Women have always felt the need to take care of their appearance, even when locked up in prison. Not that men ever understood that. A journalist writing for the New York Times stated in an article, titled “Vanity of Female Convicts The Ruling Passion Strong in a Condition Worse than Death” and published in 1895, that British female convicts were “the vainest of the vain daughters of Eve”.
I doubt that’s true, but they certainly were very ingenious. Here’s how they procured their own, rudimentary, beauty tools:
– A convict at the English Millbank prison was “discovered to be in the possession of three tallow candles, which, if they had not been missed, would no doubt have been utilized as pomade!”
– When the hinges of the cell doors were oiled, some women would wipe it off and put it in their hair!
– Women at the Working Prison wore bright-red-striped aprons. Convicts discovered that “when unraveled and chewed in the mouth the colour or dye was released“. The paint so obtained was then used as blush and lipstick.
– Convicts “spent hours in tearing out bits of wire from the window guard and afterward bending them into the require shape” to form a hairpin.
– Women also torn out leaves from the Bible to “make the old-fashioned ‘cracker’ curls“. There was a severe punishment for this though.
– Women would “scheme, plot, and plan for months together in order to become possessed of a piece of broken window pane in order to make a looking-glass.” For instance, they would scour the ground when out in the exercise yard for a piece of glass and risk punishment (usually solitary confinement and bread and water diet) to get it into their cells, where, after applying a piece of black cloth at its back, they would carefully hide it. Sometimes, they even broke the windows of their cells to have their own mirrors.
– Inmates often asked their family and friends, when they came to visit, to style their hair and clothes in the latest fashions.
– Prisons had their fashionistas and trend-setters too. When someone started a trend, “if it meets with approval [it] will be immediately copied by all the other convicts.” Fashion was also used by warders to subdue violent convicts: “many a violent, half-witted woman has been rendered tractable by permitting her to copy some little innovation then making itself fashionable within the prison walls.”
Weren’t they clever? And would you have done the same? Of, if you’re interested in reading the entire article, click here.