Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness - Men's Grooming Habits in the 1800s by Jo-Ann Roberts


Once upon a time, men who spent too long in front of a mirror grooming themselves were thought to be narcissistic, pompous or even decadent. It's obvious that public attitudes have come a long way and the changes today in personal grooming for both men and women is a necessity and a definite desirable trait!

Now that Book Three in the Brides of New Hope series is scheduled for release in June, and I’ve started on a new series, I’m seeing a thread running through all my books.  At the hero and heroine’s initial meeting (a.k.a. meet-cute), the MMCs appear unkempt, road weary from traveling, wearing dusty, rumpled clothes, and in need of a shave, a bath or both.  Though the attraction between the FMC and MCC is apparent but strained, the heroine can’t help but be pulled in by the transformation wrought by soap, water and a straight razor, and the essence of either sandalwood, pine, or sage, as well as the unique scent belonging to him alone.

In Book Two of Brides of New Hope,  Posey, U.S. Marshal Grayson Barrett is on temporary assignment in New Hope. Here is Posey Campbell's  reaction to his transformation from the unkempt, long-haired man she met the previous afternoon.

But as soon as an unfamiliar scent of something gloriously clean and fresh, something reminiscent of a newly cut pine tree dusted with snow, settled around her, she turned toward the source Beneath the netting of her burgundy hat, Posey’s brows traveled up toward her hairline. Unable to hide her astonishment at Grayson Barrett’s transformation, Posey stared at his smooth, firm cheeks, complemented by twin dimples below the corners of the most perfectly formed lips the Lord ever bestowed on a man, and a cleft in his strong, square jaw begging for her touch.

Though he obviously favored its longer length, his damp hair curled at the ends, one lock falling forward, tempting, teasing her to brush it away with her fingertips. Her gaze drifted lower. Beneath a conservative gray-striped vest, which brought out the silvery highlights in his eyes, a white, but slightly wrinkled shirt accentuated his tanned features.

On the pretense of returning Henry to her lap, she couldn’t help but admire how well his dark canvas trousers stretched across his strong thighs. Even his boots were buffed to a Sunday shine.

Here are some interesting fact I discovered while doing  research on the history men’s hygiene for this series.

Aftershave," which was used by the Romans as an antiseptic and anesthesia was made with medicinal herbs and spices. In 1709, Italian Giovanni Maria Farina, developed a fragrance he named "Kolnisch Wasser," which meant  Cologne water. He was living in Germany at the time and name it after his hometown Cologne.

Changing beauty and hygiene standards throughout the 19th century caused perfumes to become more accessible and more fashionable as a cosmetic accessory for women. Grooming and hygiene products designed for men became popular during this time and signaled a shift in social trends relating to appearance and fashion. The growth of a fashionable middle class –and the men who maintained their own styles and routines –created a large new market for men’s personal style and hygiene products. 

Men’s fragrances in the 19th century were mostly used in grooming and hygiene products to mask smells, the scent of chemical ingredients, or create demand for a particular product. Florida Water (not a brand, but a kind) was popular for decades before and after the American Civil War. 


Daily shaving became common in the late 19th to maintain a youthful, healthy appearance, creating an increased demand for personal shaving products. Men were reluctant to spend much time on personal grooming because it was seen as “feminine," however, most had begun shaving daily.


In the late 1880s, etiquette books started spreading the importance of cleanliness and proper hygiene. Weekly and daily bathing had been a privilege of the upper class. Once the popularity of etiquette books spread, the middle class started to take notice and would emulate the rituals of the wealthy. Eventually the lower classes and immigrants, trying to assimilate into the American dream, began to improve their health and hygiene as well.

The early deodorant patent was from 1867, and the earliest commercially successful deodorant brand was “Mum” in 1888, followed by the first antiperspirant in 1903. Despite their unappealing format, many early deodorants and antiperspirants included perfumes to minimize their chemical scents.  Deodorants and antiperspirants weren’t widely marketed until the early 20th  century. Before then, people who could afford to mask body odors did so with perfumes applied directly to their clothing or handkerchiefs. Companies sold soaps, creams, lotions, and scented waters for shaving. American ads emphasized that these products were manly and would give them a professional edge.  Men also used hair tonics, hair cream, or oil.  

Hair tonic, including a popular brand called Rowland's Macassar Oil was used by men everywhere. The term "Macassar Oil" was a registered trademark and it became a generic term for men's hair oil. It was first offered in the 1780s and was still in use in the early 1900s. It was a mixture of coconut oil and other scented oils. The oil was notorious for staining the backs of chairs and sofas. "Anti-macassars" were known as the small ornate pieces of cloth that were draped over furniture to stop the hair oil from staining the material!


Today, we take our modern amenities—especially clean water and hot water, running water inside the house, and showers and bathtubs—for granted. But keeping a body clean in the 1800s, especially on the frontier, was an arduous and time-consuming job. Most folks on the frontier bathed in rivers or ponds when they were available or took sponge baths from a metal or porcelain basin. But there were plenty of people who seldom did that!

1 comment:

  1. I wondered why they were called "anti-macassars". Love the sign that says "Remove boots before entering tub." Fun and interesting post, Jo-Ann.


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