Friday, October 8, 2010

Nighty Night . . .

Silly things, really, bedtime routines. My dentist wants me to start brushing my teeth before I go to bed. The problem for me is that my brain seems to think brushing is a morning activity. Brushing says “Wake up!” and then I don’t want to go to sleep!

Brushing teeth was the least of a nineteenth century young lady’s tasks when she headed for bed. Talk about a bedtime routine! First you had to get out of your clothes, and, as we’ve discussed, you generally needed help to do so. For the first part of the nineteenth century, buttons were more decorative than useful; a complicated set of pins and tapes held those gowns together. For the second part, buttons could number in the dozens! Once your maid or sister or mother navigated that obstacle, there was the corset to unlace.

Once everything was off, the bedclothes came on. Very often you wore a nightdress, similar to the chemise you wore by day (and for some poorer ladies, it was the chemise you wore by day), with a single button at the high color. Sometimes a soft, short jacket went over the top. These would be linen in the summer and perhaps flannel in the winter. Until the middle of the century, nightdresses were plain and loose and handmade. Around 1850, some manufactured nightdresses were advertised with lace and frills; many people called this need to be attractive in bed scandalous.

So, you’re undressed and dressed for bed. But wait, don’t put your head on that pillow just yet. Next you had to prepare your hair, one way or another. You might brush it a hundred strokes as Marissa has mentioned. You might wrap your hair around strips of paper or rag hoping for some curl in the morning. Either way, until rather late in the century, you very likely tucked it up into a sleeping cap for the night.

Tired yet?

You also need something to warm your bed. For most months of the year, England can be clammy without indoor heating or air conditioning. You might heat a brick or stone by the fire and place it between the sheets (careful not to burn them!) or fill a warming pan with coals or hot water and run it up and down the bed.

But wait, you’re still not done. The fire must be banked so it’s ready to light in the morning. The window must be closed so no night air seeps in (many believed night air to be unhealthy). Has your dress been pressed or given to the maid to press for the morning? Stockings mended? Shoes polished? Gloves soaked to remove stains?

Okay, now I’m really ready to crawl between the covers and close my eyes. How about you?

1 comment:

Marissa Doyle said...

Oh goodness--when I was about six and going to be flower girl at my aunt's wedding I had to have my hair put into rags overnight to give me big fat "banana curls". Needless to say, I did not sleep well that night. :P