Category Archives: 19th century

1837: Ladies, avoid study or risk losing your looks

The ‘handbook for ladies’ was a flourishing literary niche in the Victorian period. Two of its more prominent authors were Alexander Walker and his wife Mrs Alexander Walker, whose own Christian name was never revealed.

In 1837 Mrs Walker made her first foray into the genre with the lengthily titled Female Beauty, as Preserved and Improved by Regimen, Cleanliness and Dress; and especially by the Adaptation, Colour and Arrangement of Dress as Variously Influencing the Forms, Complexion and Expression of Each Individual, Rendering Cosmetic Empositions Unnecessary.

There was nothing too remarkable in most of Mrs Walker’s advice. She offered a range of tips on costume, cosmetics and hairstyle, to the “management of a thick waist”. In one chapter Mrs Walker complained bitterly about the use of neck frills. This fashion originated in France, she claims, because the necks of French women were:

“…long, black and skinny, and presents the horrible cordes au cou, or ‘stringy neck’, caused by passion, crying, shrieking, loud talking, etc.”

Mrs Walker also connected beauty to brains – or lack thereof. Several times she repeated the idea, common in the 19th century, that if women studied excessively then their looks would suffer. She urged women not to study male-dominated fields (“masculine studies”) because they may end up looking like men:

“..Immoderate development of the intellectual faculties cannot exist without… encroaching upon beauty and the graces.”

Source: Mrs Alexander Walker, Female Beauty &c., 1837. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.