Tag Archives: Regency

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

Clarity : Language Use and Misuse : Pedantique-Ryter rants

One of the casualties of the pandemic has been language. Clarity matters. What, I ask you, is social distancing?

couple distanced from each other

Social distancing? Or is it really physical distancing?

Regency ladyRegency servantIn my (pedant’s) book, social distancing relates to the strata of society.

So… Regency aristocrat Lady Evadne Piddling-Coot is socially distanced from her washerwoman Hattie Gutbucket. If they were to meet — unlikely, one would think — Hattie would drop a curtsey and say nothing. Or, if they met in a confined space such as a staircase, Hattie would turn to face the wall and Lady E would continue on her regal progress as if Hattie were not there at all.

Some fellow pedants have pointed out (in vain, sadly) that social distancing actually means physical distancing. What else could it mean, when we are talking about 2 metres, or 1 metre, or 1 metre plus? Continue reading

Celebrating THIRTY BOOKS! Giveaway from Sarah Mallory

Giveaway Update…..Giveaway Update…..Giveaway Update…

A big thank you to all those who commented on the post, the giveaway is now closed and the winner was drawn at random under the watchful gaze of Willow, chief scrutineer.

And the winner is…Sabillatul

Sabillatul, you can email me at author@melinda-hammond.co.uk or DM me via twitter @SarahMRomance and I will arrange to get your goodies posted to you!  Congratulations!

This month sees the publication of my 30th book for Mills & Boon

blush pink rose to celebrate thirty books


Am I excited about thirty? You bet I am.

Thirty Historical romances – that’s a full shelf!

Given the current state of the world, it is wonderful to have something to celebrate so I want to share with you my delight at reaching this milestone.

Thirty! Who would have thought it? So go on, raise a glass with me!

champagne to celebrate thirty books

How those thirty began

Continue reading

Inspiration : writing ideas and the subconscious

Readers are fascinated by writers’ ideas. Where do you get them from? they ask.
Over and over again.gothic fantasy woman candle mist ideas

Sometimes we writers know. And sometimes — to be frank — we don’t.

How many of us have woken up in the morning with clear ideas about a new book and no inkling about how those ideas came to be? How many of us have more ideas jostling about in our brains than we can deal with?ideas light bulb

For most of us the difficulty isn’t finding the ideas, it’s turning them into a coherent story with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Here’s a case in point.

Ideas? Silver shreds for starters…

It began quite a long time ago. And it was all the fault of my crit partner, Sophie Weston of this parish… Continue reading

Reader, I married them (while researching the rake)

statue of a rake?As anyone researching the Regency period knows, the rake — the real Regency rake — was dangerous, unscrupulous and sometimes even a vicious womaniser.

I am very sorry, dear reader, if I have shattered your illusions.

Many of us like the fantasy of “taming” a bad boy, but most of us know in our hearts that it is nigh on impossible. Not quite impossible, of course. There are exceptions to the rule, but these are probably as rare in real life as the number of real live dukes in existence (which may be material for another story, another time).

silhouette of man's head in question markquestion mark being broken by handThere is always something to research for a new book. Often it seems obvious — military history for instance, when one sets a book around the Battle of Waterloo; or costume details for the period.

We have to invent a history for each of our characters. It may not feature in the actual book, but it is very necessary. As my latest book has proved. 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

Historical Costume 1800-1820: a spencer for a skimpy gown?

In BBC's 1995 Pride and Prejudice, Mary and Jane wear spencers, Lizzie wears a shawl, and Lydia wears…er…nothing

In BBC’s 1995 Pride & Prejudice, Mary and Jane wear a spencer, Lizzie wears a shawl, and Lydia wears…er…nothing

What to wear if it’s cold? A spencer?

replica Regency gowns with spencers

Replica spencers (BBC’s Persuasion)

As the Pride & Prejudice picture shows, the high-waisted Regency gown needed a particular kind of outerwear.
A normally-waisted coat would have ruined the shape of the lady’s silhouette. So fashion called for something special. The answer was the spencer.

From about 1804, the spencer was a short-waisted jacket with long sleeves. It could be prim and proper, buttoned up to the neck, as modelled by Mary Bennet (above). Or it could be rather more risqué, accentuating the bosom, as Jane Bennet’s does.

But why was it called a spencer? Continue reading

Historical Costume 1800-1820 : the simple Regency gown?

1807 white muslin wedding dress © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

A Regency gown might not be so simple?

1807 wedding dress asymmetric embroidery on front

A Regency gown might look simple but the wedding dress shown above clearly is not. Mainly because of the hand-embroidered muslin, rather than the fairly standard design.

That stunning dress was worn by a seventeen-year-old bride, Mary Dalton Norcliffe, for her marriage to Dr Charles Best in York on 11 June 1807. It’s made of Indian muslin and the V&A suggests the embroidery was done in India, too. Not only is there beautiful embroidery all round the hem and train, there is asymmetric embroidery across the front of the skirt, recalling the classical toga. You may find it easier to see the white-on-white embroidery in the close-up, shown left. Continue reading

A Sideways Look at Regency Life — All At Sea!

figure contemplating slightly stormy sea

When we read fiction set in the Regency period, we often come across references to sea journeys but, usually, they’re over pretty quickly. On one page, we’re at Dover or Harwich or Falmouth. A paragraph or two later, we’ve arrived at our destination and the story continues. (Not in all fiction, of course. Who could forget Mary Challoner’s horrendous cross-Channel trip in Heyer’s Devil’s Cub? Still, at least Vidal proffered a basin at the vital moment.)

Nowadays, our ships have GPS and radar and even engines! 😉 So this modern figure, staring out over a slightly stormy sea, has little to fear from going on board. But what was it really like, making a sea voyage on one of the Regency’s relatively tiny and fragile sailing craft?

Let’s take an imaginary sea journey…

Continue reading