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Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Did Regency ladies ever get sunburnt?

Seaside walking dress
La Belle Assemblée (Aug 1810)
Here in Weymouth, Dorset, we have enjoyed another day of gloriously hot sunny weather. Fortunately, I have avoided getting sunburnt, but my daughter has not been so lucky, and has a few sore red patches of skin which the sun cream missed.

It made me wonder whether Regency ladies ever “caught the sun” and what they would do about it if they did. Was it even possible to get sunburnt, given that ladies wore outfits like the seaside walking dress above when they were beside the sea?

"Good for taking off sunburnings"

I came across the following recipe for fard in The Mirror of the Graces, which says that it is “good for taking off sunburnings:

This appears to answer both my questions: ladies did occasionally get sunburnt and they may have used home-made fard to treat it.

An effective after-sun treatment?

I thought that fard sounded quite pleasant until I discovered that spermaceti was a white waxy substance chiefly found in the head cavities of the sperm whale which was widely used in the production of candles, ointments and cosmetics at the time!

A pipkin is a small earthenware or metal cooking pot with three feet and a handle which is used for cooking over direct heat, such as an open fire. Essential equipment if you wanted to make your own cosmetics in the Regency period.

Almonds, honey and whale wax. I wonder whether it was effective.

A full description of the fashionable seaside walking dress shown above

“A gown of white French cambric, or pale pink muslin, with long sleeves, and antique cuffs of thin white muslin, trimmed with Mechlen edging; made high in the neck, without a collar, and formed in points at the centre of the bosom, with three rows of letting-in lace; confined down the front of the dress with small buttons; and hemmed round the bottom with three rows of deep Mechlen lace; made rather short, and worn over trowsers of white French cambric, which are trimmed the same as the bottom of the dress. A cap composed of lace and light green silk trimming, tied under the chin, with a bunch of natural flowers in front. Hair in full ringlet curls, divided in the front of the forehead. A figured short scarf of pale buff, with deep pale-green border, and rich silk tassels; worn according to fancy or convenience; with gloves of pale buff kid; and sandals of pale yellow, or white Morocco, complete this truly simple but becoming dress.”

Read about Georgian and Regency Weymouth:
Fashionable entertainment in Regency Weymouth
George III in Weymouth
Princess Charlotte in Weymouth

Sources used include;
A lady of distinction, The Mirror of the Graces; or the English lady's costume (1811)
Bell, John, La Belle Assemblée (John Bell, 1810, London)



15 comments:

  1. I shall be sure to pack my fard next time I head for the coast!

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    Replies
    1. And don't forget your seaside walking dress...

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  2. Well the ambergris would help the skin retain any moisture, and bind together the other ingredients very well...almond oil would have vitamin E to promote healing, and is still in use to improve skin, hair and nails...and honey's anti-bacterial properties would help prevent any infection and therefore scarring from such minor burns or other "eruptions"...canny remedy!

    Then again, ambergris is now illegal in many places, so perhaps beeswax or some such might suffice. And I wouldn't say no to a bit of aloe in the mix!

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    1. Thanks for this analysis, Em. I don't think any of us fancy the "whale wax", but it is very interesting to know that this would have been quite a good recipe for a home-made remedy for sunburn.

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    2. @ Em's explanation

      Agreed!

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  3. If you use almond milk with honey in beeswax instead of spermacetti it will make as good a soothing cream as any but you need a bain marie to blend the ingredients

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    1. Thanks, that's really interesting Sarah. What exactly is a bain marie - the modern equivalent to a pipkin on an open fire?

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    2. It's a double boiler.

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    3. It's also called a double-boiler. The water boiling in the bottom pan keeps the temperature of the top pan (which doesn't touch the base of the bottom one) from going above 212º F/ 100ºC. A bain marie/double-boiler makes it much easier: you don't have to stir like crazy to avoid having your preparation burn on.

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    4. Thanks for telling me what a bain marie is. I can see that it would be a useful piece of apparatus for making fard!

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  4. a bain marie is similar to a double boiler. May also use a boil over a pot of hot water

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    1. Probably a bit easier than using a pipkin on an open fire!

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  5. Yes, a bain marie is a double boiler, or a small bowl or pot over a pan of boiling water. It really is just a modern pipkin!

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    1. If I ever feel tempted to try making my own sunburn remedy, I'll know what to use! Thanks :)

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  6. Well, it seems that these ingredients really would be helpful for sunburn, but I can imagine the mess you could wake up to!

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