Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Ladies Vanity Set, A Symbol of Women's Virtue, ca 1912

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During the Victorian and Edwardian periods ladies and men's vanity sets were commonplace.  In an age where indoor plumbing was not very common, grooming items were kept in the privacy of your bedroom.  You would most likely have a washstand in the corner or a nook specially built into the bedroom for the washstand.  Tub baths were not taken everyday and were a luxury.  You had to make do with spot washing with the washstands till it was bath day.  Ladies had dressing tables where they kept the necessities of grooming close at hand.

In addition, women's hair had then and to this day a lot of symbolism going on.  With the exception of young girls who were not yet of an age to marry, women (respectable women) kept their hair pinned up. Wearing your hair up was a sign of maturity, hence availability for marriage. A virtuous woman only let her hair down in the confines of her own bedroom.  How you wore your hair proclaimed you as a virtuous or a loose woman. Even today many people think of updo hair or short hair as a sign of professionalism and maturity.

Most vanity sets included a brush, comb and mirror.  This one belonged to Virginia Shumate Moran and includes a brush, comb, mirror, small tray, toothbrush holder and powder box.  In addition she had a handpainted porcelain tray from Japan where she would place some of her grooming items.  The small pink box is made of marble and might have been used to hold jewelry and might have been added later to the set.  The mirror, brush and powder box are engraved with her initials in black.  The comb has a smaller engraving which isn't visible in the pictures. The comb is also very heavy as is the mirror.  These are not made of plastic!

Vanity sets could be simple or ornate in design, material, or the number of pieces included in the set.  One thing is certain, the vanity set might have been used for everyday practical things but the symbolism contained therein went beyond cleaniliness of the body.  It symbolized cleaniliness of virtue and of course cleaniliness was next to godliness.

Here's the before image.  Notice the safety pins and
fingernail file impressions left on the tray, surrounded by grime.

And here's the after picture.  They cleaned up rather well.
The brush, mirror, and powder box are engraved VSM,
Virginia Shumate Moran.

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