In the Edwardian era, women strived to get beautiful skin and a good figure naturally. Enough sleep and rest, exercise in the fresh air, protecting the skin in the sun, and a healthy diet with plenty of water, were all regarded as important for beauty. A woman should also try to be positve and avoid anger and sadness.
To be considered pretty, an Edwardian woman would need to have the following seven items: a good complexion, beautiful hair, ‘an erect, well-set-up figure, good teeth, a graceful carriage, pretty manners, and a sweet expression.’ (Three Meals A Day, 1902) Mothers were advised to preserve the gifts with which a baby was born, because a girl’s ‘looks are the pretty binding which attract people to glance inside the book’.
‘I am sure every woman, or nearly every woman, could manage nine hours in bed every night if she would give up parties, as I do, if her work does not allow her to remain in bed late in the morning. Nine hours’ sleep regularly every night will restore most tired nerves, and if a woman’s nerves are in good order she is bound to feel well and to look well.’ (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2) ‘If, however, your position forces you into society and you are obliged to be up late at night, sleep an hour every afternoon. Before going to bed take a hot bath and remain in the water only a few moments. Then drink a cup of bouillon, and a small glass of Malaga wine. Sleep will soon follow, and last until the natural time of awakening, which is about ten o’clock in the morning under these circumstances.’ (Household Companion: Book Of Etiquette, 1909)
‘The old idea that people could “oversleep themselves” is now exploded. No child in a well-ventilated room will sleep a moment longer than she needs to recuperate her powers’. Some grownups need ten hours sleep, while others just need six. ‘To expect all members of a family to sleep the same time is as absurd as expecting them to eat the same sized helping at each meal, yet how often it is done!’ (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2) The bedroom should be well-ventilated, as well as darkened with dark curtains or Venetian blinds – lace curtains or blinds aren’t ideal. To have enough air in still summer nights, the ‘best plan is to have the head [of the bed] in the centre of the room, with a screen round it to ward off draughts. It is surprising how much better many people find themselves sleep by adopting this plan.
Fresh Air and Sun
Fresh air and sun are as important as sleep. However, a woman should never go uncovered into the sun if she doesn’t want her skin to resemble ‘mahogany parchment’ (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2). The ‘English climate is kinder to complexions than that of the Continent or of America’, however, the skin should always be protected in the sun. But not with a thick veil because it doesn’t let through enough fresh air. (Three Meals A Day, 1902) White toilet powder applied after washing, together with a hat, is a good protection against sun rays in summer and winter. Dark glasses or a thick, dark veil are also a good protection, while a parasol is not. ‘Dark glasses are unsightly […] but they disfigure for less time’ than wrinkles (Health And Beauty Hints, 1910). A morning should never ‘be spent on the beach’ – with or without a swim – ‘without plastering the face with cold cream and powder’: Rub cold cream into your face, dust powder on with a puff, and rub in the cosmetic with a soft cloth. After some minutes, apply more cream or powder if necessary, and rub in again. To remove this makeup after the sun-bath, use a borax solution, toilet water, or alcohol.
Healthy Diet and Drinking Water
Indigestion, even without pain, may cause a bad complexion, a shiny nose, ‘a shiny or flushed face’, blackheads, and enlarged pores. So, a healthy diet is likewise important for the skin. Remember to eat slowly, drink ‘little at meals, and plenty of water between them’, rest for ten minutes after the meal – don’t read while resting – and eat nothing between meals. For a good digestion drink a teaspoonful of olive oil in some lemon juice half an hour before breakfast. (The Ideal Cook Book, 1902)
‘Children do not need stimulants, and many of the most beautiful society debutantes never touched tea or coffee till they “came out.” Good sweets are wholesome at meal times, for sugar is a heat-producer and muscle food, and is necessary to children, but perhaps this food may be better administered in the form of brown sugar on bread-and-butter, and golden syrup’, so that the child doesn’t feel any hardship and buy sweets for herself. (Three Meals A Day, 1902)
Fresh fruits and vegetables also improve the complexion. Preferably add some olive oil to your salad. Drink at least 3 pints of water daily for a clear complexion. Sip each glass slowly, ‘not gulping in large quantities’. Even a working class girl can drink enough water: a girl, ‘behind the counter, keeps her glass of water out of sight, but within reach’. Don’t drink more than one cup of coffee as coffee ‘affects the nerves’ and thus the ‘complexion and eyes’. When you’d like to drink coffee, rather eat some nourishing food. The fatigue ‘will disappear as surely, and without nervous exhaustion later’. (Health And Beauty Hints, 1910)
And you may be surprised, but the idea to eat only one or two meals a day already existed in the Edwardian era: you can read more about this here.
Exercise and Rest
For a beautiful complexion and figure, exercise every morning before dressing 5 minutes in front of an open window. Wear a ‘light flannel dressing sacque’, as well as woolen slippers for the exercises. (Health And Beauty Hints, 1910) Housework, such as sweeping with the broom firmly grasped and the body held upright, can also help to get a good figure. Furthermore, a bad sitting posture ‘is frequently the cause of ungainly figures, for unless the weight is properly poised the lower organs are thrown out of gear and shapeliness is impossible. […] Sitting in a chair seems a simple matter, yet rarely is it done properly.’ (Health And Beauty Hints, 1910) The author continues that no position to improve the figure is better than practicing a good sitting posture for 5 minutes each day. Chest expansion exercises and deep breathing are good, as well.
‘It is not yet fully realised how closely connected are ailments of the nerves and ailments of the skin. If you are pale, of weak and capricious appetite, if you sleep lightly and insufficiently, and are subject to headaches and irritability, suspect “nerves,” and get your doctor to prescribe. He will probably give you iron.’ (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2) A working girl who ‘finds herself on the verge of a nervous and physical collapse from overwork or worry, […] who cannot eat breakfast and must go to work’, may be given ‘a glass of milk, in which two raw eggs have been shaken […] It will keep her nourished until the middle of the morning […] Fourteen [eggs] a day are none too many if little solid food is eaten.’ (Health And Beauty Hints, 1910) Beneficial for nervous persons is ‘open-air exercise, plain and nutrious diet, and health-treatment generaly.’ (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2) ‘Some warm drink [such as milk, cocoa, or hot water] or easily digested food […] will rest a person, nervously and physically.’ (Health And Beauty Hints, 1910) Try to relax your muscles when you’re sitting, because often the muscles are tense as if ‘holding the chair, instead of sitting on it.’ To refresh yourself when tired, ‘wring out hot cloth and lay them over […] eyes and forehead.’
‘Breathe deeply, bathe daily – think joy, not sorrow – eat wisely and never speak unkindly. […] A cheerful disposition and an optimistic view of life do much toward making the beauty suppliant, plump of outline and charming of countenance. When one is blue and moody, the appetite fails, the stomach sulks, digestion and assimilation are interfered with and the entire body suffers from malnutrition. One should get out of doors. -Exercise moderately and rest a good deal.’ ‘Age need make no difference in these days of progress – the woman of fifty is as attractive and as much admired as her young daughter.’ (The Ideal Cook Book, 1902)
‘There are two other maxims I would like to add. The first is to try to keep happy. If you keep happy you keep well. […] I am never ill unless I get unhappy. Then I run down at once. For this reason I would entreat every woman to look on the bright side of things. It is amazing how soon one can get into the habit of doing this, or, at any rate, of shutting one’s eyes to the dark side of things. […] Another maxim of my life is never to get angry. “Anger is worse for the face than smallpox.” […] It is the spirit which informs the flesh, and I am certain that everything we do which makes for beauty of spirit and serenity of mind will help us to get beauty of poise if we cannot have beauty of feature, and, after all, this is most surely a gift worth having.’ (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2)