Friday, January 18, 2013

Vintage Hygiene "A Filthy Story"

Historical Hygiene - A Filthy Tale

In our modern era we have the knowledge that washing regularly helps enable social interaction. It not only allows us to smell better, it aids in protecting us from a host of viral infections and germs. Today, If we come across a human "stink bomb", we sometimes can't help but respond with a visceral nose-quiver and, in severe cases, a quack and a gag of the gizzard. Well this, most definitely, was not always the case. Believe it.

Let's take a brief stroll through the ages (it's wise to move quickly) and give some insight and in-smell and take a look at just how lucky we are today that we don't have to continually rub shoulders with a general populace of sickly sweetly pungent people. 

During the Roman Empire public baths were common. The Romans invented the ingenious aquaduct. Lord only knows why the Europeans didn't choose to embrace this invention. The Romans enjoyed these frequent and social bathing practices often. These  were fairly clean times (of course, leaving aside the crappy practice of using a communally shared ass-brush at the public toilet - this is another story). Moving right along ... The Romans are also credited with the discovery of soap. Thank you!

Some fun and frolic in Roman Times Bath House

But after the Fall of Rome in 467 A.D. this bathing and cleanliness practice, like the Empire "declined".  Europe virtually erupted into a time of stink and filth.

In the Middle Ages most people cleaned only "enough" to mask their stench. But usually masking their stench involved carrying around herbs and having that requisite twice a year "sponge bath". Enter the nosegay. The aritisocrats bathed slightly more often and were fortunate enough to have actual full bathing tubs. Though the servants had the enviable task of rinsing and scraping off that month's collection of sweat, scale, lice, lint, and various other detritus. Imagine that ring around the tub.

Antique Dentures - Not much better than the originals

Most people in the Middle Ages had no concept of bodily or dental hygiene. For their dental hygiene people would simply use a paste or a rub on their gums and teeth scented with herbs. The scent, I would imagine, didn't last too long. Again, just enough to mask that pong. Yuk. Resulting, of course, in foul and rancid smelling breath and garishly greenish loudly-decaying blackened teeth. What a jet-setter's smile that must have been. The "soap" (or washing rub) used was comprised of various herbs, ashes, sand and/or coarse salts and oils. One would need a sand-blast at this point. Failing "soap" - just sprinkle some water on. L'eau de filthe.

Homes and houses were crowded and people had to sleep on damp and fecal floors, (Hey - there's a country song in there somewhere ...) deposited their trash and sewage into the streets and, at the time, had no idea that created a five-star all-inclusive holiday for disease-infested rodents.

In the later Middle Ages the Black Plague was responsible for killing millons of people. Quickly. It was unimaginably terrifying.

People had no idea of its cause or how on earth to protect themselves. Some believed The Black Death was spread by breathing bad air and, therefore, carried a sack of sweet-smelling herbs held to their noses. (Like that was going to help.) Others believed that the plague arrived as a curse from god. No one realized what is obvious to us today. The culprit? The rampant heaps of well-travelled clinging sewage carried home for dinner and a nap. And the fattened fleas escaping the confines of the rat colony to join the Royals for a feast at the palace via those magnificent powdered puffy wigs.

The Filthy Devils Who Were The Source of The Plague The Norway Rat

The Plague continued for 200 years. Intermittently people would get that doomed red ring of rash, become horribly ill and then quickly pass away. 

In the 17th century people slowly embraced a cleaner approach to hygiene. However, a shift in bodily-irrigation was still desperately needed. I mean, we do have to cut them some slack. No running water. No hydro. Many people were very poor. (No excuse for the rich.) Sadly, bathing still stayed at the bottom of the to-do list.

Not until the 1860's did a French scientist, Louis Pasteur, discover what we now know as germs. 

Where do you "s/tink" we would be without Louis?

Until this unprecedented discovery, surgeons were not aware of germs! When a woman was giving birth, the doctor and nurses ran from birthing mother to birthing mother without washing off the blood and mucous from the previous patient. This indescribably dangerous practice resulted in many infections during childbirth and many avoidable deaths. When Pasteur's belief in the germ theory emerged, many practicing physicians considered his theory ridiculous and refused to change their filthy practices. Yep! Can you believe that? 

Some filthy instruments used to infect and operate on people in the 1700's

Some other fun filthy facts. We're all familiar with those divine regal wigs worn by the wealthy aristocrats and the upper middle class in Europe. Well, they were lovingly profusely powdered to cover up their sweet sweat stink and did much to create routes for many-a-happy cruising hyper-active louse! Hence the fashion accessory - the wig pick. Now that came in handy when the lice were having just a bit too much fun.

Yep! This "Gentleman" has some happy little creepy-crawlers under that hair. Ewww! 

Do you know any fun filthy anecdotes or facts about the history of hygiene? Please share! And be sure to share some filthy pics if you have any!

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