Vintage Natural Beauty- Foot Care

The Victorians thought that a lovely-looking foot was a very desirable thing to have- in an era that largely concealed the shape of women’s lower bodies in public, “There is a delightful promise in a fine foot and ankle that the rest of the limb is shaped with the same grace”. The ankle-flasher in this case was the Victorian dancer Lola Montez, who was certainly a fan of fabulous feet: “It will be difficult to over-estimate the importance of a well-proportioned foot and ankle as a part of female beauty”. The problem was that feet- then as now- refuse to play ball in the beauty department.

Stinky feet were not conducive to romance, and the writer of Personal Beauty: How to Cultivate and Preserve It (1870) observed that “It is impossible, with any comfort, to sleep in the same room with a person so afflicted, and not a few married women have traced their domestic unhappiness to this cause”. Victorian beauty manual The Toilette of Health and Beauty (1833) advised bathing the feet in water to which vinegar had been added. Historian Ruth Goodman in her book How to Be a Victorian has described vinegar being used in the Victorian era as a deodorant- here, it is used to deodorize feet. It’s certainly worth having a go at bathing feet in dilute apple cider vinegar if you are looking for a natural solution to keep feet smelling fresh. In my experience, the smell of apple cider vinegar soon disperses- it doesn’t leave you smelling like a chip shop all day!

Victorians felt that rubbing the feet was good for the health of both the feet and the whole body- the writer of The Toilette of Health and Beauty observed that “friction on the soles of the feet is very advantageous”. Dry body brushing is very fashionable these days, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that this is quite a new practice. Yet dry body brushing, or “dry friction”, was something that the Victorians did. The writer of Toilet and Cosmetic Arts in Ancient and Modern Times (1866) felt that frequent use of the “flesh-brush” was “not only capable of cleansing the skin, but advantageous, from exciting the cutaneous circulation, and invigorating the whole system, as well as the skin”. This all sounds very similar to the advantages that are claimed for dry body brushing today.  The description of the “flesh-brush” as a brush with “bristles set on a leather back” would also seem to suggest an appearance very similar to a modern body brush. The inventor Charles Babbage was told by a (somewhat over-enthusiastic) friend that use of the “flesh-brush” was “how to live for ever”! If you want to have a go at dry body brushing yourself, my mum has written a brilliant blog post on the subject: Love Wellness- Dry Body Brushing

Much of the advice on foot care offered by Victorian writers, however, just consisted of a healthy dose of common sense. Lola Montez felt that the swollen ankles suffered by genteel Victorian ladies stemmed from “a want of exercise and sitting indolently in over-heated rooms”. The Toilette of Health and Beauty, meanwhile, advised a daily change of hosiery and well-fitting shoes. The author observed wryly that “Many volumes have been written on the art of shoeing that noble animal, the horse: it is considered as a fundamental rule in farriery, that the shoe must be neither smaller nor larger than the hoof, and yet people can submit to squeeze their feet into a narrower compass than is intended by nature”. So clean socks, moderate exercise, and no silly shoes- good sound advice, I’d say!

Love, Becky x

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