley has a peculiar effect in removing the odor of tobacco.

Beauty and health of the skin can only be obtained by perfect cleanliness of the entire person, an avoidance of all cosmetics, added to proper diet, correct habits and early habits of rising and exercise. The skin must be thoroughly washed, occasionally with warm water and soap, to remove the oily exudations on its surface. If any unpleasant sensations are experienced after the use of soap, they may be immediately removed by rinsing the surface with water to which a little lemon juice or vinegar has been added.

The following rules may be given for the preservation of a youthful complexion: Rise early and go to bed early. Take plenty of exercise. Use plenty of cold water and good soap frequently. Be moderate in eating and drinking. Do not lace. Avoid as much as possible the vitiated atmosphere of crowded assemblies. Shun cosmetics and washes for the skin. The latter dry the skin, and only defeat the end they are supposed to have in view.

Beautiful eyes are the gift of Nature, and can owe little to the toilet. As in the eye consists much of the expression of the face, therefore it should be borne in mind that those who would have their eyes bear a pleasing expression must cultivate pleasing traits of character and beautify the soul, and then this beautiful soul will look through its natural windows. Never tamper with the eyes. There is danger of destroying them. All daubing or dyeing of the lids is foolish and vulgar.

A beautiful eyelash is an important adjunct to the eye. The lashes may be lengthened by trimming them occasionally in childhood. Care should be taken that this trimming is done neatly and evenly, and especially that the points of the scissors do not penetrate the eye. The eyebrows may be brushed carefully in the direction in which they should lie. In general, it is in exceeding bad taste to dye either lashes or brows, for it usually brings them into disharmony with the hair and features. There are cases, however, when the beauty of an otherwise fine countenance is utterly ruined by white lashes and brows. In such cases one can hardly be blamed if India ink is resorted to to give them the desired color. Never shave the brows. It adds to their beauty in no way, and may result in an irregular growth of new hair.

Some persons have the eyebrows meeting over the nose. This is usually considered a disfigurement, but there is no remedy for it. It may be a consolation for such people to know that the ancients admired this style of eyebrows, and that Michael Angelo possessed it. It is useless to pluck out the uniting hairs; and if a depilatory is applied, a mark like that of a scar left from a burn remains, and is more disfiguring than the hair.

There is nothing that so adds to the charm of an individual, especially a lady, as a good head of hair. The skin of the head requires even more tenderness and cleanliness than any other portion of the body, and is capable of being irritated by disease. The hair should be brushed carefully. The brush should be of moderate hardness, not too hard. The hair should be separated, in order that the head itself may be well brushed, as by doing so the scurf is removed, and that is most essential, as it is not only unpleasant and unsightly, but if suffered to remain it becomes saturated with perspiration, and tends to weaken the roots of the hair, so that it is easily pulled out. In brushing or combing, begin at the extreme points, and in combing, hold the portion of hair just above that through which the comb is passing, firmly between the first and second fingers, so that if it is entangled it may drag from that point, and not from the roots. The finest head of hair may be spoiled by the practice of plunging the comb into it high up and dragging it in a reckless manner. Short, loose, broken hairs are thus created, and become very troublesome.

Do not plaster the hair with oil or pomatum. A white, concrete oil pertains naturally to the covering of the human head, but some persons have it in more abundance than others. Those whose hair is glossy and shining need nothing to render it so; but when the hair is harsh, poor and dry, artificial lubrication is necessary. Persons who perspire freely, or who accumulate scurf rapidly, require it also.

Nothing is simpler or better in the way of oil than pure, unscented salad oil, and in the way of a pomatum, bear’s grease is as pleasant as anything. Apply either with the hands, or keep a soft brush for the purpose, but take care not to use the oil too freely. An overoiled head of hair is vulgar and offensive. So are scents of any kind in the oil applied to the hair. It is well also to keep a piece of flannel with which to rub the hair at night after brushing it, in order to remove the oil before laying the head upon the pillow.

Vinegar and water form a good wash for the roots of the hair. Ammonia diluted in water is still better. The hair-brush should be frequently washed in diluted ammonia. Young girls should wear their hair cut short until they are grown up, if they would have it then in its best condition.

A serious objection to dyeing the hair is that it is almost impossible to give the hair a tint which harmonizes with the complexion. If the hair begins to change early, and the color goes in patches, procure from the druggist’s a preparation of the husk of the walnut water of eau crayon. This will, by daily application, darken the tint of the hair without actually dyeing it. When the change of color has gone on to any great extent, it is better to abandon the application and put up with the change, which, in nine cases out of ten, will be in accordance with the change of the face. Indeed, there is nothing more beautiful than soft, white hair worn in bands or clustering curls about the face. The walnut water may be used for toning down too red hair.

Gentlemen are more liable to baldness than ladies, owing, no doubt, to the use of the close hat, which confines and overheats the head. If the hair is found to be falling out, the first thing to do is to look to the hat and see that it is light and thoroughly ventilated. There is no greater enemy to the hair than the silk dress-hat. It is best to lay this hat aside altogether and adopt a light felt or straw in its place.

Long, flowing hair on a man is not in good taste, and will indicate him to the observer as a person of unbalanced mind and unpleasantly erratic character—a man, in brief, who seeks to impress others with the fact that he is eccentric, something which a really eccentric person never attempts.

Those who shave should be careful to do so every morning. Nothing looks worse than a shabby beard. Some persons whose beards are strong should shave twice a day, especially if they are going to a party in the evening. The style of the growth of the beard should be governed by the character of the face. But whatever the style be, the great point is to keep it well brushed and trimmed, and to avoid any appearance of wildness or inattention.

The full, flowing beard of course requires more looking after in the way of cleanliness, than any other. It should be thoroughly washed and brushed at least twice a day, as dust is sure to accumulate in it, and it is very easy to suffer it to become objectionable to one’s self as well as to others. If it is naturally glossy, it is better to avoid the use of oil or pomatum. The moustache should be worn neatly and not over-large. There is nothing that so adds to native manliness as the full beard if carefully and neatly kept.

The beautiful hand is long and slender, with tapering fingers and pink, filbert-shaped nails. The hand to be in proper proportion to the rest of the body, should be as long as from the point of the chin to the edge of the hair on the forehead.

The hands should be kept scrupulously clean, and therefore should be very frequently washed—not merely rinsed in soap and water, but thoroughly lathered, and scrubbed with a soft nail-brush. In cold weather the use of lukewarm water is unobjectionable, after which the hands should be dipped into cold water and very carefully dried on a fine towel.

Be careful always to dry the hands thoroughly, and rub them briskly for some time afterward. When this is not sufficiently attended to in cold weather, the hands chap and crack. When this occurs, rub a few drops of honey over them when dry, or anoint them with cold cream or glycerine before going to bed.

As cold weather is the usual cause of chapped hands, so the winter season brings with it a cure for them. A thorough washing in snow and soap will cure the worst case of chapped hands, and leave them beautifully soft.

Nothing is so repulsive as to see a lady or gentleman, however well dressed they may otherwise be, with unclean nails. It always results from carelessness and inattention to the minor details of the toilet, which is most reprehensible. The nails should be cut about once a week—certainly not oftener. This should be accomplished just after washing, the nail being softer at such a time. Care should be taken not to cut them too short, though, if they are left too long, they will frequently get torn and broken. They should be nicely rounded at the corners. Recollect the filbert-shaped nail is considered the most beautiful. Never bite the nails; it not only is a most disagreeable habit, but tends to make the nails jagged, deformed and difficult to clean, besides gives a red and stumpy appearance to the finger-tips.

The feet, from the circumstance of their being so much confined by boots and shoes, require more care in washing than the rest of the body. Yet they do not always get this care. The hands receive frequent washings every day. Once a week is quite as often as many people can bestow the same attention upon their feet. A tepid bath at about 80 or 90 degrees, should be used. The feet may remain in the water about five minutes, and the instant they are taken out they should be rapidly and thoroughly dried by being well rubbed with a coarse towel. Sometimes bran is used in the water. Few things are more invigorating and refreshing after a long walk, or getting wet in the feet, than a tepid foot-bath, clean stockings and a pair of easy shoes. After the bath is the time for paring the toe-nails, as they are so much softer and more pliant after having been immersed in warm water.

If you’d like to read the whole book, you can do it for free at Project Gutenberg.

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    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Annabella, that’s so true. Not everyone bathed daily as we do today, but they weren’t as dirty as we think they were. And thank goodness for that.

  1. Marianthi says

    It is funny to think that the writer urges people to bathe regularly, when about 100 years before his time, frequent bathing was considered bad for the health and so it was avoided.
    I love these posts and will be happy to see more!

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Marianthi, that’s so true. I’m glad things changed and they realized that bathing is good for you.

      I’m glad you do and will keep them coming!

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