Category Archives: costume

A Close Shave (or the gentle art of Pogonomotomy)

Life is getting difficult for writers of Georgian and Regency romance

Shave? Our Regency heroes have traditionally been clean shaven. In fact a quick flick through Mills & Boon’s book of cover designs, The Art of Romance, has  only one cover with any facial hair on a man. It is a small, neat  moustache. I confess I haven’t read the book, but I am not convinced that he is the hero. However, a quick look in any street or on social media will tell you that beards are now becoming fashionable. Designer stubble is already creeping in, will full beards follow?cartoon shave for a penny

My latest Harlequin/Mills & Boon release is set in the Highlands in 1746, so I think we can get away with a small amount of facial hair…

but how about designer stubble? It is definitely considered sexy now, isn’t it?

Bridgerton character without a shaveIt  certainly  didn’t  put  off the  fans  of  Bridgerton!

To be fair, stubble isn’t as inappropriate as we might think, in some circumstances. Read on…..


In the 18th century, clean shaven faces were the order of the day for a gentleman. Many had clean shaven heads, too, but one never saw that, because everyone who was anyone wore a wig.

Sir Walter Raleigh with beardBack in the days of Good Queen Bess, neatly trimmed beards were de rigeur for men like Sir Walter Raleigh, who wanted to cut a dash (painted in an excess of finery here by Nicholas  Hillyard). By the end of the 17th century, Peter the Great was slapping a beard tax on his people. He ordered courtiers to shave off their facial hair, to bring his court into line with the (supposedly) more sophisticated courts of Western Europe.

Middle and upper class men could pay barbers to visit their homes, while for the poor, penny shaves were available in barber shops (often weekly, on a Saturday, in time for church).

Some preferred to employ a man who was proficient in the use of a razor. Imagine taking someone’s word for that!

cartoon the shaver and the shavee

In the beginning were the Barber Surgeons

Steel and bone razor for Lord Nelson to shave

Lord Nelson’s razor. Steel and bone

Traditionally barber-surgeons performed tooth drawing and bloodletting as well as shaving but this changed as barbering became its own trade. And in 1745 the Company of Barbers officially split from the Barber-Surgeons Company.

The 18th century brought improvements in steelmaking and master cutlers were producing fine surgical instruments as well as razors.

Suddenly, it was possible not only to have a closer shave, but to shave oneself!

The French had a name for it

Of course they did.

In 1770 Jean-Jacques Perret, a Parisian master cutler whose shop was at the romantically named “sign of the Golden Blade” in Paris,  wrote “Pogonomotomie or the art of shaving oneself”. Basically, a guide to shaving. Perret designed what we would today call a “cut throat razor”. He called it a guarded razor, a folding razor with a guard that fitted over the blade. Apparently, he did not patent his idea, but offered to teach other cutlers how to make it.

Harwood & Co razor with green velvet boxHarwood & Co, Sheffield, began to manufacture such a razor. The illustration shows one such razor acquired  by Museums Victoria. It came in its own green velvet lined box together with a pair of leather strops, one red, one green, and the whole was supplied inside a red leather case.

Safety razors were developed in the 19th century.

The shave was becoming big business

Razor makers were targeting individuals now with their advertising, and master cutlers moved into producing razors and fine surgical instruments. Perfumers, too, offered soaps, creams and pomatums to aid the shaver. Some still do, like Floris, in Jermyn Street.

Window of Floris, Jermyn Street, London

William NicholsonBut shaving was moving beyond mere fashion. Satirists were drawing cartoons and writing poems about the dangers of cheap razors, and facial hair was discussed in philosophical journals.

In 1802, William Nicholson (that’s him on the left, a fine, clean-shaven chemist) wrote in the Journal of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry, Literature and the Arts. He said “the caprice of fashion, or the modern improvements in personal neatness has deprived all the nations of Europe of their beards!” However, far from criticising, he advised against buying a cheap razor, which would never sharpen satisfactorily and give a good, clean shave.

Tastes and Ideas were changing

cartoon of Lord George Gordon

By the end of the 18th century, beards were associated with “wildness”, i.e. hermits or eccentrics.

In 1787 Lord George Gordon (he of the 1780 Gordon Riots) converted to Judaism. However, the beard he grew for his faith was considered by the general public (in England, that is) as confirmation that the man was unhinged.

He became the target of the cruel humour of the 18th century cartoonists.

Hair on the head (or lack of it)

Beethoven in need of a hairdresserNow that was quite another matter – it still required the touch of an artist.

After the Lockdown of the last twelve months most of us can empathise with the problems of hairdressing and the disasters that can occur when cutting one’s own hair, so I think we can see why barbers still had an important role to play.

(Maybe someone should have told Beethoven?)


Illustration, Mr and Mrs BennetWigs were already fashionable at the dawn of the 18th century. A gentleman could choose between the Comet, the Cauliflower or the Rose. Or perhaps he might prefer the She Dragon or the Snail. Some of course, preferred to keep their own hair, curled and powdered to look like a wig. By the end of the  century, however, wigs were becoming old hat, if you see what I mean, as was the use of hair powder.

You might refer me to Mr Bennet’s famous line in Pride & Prejudice “I will sit in my library, in my night cap and powdering gown, and give as much trouble as I can – “ but although this was published in 1813, Jane Austen began work on this novel in 1797, when hair powder was still being worn, especially by the older generation.

Men were wearing their own hair, and it was cut short!

Joseph Chinard, painted 1801

Joseph Chinard, painted 1801

I admit that as a sculptor, and French, this guy was perhaps a little ahead of the English Bon Ton.

But I thought he was rather dashing so was glad of an excuse to put him in.

But this is the look we like, isn’t it?

Beau BrummellBeau Brummell was a hit in the Regency and the short haired, clean shaven look still sets hearts a-beating. Even when we know Brummell spent the whole morning at his dressing table. But we have to face it, dear reader, bearded men are “in” at the moment.

In the 1820’s facial hair in the form of whiskers and moustaches began to creep back in, but for most of the Georgian period, a clean shaven face was a sign of refinement, of breeding and good taste. And I, for one, shall continue to write my clean shaven heroes…

Colin Firth as Darcy

…except, of course, when they haven’t had access to a razor for a day or two…Chris Hemsworth

OK, Ok, I admit this whole post has been an excuse to add these last three pictures!  I am off now to work on creating my next hero. Wish me luck!

Sarah Mallory guest blogs on romantic series


PS… If you want to read more, Dr Alun Withy from Exeter University has produced “Concerning Beards: Facial Hair, Health and Practice in England 1650-1900”, published by Bloomsbury

Historical Costume 1800-1850 : the Lady’s Riding Habit

Berrington Hall stables with lady's riding habitIn this occasional series on costume, we’ve featured a lot of day wear, but never what ladies wore when they went riding. The image above shows the Berrington Hall stables and a green riding habit on a mannequin. The waist is around the normal place and it doesn’t have full upper sleeves, so it probably dates from the late 1820s or early 1830s though it could be Victorian.

The development of the riding habit

Judging by the Paris prints, the riding habit changed a lot in the early part of the 19th century. In the Regency period, they looked pretty much like pelisses, except with much more skirt. Here are two, dating from 1816 and 1817, courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum collection.

1816 print of riding habit © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

1816 print of riding habit © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

1817 print of riding habit © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

1817 print of riding habit © Victoria & Albert Museum, London









Continue reading

Historical Costume : 1800-1831 Royal Jewellery to bling it up

Just before the start of the first lockdown — and doesn’t that seem a lifetime ago? — I spent an afternoon in the jewellery galleries at the Victoria & Albert Museum, in London. What struck me was how much of the fabulous bling on display was royal, or had royal connections. At the beginning of the 19th century, a lot of money went on bling. And the ladies of consequence were happy to flaunt it.

Napoleonic bling

In 1806, Emperor Napoleon was intent on securing an alliance with the Prince-elector of Baden as part of the Confederation of the Rhine. To cement the alliance, Napoleon arranged a marriage between his adopted daughter, Stéphanie de Beauharnais, and the elector’s heir. Napoleon presented the bride with this beautiful set of emerald and diamond jewellery. Continue reading

An improper blog : embroidery and the pains of fashion

Apologies to our visitors expecting our normal Sunday morning blog. Things got a bit complicated in the hive this week, and there was no time to prepare a proper blog.

Instead, for an improper (and late) blog, I offer a few pretty pics, especially for those who like our costume series. And normal service will be resumed next weekend 😉

That poor seamstress again?

My blogs have often mentioned the poor seamstress who made those fabulous gowns and, probably, received a pittance for her work. Below are some examples of embroidery from the Hereford museum collections. I don’t know whether these are the work of a seamstress or by a lady, sitting comfortably by her fire. They’re worth a look, whoever did them. [Click to enlarge]

embroidery with flowers

Beautiful flowers, and a finely stitched edging (above) Continue reading

Historical Costume 1800-1820: boots and bags

A couple of weeks ago, in my blog about footwear, there wasn’t room to cover ladies’ boots.
So today I will. Plus some other essentials for the well-dressed lady.


buff cotton and leather half-boots 1815-20 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

cotton & leather half-boots 1815-20 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

If you’ve read your Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, you’ll be familiar with the term “half-boots”.
But what were they?
And what were they made of?

The pair on the right, from the marvellous V&A collection, is made of striped cotton with buff-coloured leather toecaps. The sole is leather and there’s a little heel. From the picture, it looks as though they, like the shoes I discussed in my last blog, are not made for left and right feet. They also look as if they’ve hardly been worn. If they were worn, it probably wasn’t in the rain and mud, judging by how clean and shiny they still are. Continue reading

Historical Costume, 1790-1830 : Shoes, slippers

riding boot with spurWhy shoes? Well, a few weeks ago, I was ranting about boots. Specifically, the fact that, in images intended for Regency covers, all the male models seem to wear knee-high boots, even with evening dress.

This kind of boot, from the Wade costume collection at Berrington Hall, really doesn’t look appropriate for evening, does it? Imagine dancing with a man wearing those 😉

To be fair, the cover images don’t normally include spurs, as this original does, carefully separated by tissue paper to protect the boot’s leather.

I haven’t found a cure for the boot problem yet—other than cropping out the blasted things—but it gave me the idea of doing a blog about footwear.

And, for the record, an example of the kind of shoe the gents should wear with evening dress is below. (Yes, I admit they look more like slippers to us, but the V&A says they’re shoes.)

men's velvet shoes 1805-10 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

men’s velvet shoes 1805-10 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Right and left shoes?

When I was looking at historical examples of footwear, I realised that right and left shoes were usually the same. Interchangeable. That was a surprise. Continue reading

Designer Stubble: the Bane of Regency Book Covers

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the hurdles I’d jumped over (and, on occasion, fallen at). while republishing vintage books. Some of you may have noticed that the covers for my four Aikenhead Honours books did not feature any heroes.
The dreaded designer stubble.

Aikenhead Honours covers without designer stubble

No designer stubble in sight?

Portrait of Duke of Wellington, painted by Goya, 1812-1814

Duke of Wellington, by Goya. No stubble.

Designer stubble, I contend, is the bane of a cover designer’s life, if she’s trying to create something that’s reasonably faithful to the Regency period.

Regency men often had side-whiskers, but their chins were clean shaven.
Today’s cover models? Not so much.

In fact, hardly at all.

Try typing “Regency gentleman” into any site that offers stock images — places like Shutterstock, Adobe, and so on. I bet that at least half of the images that come up will show a male model with designer stubble. Or a beard. On some sites, almost every single so-called “Regency gentleman” has chin hair of some kind. Continue reading

Historical Costume 1800-1820 : Parasols Up and Down

1820 pelisse robe © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

You may have seen the image above in my blog about pelisses, a few weeks ago. I’m repeating the picture here because of that parasol. Or is it an umbrella? It rather looks like one. In fact, apart from that tassel, the proportions look very modern.

Parasols : for the sun, not the rain

Parasols, especially early in the Regency period, had different proportions, as you can see from the examples below, all courtesy of the Hereford Museum costume collection.

On the left is a pale pink silk parasol, very small, with a long handle, a neat metal ferrule and a tassel. On the right is a pale pink lace parasol, again with a long handle. If you look closely — click on any of the images to enlarge them — you’ll see that the long ivory handle of the lace one is carved. Its ferrule has a ring rather than a tassel.

pale pink Regency parasol, Hereford Museum collectionpale pink Regency lace parasol, Hereford Museum collectionBoth Pale pink?

Do you begin to see a theme here?

There’s another one — also pale pink, but with a fringe this time — below. Continue reading

Historical Costume 1800-1820: Keeping Warm in a Pelisse

© Victoria & Albert Museum, London

1819 pink velvet pelisse trimmed chincilla © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

It’s winter. Dark and gloomy. Though, here in UK, it’s still quite warm. Or at least not as cold — yet! — as winter sometimes can be.

We have houses with central heating and double-glazing to keep out the cold and the draughts. Back in the Regency, they weren’t so lucky. Though, to be honest, I remember a house we bought in the 1970s that was incredibly draughty. I used left-over curtain material to sew a draught-excluder in the shape of a snake for the gap under the sitting-room door.

And I grew up in a non-centrally-heated house with a draught screen as part of the standard furnishings, about six feet high and with four brocade-covered panels. We had draughts and we definitely needed it. Continue reading

Female images : the message on romance covers?

Historical Covers : what do they say to readers?

I usually write Regency romances. So I have to keep an eye on developments in the market. And covers are a vital part of getting readers to pick up a book.

female images to match the story

What prompted a modern woman to pick up a Regency romance?

If I were to generalise from the many Regency covers I’m seeing these days, I’d say that quite a lot of them look too modern. They don’t say “Regency” to me.

I’m not sure whether it’s the heavy make-up, or the hairstyles, or the clothes, or just the knowingness that 21st century models seem to display. Whatever it is, very few of the females on today’s Regency covers look (to me) anything other than a modern woman playing at being in the Regency. Continue reading