Beyond the Pale

Boudoir Style: Vintage Tips from The Ladies Dressing Room, 1892
September 20, 2009, 7:45 pm
Filed under: Beauty, Books, Decadence, Etsy, Fashion, Fripperies, Trinkets, Victorian Originals
Dressing Table

Photo by Decor to Adore

I have always adored the idea of a proper Dressing Room – lord, a dressing table would suffice right now, instead of the cluttered bedside table I currently use to store my lotions & potions! How deprived I sound, but truly I still lust after a dressing room – a boudoir nook to lounge nonchalantly on a chaise long whilst eating violet cremes and occasionally powdering my face or spritzing perfume in. Such a room would automatically make one feel glamourous, I think – and what a lovely start to the day, instead of scrabbling around in drawers crammed with half-used plastic containers… ~le sigh~

Incidentally, the above is taken from a really good article focusing on the history of dressing tables, and which really captures the heady opulence of owning and using one – from an inspirational decorating blog called Decor to Adore, which I shall certainly be adding to my blog roll.

As a little girl, I used to love watching my mother get ready for a night at the theatre or a cocktail party – impossibly glamorous, grown-up locations I yearned to be at, too. She had everything laid out neatly on the dressing table – heavy crystal pots containing scented powders and downy feather puffs with satin bows, an old-fashioned silver hairbrush & mirror set inherited from her mother, various perfumes, some in their original bottles, other decanted into vintage atomisers; pearls draping the mirrors, long gloves – all utterly wonderful, whimsical and highly covetable items which made great impressions on me, and which effortless, serene glamour I still aspire to, but shall likely never attain. ;p

One of my favourite book to dip into and dream of the past (and particularly how ladies were expected to look and behave in polite society) is the Old House Books reprint of the 1892 original: The Ladies Dressing Room. The Ladies Dressing Room

“The indispensable companion of every well-bred lady at the close of the nineteenth century.

In chapters on each part of the female form copious details guide the reader through such imperfections as wrinkles, sunburn, warts and even baldness – for which a concoction of rum and onion is prescribed – without ever venturing upon too much scientific explanation. Such simple and politely euphemistic terminology as ‘small black spots’ and ‘redness’, combined with the occasional piece of hearsay or high society gossip, gives the impression of a casual yet authoritative chat among nineteenth century aristocratic gentlewQuote 1omen.

Ever fearful of old age or indeed the illusion thereof, The Lady’s Dressing Room strikes a graceful balance between hopeless self-indulgence – chocolate is offered as a cure for bad breath – and an heroic call for ‘spartan frugality’ where there is even the slightest ‘tendency to grow stout’.

As well as being highly informative on its intended subject, this book also divulges a great deal about the writer’s contemporary society. Numerous pages of advertisements for everything from a carpet sweeper ‘the greatest labour saving invention of the century – Invention hath no nobler aim than to lighten woman’s labour’ and the ‘permanent removal of superfluous vein-marks, moles or warts through the administering of electricity by a lady electrician’ demonstrate a burgeoning consumerism (not to mention Victorian eccentricity).

Nothing was more important to a lady than to be seen to be a lady. This is the book that showed them how.”

Sometimes shocking, mostly amusing and always absolutely fascinating, this book is an indispensable addition to the research library of those who wish to gain a deeper insight into the customs & traditions of of the 19th Century. It also inspired (you know what’s coming, regular readers!) an Etsy selection – this one is actually a currently featured treasury on Etsy until wednesday 23rd at 10:15am – but preserved here forever for your viewing [one hopes!] pleasure. These are all things I would love to stock my dressing room with, or have delicately littering my boudoir – in any century. Happy browsing…

Boudoir Style 1

Direct links to items shown:


Katinka Pinka


Vintage Opulence

Signs by Diane

Del Guidice’s Studio

Boudoir Style 2

Further links:

Banglez Beadz


Beautiful Reign

Touch Me Not

Brass Paperclip

Reclaim the Throne


2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

thanks so much! this post of yours is lovely!

Comment by lisa

What an interesting read. I, too, long for a dressing table. I almost bought one a couple of years ago, but I would have stuffed it int the corner of my small bedroom – not the most luxurious set-up. I’m happy we modern women can incorporate some of this frilly stuff into our lives, while not have to conform to rigid social guidelines.

Comment by dottie

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