Victorian Realities: Water Closets and Hooped skirts [6min 27sec SYTL]
February 8, 2017 4:32 AM   Subscribe

Victorian realities - How did they use the toilet??! If you ever wondered "How did Victorian Era women use the facilities with all those extravagant undergarments?", then this is the video for you. Note: No nudity. SFW simulated toilet use, with a chair as a prop.

PriorAttire is a historical attire and bespoke wedding dress designer.

She is often asked: "How on earth did they use the toilet in all those skirts, petticoat, bustles, crinolines and what else is there hiding under the Victorian Skirts???!' So behold, a very silly video dealing with the daily reality of a Victorian life...."

Please note: "No nudity, and no real natural functions are being performed - all demonstration of how the clothes moved and were manipulated. If you are easily offended by watching someone pretend to go to the loo, simply don't watch"

If you want to know more, then the book 'How to Be a Victorian' [Amaz UK: Amaz US: and all good brick and mortar bookshops*] by historian and BBC historical consultant Ruth Goodman, gives an in-depth description of what life at all class strata during the Victorian Era was like.

If you want to know yet more:
  • This video [1 of 4] explores Victorian life via the pills, aides, and gadgets availble at the local Pharmacy [SYTL 59 min ]
  • This video situates modern people in Victorian Slum conditions to see how they survive. [SLYT 1 hour]
  • This video illustrates how many mundane items, were actually Hidden Killers within the modern Victorian home. [SLYT 41min]
If you want to visit actual (and partially recreated) Victorian sites in the UK, then the English Heritage site is a good place to start.

Enjoy!

[* These are not affiliate links]
posted by Faintdreams (39 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
 
And bonus content - a take on the sit/stand debate.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:42 AM on February 8, 2017 [3 favorites]


Or, if you have a willie, just stand there, hike up the hoops and let fly.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:54 AM on February 8, 2017 [4 favorites]


Does Rochester know that she just throws her pee-wipe rag on the floor so cavalierly? I mean, no wonder you're still single, Jane
posted by middleclasstool at 5:04 AM on February 8, 2017 [9 favorites]


That was strangely interesting. Thanks!
posted by james33 at 5:13 AM on February 8, 2017


I live in a basically intact 1869 Italianate townhouse and they're deathtraps even without arsenic wallpaper and having to traverse them wearing hoop skirts.
posted by octothorpe at 5:14 AM on February 8, 2017 [8 favorites]


There's also the bourdaloue, which is an anatomically-shaped chamberpot you hold when using it.
posted by sukeban at 5:19 AM on February 8, 2017 [5 favorites]


That was very informative. Glad I was not around then.
posted by mermayd at 5:24 AM on February 8, 2017 [1 favorite]


Stuff Mom Never Told you did a podcast about the history of public restrooms. Spoiler: it was vulgar for women to use the restroom outside of the home. Good job Victorians!
posted by LizBoBiz at 5:50 AM on February 8, 2017 [2 favorites]


These days there's not much that causes my jaw to drop, but:

**You don't have to squat over a chamber pot! You can hold it up!**

That simple fact has made my day. Thanks!
posted by kestralwing at 6:15 AM on February 8, 2017 [8 favorites]


BOOTS FIRST! THEN CORSET. the rallying cry of early 90's club goers everywhere.
posted by crush-onastick at 6:30 AM on February 8, 2017 [15 favorites]


Sorry I went playing through her other videos (ie the one on "It must have taken hours to get dressed").

Split drawers are still common in things like Spanx and I never understood why anyone would wear a fashion bodysuit/leotard without either a snap crotch or open crotch. (I get why a ballerina or gymnast in class or performance or contest would not).
posted by crush-onastick at 6:33 AM on February 8, 2017


I too am amazed that you can use the chamber pot STANDING UP. This never occurred to me!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:35 AM on February 8, 2017 [1 favorite]


I too am amazed that you can use the chamber pot STANDING UP. This never occurred to me!

I would think splashing might be an issue. Especially if you had to hold it a long time because you could only go to the bathroom at home.
posted by JanetLand at 8:04 AM on February 8, 2017 [2 favorites]


Even with split pants, I would think that hygiene would be a problem. On the other hand, if you actually changed your outfits during the day, you could probably time things so that you would only be using the toilet while in your chemise, not full rig.

And of course your average non-upper-class women didn't have nearly as many skirts and petticoats to worry about, so the people who did have to deal with the most skirts had servants to help them.
posted by emjaybee at 8:14 AM on February 8, 2017 [1 favorite]


If anyone has suggestions on how the modern day woman can pee standing up without unsightly accidents please let me know. I have mastered peeing in my car from Cleveland to Boston without leaving the car even while drinking copious amounts of coffee by using disposable tupperware, that was easy. Mastering peeing standing up and not needing to squat over a dirty toilet would be the best.
posted by waving at 10:14 AM on February 8, 2017


There's also the bourdaloue, which is an anatomically-shaped chamberpot you hold when using it.
posted by sukeban


OMG, how many people think they have a lovely antique gravy boat for use at the best family gatherings when what they really have is an old used bourdaloue?

More gravy, Auntie Ruth?
posted by pixlboi at 10:15 AM on February 8, 2017 [14 favorites]


Interesting shit!
posted by Mr. Fig at 10:21 AM on February 8, 2017 [2 favorites]


If anyone has suggestions on how the modern day woman can pee standing up without unsightly accidents please let me know. I have mastered peeing in my car from Cleveland to Boston without leaving the car even while drinking copious amounts of coffee by using disposable tupperware, that was easy. Mastering peeing standing up and not needing to squat over a dirty toilet would be the best.

There's dozens of funnel-like products such as the Shewee, modified medicine spoons, disposable paper ones like the Urinelle and the P-Mate, etc. The phrase you'll want to search for is "stand to pee device".
posted by Feyala at 10:42 AM on February 8, 2017 [2 favorites]


My husband bought me a variation on a Shewee (different brand) as a stocking stuffer this past Christmas. As a beer podcaster, I spend a lot of time at beer festivals and the Porta Pottires are horrible. This device will help with that grossness.
posted by Kitteh at 10:49 AM on February 8, 2017 [1 favorite]


Many years ago a friend gave me a package of Genius Lady, a stand-to-pee device. Haven't taken it for a test run yet but it's rattling around in a box somewhere, waiting for its day. And looking at their website now, they're still using the exact same photos and package design as they were all those years ago.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:00 AM on February 8, 2017


(Meant to say, if you click around their site they have a picture of the Genius Lady; it's basically a folding coated-cardboard cone. Wouldn't be hard to approximate if you were in need.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:09 AM on February 8, 2017


The SheWee joy of standing at surf's edge, gazing meditatively at the horizon (but not into the wind), "relaxing", is amazing. I'm never going to see a superhero brooding the same way again.
posted by clew at 11:13 AM on February 8, 2017


I generally think of myself as more than the average level of knowledgable about historical dress (which is to say, a rank amateur compared to anyone who cares about the subject more than casually, but I've seen a lot of YouTube videos) and I have to say, I'm astonished to see how much the crinoline cages moved. I had assumed they were far more rigid than that.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:25 PM on February 8, 2017


Can we get a video on, "Did the Virgin Mary know what toilet paper was?"

This phrase generally causes problems with the people I went through Catholic school with when they try to logic me back into the faith. Don't get me started on Jesus' oral hygiene.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 12:33 PM on February 8, 2017


Can you imagine MENSTRUATING and having to deal with this shit?? Jesus god.
posted by tristeza at 12:56 PM on February 8, 2017 [2 favorites]


Pee funnels are on my list. How about peeing standing up with no accessories? I saw a movie I think it was from the UK or Australia, which started out with 3 to 5 women standing in a line peeing on a wall, none had funnels. The used their hand to aim the pee out, maybe pulling the labia upward? If you know this technique, please share. I can't find the movie. I want to do that.
posted by waving at 12:56 PM on February 8, 2017


If anyone has suggestions on how the modern day woman can pee standing up without unsightly accidents please let me know.

When I was a teenager I taught a girlfriend to pee standing up outdoors, and she seemed to think it was quite a life hack. I have no idea how I came up with this, but it worked for her and hopefully this will be of use to other ladies yearning to pee beneath the stars. IIRC she even taught it to some of her girlfriends, so at least I can die knowing I've done some good in this world.

If you have a car handy, lean backwards against the hood with your legs out and spread nice and wide, and just start peeing like a boss. You want your feet far apart, to avoid the trickle/splash zone. You'll have to do a little experimenting to find the best stance for you. In her case she was kind of stretched out like a starfish, with her elbows bent behind her to help support her weight. It might work if you just leaned back against a wall, but I can't say. It makes for quite a display so only do this someplace safe and secluded.

She always wore skirts so it was a simple matter of temporarily removing her panties and hiking up her skirt just enough to get it out of dribble range, but if you're wearing pants this will probably be a lot more complicated and may involve the removal of clothing you'd rather not remove outdoors. But if you're desperate, it should get the job done.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:36 PM on February 8, 2017 [2 favorites]


(I suppose you could also try leaning forward against a wall, arms and legs braced out in a big X. That might enable you to pee outside without having to remove pants, but I won't be held responsible for any dribbles on your clothes.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:48 PM on February 8, 2017


it was vulgar for women to use the restroom outside of the home.

I was told that Victorian women had bladders like camels, because it was vulgar to even consider elimination functions.

But of course, guys let fly whereevers.
posted by BlueHorse at 2:19 PM on February 8, 2017 [2 favorites]


I've worn a 1860s day dress get up twice in the past four months. Including at the Miami Women's March.

Going to the bathroom was never as big of an issue as you'd expect. Admittedly, it was easier at the march because I had completely ignored going for period underwear accuracy. No corset, drawers, etc -- just bike shorts and normal modern day underwear. It's a little unwieldy and I'm glad I didn't have to hit up a portapotty for space reasons, but it's not that hard to get all of the skirts out of the way. It was harder when I did the partial period underwear thing for Halloween, but that was mostly because one cannot bend in a corset.

However, a lot of other things that I take for granted were difficult. Like STAIRS. Going down stairs was a nightmare in a large group of protestors. And this was with sneakers underneath. I couldn't see where my feet were in relationship to the stairs themselves and I was packed in with a bunch of people who were trying desperately not to step on my skirts. By the end, I figured out the correct way to hold them up, but it was a trial and error process that I hadn't expected. You also can't move too quickly without tripping over the skirts.

It's funny because the things that you think would be problems (such as going to the bathroom or putting it on) are actually the easy bits. I'm going to poke around here and see if I can find more tips.

(Also... assuming that cos-play protesting is going to become a thing I do, I think my next step is becoming more historically accurate. I know that I'm the only one who cares that I'm wearing an Alice Paul era sash with a Elizabeth Cady Stanton era dress, but it does bug me.)
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 2:31 PM on February 8, 2017 [10 favorites]


Having squatted over many a honey bucket, I can assure that, from a squatting posture, your urine tends to splash a lot less and I usually find a boulder or a stump that I put one hand on behind me to help myself lean backwards and pull my pants forward out of the splash zone with the other. I assumed most women in big skirts kind of did the same and I am now vindicated. I have also used a type of shewee funnel, including one of those plastic funnels you can buy at IKEA for the kitchen. Remote trail outhouses are fucking nasty and hanging your ass out to freeze and get bit by mosquitoes really sucks. You have to practice using a funnel in the shower, I was never much good at it. Sometimes, your anatomy is shaped in a way that makes it harder and you can't just let it go, you gotta kind of control dribble so you don't overwhelm the funnel. I just realized I am some sort of wilderness/cornfield urination expert.
posted by Foam Pants at 2:51 PM on February 8, 2017 [8 favorites]


Right - so this book is actually pretty damn useful for inspiring women to go on road trips; it has lots of practical advice about stuff like "how to change your car's oil" along with saucy and irreverent advice like "15 additional uses for pantyliners" or "how to make extra money while on the road".

And one of the sections they have discusses how to pee by the side of the road as a woman. Which they recommend doing for the sensory joy of it ("the wind on your cheeks, the sun on your face..."). They offer the following tips - 1. pick a spot on the ground that is soft and absorbent (grass, not tar), and 2. squat facing uphill if possible. This will feel counterintuitive, they claim, but if you face downhill the pee will run forward towards your shoes - and if you face backward it will run back away from you.

I confess to having used this advice somewhere on Rt 4 outside of Walnut Creek, California in 2001 and can vouch for its usefulness.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:07 PM on February 8, 2017 [6 favorites]


I used a funnel in Antarctica, and they are the business. I helped that all our clothes had extra long flies (right down to the centre of the crotch seam), particularly with all the layers we had on.

Weeing standing up whilst wearing clothes does take a bit of mental gymnastics though. And the fact that they're ain't nothing to stand behind except the vehicle you were in, also made it fairly strange. You'd stop for a break, and everyone would withdraw to a different side of the Hagg, and look like they were just randomly staring off into the distances for a minute or two. Not sure what the penguins thought.
posted by kjs4 at 6:18 PM on February 8, 2017 [7 favorites]


This post is made of awesomeness!

At one point I was wearing Victorian-style corsets in enough shows that I had to make myself a pair of open-plan drawers for bathroom purposes.

And when I was a maid of honor, it was part of my job to hold the bride's full skirt out of the way and off the floor if she had to use the ladies' room. But she was so distracted through the whole reception that she never took the time for a bathroom break.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:53 PM on February 8, 2017 [2 favorites]


As someone who has often had to basically completely disrobe from the waist down to pee in the woods (very fleshy thighs=needing an ahem, very wide stance) I am convinced that if I had to somehow hold a chamber pot up there I'd end up peeing all over my hands or spilling it on myself... The backwards straddle is the way to go.
posted by TwoStride at 8:57 AM on February 9, 2017


I think everyone who is even considering historical cosplay and protesting at the same time needs to get in touch with their local Society for Creative Anachronism, because I'm sure the SCA ladies in your area have already figured out what to do with voluminous skirts and effluvia.
posted by elsietheeel at 8:13 PM on February 10, 2017


Whilst changing the roll yesterday, I happened to think of this post. Loved the casual gesture with which she delicately dropped the tissue, but given that the Sears Roebuck catalogue or Farmer's Almanac was prized and preferred over leaves and corncobs as late as the 1940s here in the wild and woolly west, I began to wonder what the Victorians actually used. I guess if you were quite rich after the 1870s, you could use these, and if you weren't quite as lucky, you'd enjoy straw, moss, leaves, wool, linen rags or the ubiquitous corn cob as in the past.

Bless that Great Victorian Invention!
posted by BlueHorse at 8:43 PM on February 11, 2017


given that the Sears Roebuck catalogue or Farmer's Almanac was prized and preferred over leaves and corncobs as late as the 1940s here in the wild and woolly west

I was just remembering the lake cottage my Grandma had when I was growing up. None of the cottages on that road had indoor plumbing, and each had an outhouse up the hill and across the road, with its own septic tank. Grandma's was always stocked with TP (plus a bag of lime and a scoop) but there were always Sears and JCPenney catalogs to read, too. Grandma had grown up without an indoor bathroom, and now it occurs to me that maybe putting the catalogs out there was just force of habit left over from youth.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:30 PM on February 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


I give tours of the historic district that our house is in and usually bring up the fact that the neighborhood would have smelled pretty terrible in 1870 since none of the houses were built with bathrooms. The combination of having an outhouse behind each townhouse, horses on the street, the mills running 14/7 and a coal fired stove in each kitchen would have combined to create an unbelievable stench during the warmer months.
posted by octothorpe at 6:13 AM on February 12, 2017 [1 favorite]


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