Three Baths a Day to be Really Beautiful: 1896, 1910

A naughty French postcard showing a bathing beauty. From the Victoria & Albert Museum's collections.

A naughty French postcard showing a bathing beauty. From the Victoria & Albert Museum’s collections.

A few weeks ago an eminent physician–all physicians who write books are eminent —published a work that was mainly devoted to the extravagances of washing. Other physicians, equally eminent, tell us to take cold baths and plenty of them, not cold baths but hot baths, no baths at all, but a rub-down with wet towels. If we were to suggest that none of these wiseacres knows what he is talking about we should be placed in the seat of the scornful and accused of deriding the “marvelous advance of medical science,” so we may as well admit that all of them are right, including the first mentioned, who tells us bluntly that we wash a great deal too much and that we should be healthier and happier if we left the skin to clean itself, and this, we are assured, it will be very pleased to do.

And now comes another doctor who writes specially for women, and he tells his fair adherents that they should have three baths a day if they wish to be really beautiful. There must be a cold bath in the morning, a tepid one later in the day, and a “‘beauty bath” last of all. There is no need to bewilder ourselves with the composition of these baths. There are all the usual ingredients of alcohol, milk, oatmeal, rosemary, lavender, verbena, lemons and alder flowers. The combined forces of the grocer, the dairyman, and the druggist can fill the prescription and we are promised the usual results of a satin skin and a seraphic complexion.

We have read all this jargon before and have often wondered how the country miss who works on a ranch and whose complexion is admittedly unrivaled can spare the time from her many duties to compound all these baths and washes, as she evidently must do. But this particular doctor has something novel to suggest. Evidently he has been dabbling in mental medicine by way of being up to date, and so he tells the bath devotee that all her efforts will be of no avail unless all worries are excluded with the shutting of the bath-room door. Let there be a combination of imagination and water, visualization and soap. “Call up,” he tells us, “the beauties of Rembrandt and the shadings of Greuze,” and as the perfumed and medicated waters pass gently over the skin let the mind be filled with exquisite visions and gracious ideals. The results, we are assured, “will be at once apparent.”

In the course of a single chapter no less than thirty-eight ingredients of the bath are recommended, and if we count Rembrandt and Greuze there are forty. The idea is one that ought to be developed. Why not have a list of the sublime thoughts that may be advantageously combined respectively with the milk, the alcohol, the rosemary, and the oatmeal, such as alcohol and Turner, Burne-Jones and oatmeal, and so on ? Otherwise we may stumble upon natural antipathies that will do us more harm than good.

The Argonaut [San Francisco, CA] 8 January 1910

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Given these alarmingly exacting requirements for beauty, Mrs Daffodil wonders how the prettier parlour-maids have kept up their looks merely with a basin and jug and a weekly bath? Even ladies of leisure would surely undo any beneficient effects of bathing by the sheer quantity of their immersions, inevitably leading to the usual wrinkling of the fingertips, multiplied over the entire submersed epidermis in a very aging fashion.

And then there are the heavy attendant expenses:

Since Anna Held, the professional beauty, was sued by a New York dairyman for the cost of some three hundred quarts of milk she had ordered for bathing purposes, New York society has become convinced that the milk bath is a great beautifier, and now a philanthropist has come forward with a plan to establish a place where this luxury can be obtained by whomsoever has the price to play for it. He is a wealthy man, and is going to realize his plan on an elaborate scale. On the first floor of the building he has secured on Thirty-fourth street, the apartments for gentleman will be located. Just off form the entrance will be a smoking room, back of it will be a cafe, and in the extreme rear will be the baths. The two floors above will be devoted to ladies. The bath apartment will consist of two rooms. The rub alcove will be tiled and walled with the marble. Adjoining will be a cosy little sleeping room with luxurious divans, mirrors, and all the accessories of milady’s toilet. The ladies will also have their smoking room, where they can sit swathed in sheets and puff away at a fragrant Oriental cigarette. The luxury, however, will be only for the rich. The tubs will hold about seventy quarts of milk, and at the current price this item alone foots up to three dollars and fifty cents. Then there will be other incidentals which will run the bill up to very near the ten-dollar mark. For those who desire to spend even more money on this sybaritic luxury, the proprietor propose to construct on the second and third floors two large pools, with a capacity sufficient to permit swimming and floating. These tanks will be rented out to parties who series to give a social function in milk. Denver [CO] Post 26 November 1896: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil has also written about the taxing lives of society beauties here.

Apparently such things still go on to-day, as in this story of a British “playboy” who indulges his sweetheart in melted milk-chocolate baths.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

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2 thoughts on “Three Baths a Day to be Really Beautiful: 1896, 1910

  1. Ann

    Frances Parkinson Keyes, the author, described in her memoir,, ROSES IN DECEMBER, that she’d bathed at least three times a day as a girl, to the point that her friends told her that future generations wouldn’t want to see the house in which she’d lived, but rather the tub in which she’d bathed!

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