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Victorian Beauty and a Historic Home Tour

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Jacqueline Brown, who lives and works at Oakland House, a Victorian house museum and event space located in St. Louis, Missouri. (Keep reading for my interview with her!) 

The Oakland House in St. Louis, Missouri, victorian homesThe Oakland House in St. Louis, Missouri, victorian architecture

Oakland House, Then and Now.

As Jacqueline shared the story of Sarah Benoist—the lady of Oakland House—I couldn’t help but wonder what Mrs. Benoist’s beauty routine might have been like, and what she might have thought of our beauty goodies at Willow & Birch Apothecary.

So, I did a bit of research to share some fun tidbits about the Victorian lady’s morning routine. According to historian Ruth Goodman, author of How to Be a Victorian, the Victorian beauty routine consisted of several steps:

  • The stand-up wash: One would typically use a pitcher and bowl. In some cases, cold water was used, although hot water was preferable, if it was available, as Victorian soap did not lather in cold water. (Our natural soaps don’t have that problem, and they’re scented with lovely Victorian-inspired fragrances!)
  • After washing up, it was common to apply a cold cream (or moisturizer) to the face, similar to our Rose Petals Day Cream, an all natural face cream inspired by a 19th-century cold cream recipe!
  • A Victorian lady might finish her wash routine with a dusting powder, which was a staple in many Victorian apothecaries. The powder would help to keep her feeling dry and smelling fresh throughout the day.
  • Dental hygiene also became more widely considered during the Victorian era, and many Victorians made their own toothpaste blends at home, although commercial options were also available at the local chemist or pharmacist.
  • Victorian hair styles fluctuated throughout the era, but no matter which style was currently in vogue, Victorian women undoubtedly spent a good deal of attention on styling their hair each day. (Read this blog post for a step-by-step guide on how to do Victorian hairstyles.)

And now let’s hear from Jacqueline about what it’s like to live at Oakland House!

How did you come to live at Oakland House?
My passion for history brought me to find my place at Oakland. As a Renaissance re-enactor I was looking to have a 16th century corset made. I got in touch with the conservator at Oakland, who is also a seamstress. A few years later, after I graduated from college, I heard about the position and interviewed. Later that fall I got the news and moved in! Now in addition to the Renaissance, I also enjoy Victorian.

The Oakland House in St. Louis, Missouri, victorian era houses
How long have you lived there?
I moved in September of 2018.

What is it like living in a historic Victorian mansion? What are some ways in which your daily activities are different than most other people’s?
Living here is a dream come true that I never would have imagined could happen. Sometimes it feels surreal as I step to the top of the tower to get a view of the moon, or when I sit on the veranda outside with my cup of tea. I think most people would probably find it strange how I am used to strolling about in a crinoline cage for work. Or how normal it feels for me to be casually dusting 18th century paintings and sweeping the tower of a mansion.

The Oakland House in St. Louis, Missouri, old victorian homeWhat is your favorite room in the house, and why?
My favorite room would probably have to be the Rose Room. I have always had a love for roses and the wallpaper is stunning. The hand embroidered furniture feels cozy and perfect for sitting in the evenings with a book. I also think this bedroom has the best views—the front of the mansion and overlooking the side yard. Not to mention, it has its own balcony!

Natural perfume in Victorian style house
One of our perfumes, in the Rose Room, where the ladies of the house would have slept.

What can you tell us about Sarah Elizabeth Wilson Benoist?
Sarah was from New Jersey. She was a very young woman, only 19 years old, when she married Louis Benoist, one of St. Louis’ wealthiest men. There is little we know about her, but she was a mother to 11 children and certainly had a great affection for her family. She allowed her youngest brother and his wife to stay at Oakland for some time and even give birth to their first child there. Sarah re-married Louis’ business partner after his death. She passed away at 42.

Sarah Elizabeth Wilson Benoist of Oakland House American Victorian house

Are there any interesting pieces at Oakland House that she may have used during her daily beauty routine? Please explain.
As far as Sarah’s beauty routine, with her being a part of the upper class, she was most likely using the most fashionable Victorian trends that were in style.

What do you think would have been Sarah’s “Signature Scent”?
I think Sarah’s scent would have been Lavender Breeze, because the smell of Oakland’s herb garden is filled with the lovely aroma of lavender.

affordable natural perfume in Victorian room at Oakland House museum
Our English Fog perfume, on the men's shaving table in the main bedroom.

And, finally, what is your favorite Willow & Birch “Signature Scent”?
My favorite scent would probably be English Fog, as my soul longs for the countryside of England. Wuthering Heights has a special place in my heart, so this one spoke to me.

How lucky is Jacqueline? Can you imagine being fortunate enough to live in a grand old Victorian house like Oakland House? Visit their website and follow them on Instagram to learn more about the history of this special home. And follow Jacqueline on Instagram for more glimpses into her life at Oakland House!


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