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For much of the 19th century, ladies’ fashion required very small waists. The most common way to achieve this was to wear a tightly laced corset, which could be adjusted according to the specific dress it accompanied. Like this example, many corsets were handmade to fit an individual, although they were also available in shops.
One of the most intimate pieces of scrimshaw a whaleman could produce was a bone or baleen busk, or corset stiffener. These were carved and given to a crewman’s loved one, who then inserted it into a matching sleeve on her corset as a unique memento of her beloved’s feelings.
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Queen Victoria’s wedding shoes, with close up of detail inside below:
For more on 19th century wedding dresses, go here.
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Beauty loves a legend, and legends don’t come much more compelling than the story behind Rimmel, one of the world’s oldest cosmetics brands. In 1820, a respected French perfumer who had been trained by the famous Lubin, perfumer to Empress Josephine, the wife of Napoleon I, accepted an invitation to manage a perfumery in London’s prestigious Bond Street. By 1834, the move to London had proved so successful that, together with his son and apprentice Eugene Rimmel, then aged just 14, he opened a perfumery of his own. The House of Rimmel was established.
As the business flourished, so too did the talents of Eugene Rimmel. By the age of 24, he had become, not only an expert perfumer, but also a cosmetics visionary, experimenting with fragrance and colour, and travelling the world in search of exotic ingredients and new ideas.
A pioneer of personal hygiene, he developed some truly innovative products, including mouth rinses, fragranced pomades and an ingenious scented steam vaporiser, while high society flocked to his flagship perfumery in Regent Street to purchase an extensive range of exquisitely packaged perfumes, soaps and bath essences, many of them bearing royal warrants.
Even at this very early stage, Eugene Rimmel sensed the potential of advertising to bring his products to a wider public, and began to publish lavishly illustrated mail order catalogues and to place advertisements in theatre programmes. When he died in 1887, his two sons inherited his beauty empire, building on their father’s success internationally by developing an extensive colour line with a special focus on eye-enhancing products, in particular Rimmel’s revolutionary mascaras.
After the Second World War, Robert and Rose Caplin, the owners of a London advertising agency, acquired Rimmel. As a new mood of optimism swept through Britain, and Hollywood heroines became beauty icons for millions of women, the Caplins – with intuition worthy of Eugene Rimmel himself – anticipated the resulting cosmetics boom by expanding Rimmel’s colour range, modernising its packaging and launching the first ever self-selection dispenser.
During the 1970s and 1980s, the company changed hands several times before it was finally acquired by Coty Inc. in 1996. Rimmel has since gone from strength to strength, bringing its unique London look to more than 40 countries worldwide and establishing itself as Britain’s best-selling cosmetics brand.
Image: A boxed set of two Rimmel glass perfume bottles, circa 1890, E. (Eugene) Rimmel, London., the pair of bottles squared and with facetted stoppers each indicate their scent as ‘Lilac’ and ‘Jockey club’ housed within their original leather bound travelling box. From here.
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Razors with horn handles, UK, c. 1800–1820;
Razors made by Rodgers and Sons, Sheffield, UK, c. 1880–1920
After 200 years of amalgamation with the Surgeons in Britain, the Barbers became a separate trade guild again in 1745. Whilst hairdressing remains something often left to a professional barber, shaving was also done at home. By 1850, shaving mugs with separate compartments for soap and water, and shaving brushes introduced from France and made with expensive badger or cheaper hog hair, were widely available. However, until the 20th century, most men preferred to be shaved by a barber and would usually go once or twice a week.
The top set of razors here are typical of the early 19th century, with straight bone handles and large rivet washers. The best quality razors of the day featured ivory or mother-of-pearl handles. The tapering ‘cast steel’ blades are triangular in section and feature a shoulder to separate the sharp edge from the tang, although they lack the small cuts along the tang to stop the finger slipping that appear from around 1815 and which can be seen on the other example. The handles are inscribed with the name ‘C. Smith’. This may be Charles Smith, an Englishman who settled in Wanganui, North Island, New Zealand in 1859, whose collection of over 300 Maori and Pacific artefacts are now cared for by the Pitt Rivers Museum.
The single razor is of a later date with a blackened bone handle although after 1868, celluloid handles were difficult to distinguished from polished horn, bone or wood. The ‘Indian Steel’ blade was made by the firm Rodgers and Sons. There had been cutlers and silversmiths by the name of Rodgers in Sheffield from at least the 17th century. The firm’s famous trademark (embossed here in gold on the dark leather case) was a six-pointed star and Maltese cross. The mark was originally granted to one William Birks in 1682 but was then let to John Rodgers in 1724, and was finally confirmed by the Cutlers’ Company of Sheffield in 1764. John’s son Joseph secured the firm’s first royal warrant from George IV in 1821 and other illustrious clients included Indian princes, Basuto chiefs, the Maharaja of Nepal, and the Katikiro of Uganda.
The next leaps forward in razor design were the L-framed safety razor, which was patented in the 1870s and monopolized by the American Safety Razor Company founded by King C. Gillette in 1901. Wilkinson Sword developed stainless steel razors in 1956.
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Pair of wedding boots, c.1865.
Ankle boots were introduced in about 1804 for women’s fashionable wear. They were sometimes decorated with silk rosettes, particularly for special occasions such as weddings. The fashion for square toes lasted from 1825 to the 1870s. These boots have thin flat soles but heels were coming back in to fashion for ladies footwear.
These boots and a wedding dress and veil also in the museum’s collection were worn by Eliza Penelope Clay at her marriage to Joseph Bright at St James’s Church, Piccadilly, London on 16th February 1865.
FanDate: 1890s Culture: European Medium: cotton, wood
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Victorian natural pearl and diamond swan/harp brooch yellow gold and silver PRICE: £12,850
Victorian natural pearl and diamond swan/harp brooch yellow gold and silver
Gull scarf and muff
A rare example made from the heads and feathers of gulls, this accessory set represents the passion for using bird feathers and bird parts to decorate hats and other high-style fashion accessories in the 19th century. The practice ended in the early 20th century as birds were becoming extinct in order to supply the fashion industry. Even among examples from the period, this set stands out for its unusual design. The nestling of the two heads on the muff enhances the overall sense of warmth provided by the object, while the neckpiece draws attention to the wearer’s own swan-like neck. A set like this would have been been worn by an elite member of society who could afford to be somewhat unconventional in her taste.
Evening boots, c. 1850-1855.
Fashionable Bonnets, 1854, Thomas Warren and Co.
Day and walking dresses, 1847 United Kingdom, The New Belle Assemblee
Coat made of British silk dates back into 1833 years. In the early years of the nineteenth century, there was a profound harmony between men’s and women’s silhouettes in dress. In the Empire style, the high waists and puffed chests of menswear match the silhouette of women’s clothing. In the 1830s, menswear accommodated the gigot sleeve of womenswear in its use of a new fullness at the sleeve cap. The typical men’s ensemble of tailcoat, waistcoat, and trousers prevailed by the 1820s and 1830s, as breeches were supplanted by long trousers.
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