Pre-1600s Toiletry Sets

DSC_4251Toiletry sets were popularized by the Romans throughout their empire. They became an important part of personal attire for women, and remained popular through the Victorian Age. Pre-1066 women’s sets usually consisted of a pair of tweezers, an ear-spoon, and a toothpick/nail cleaner, or just an ear-spoon and a toothpick/nail cleaner. Some sets also included a small brush – possibly for the application of cosmetics. Late in the Roman Era specialized, and essentially unusable forms of the toiletry set developed that were only intended as a sign of Romanization – the Toiletry Brooch. This was basically a decorative brooch, often enameled, with a  bar that had tiny representations of the various toiletry items hanging from it.

Combination tools appear during the 1500 and 1600’s. They included several forms of tweezer-ear-spoons, and toothpick-ear-spoons. Very inexpensive, poor quality tools, made of wire also appeared at this time and were widely found in areas like London. Individual toiletry items such as a pair of tweezers or a lone ear-spoon are also found, and were probably stored in a small pouch,

Combo tool

Most toiletry sets were made of a copper alloy (bronze), but examples of silver and gold sets do exist.

silver toiletry set

This form of silver toiletry set on a silver chain is appropriate for both Viking and Anglo-Saxon women.

Men commonly carried a pair of tweezers, and sometimes an ear-spoon, in a pouch.

Viking women usually hung their toiletry sets from their brooches, on a chain or string. Anglo Saxon women hung their toiletry sets from their belts. Less commonly, both groups kept their toiletry sets in a pouch, which could be suspended from a belt.

Late 1500’s toiletry sets often included things like bodkins, for lacing clothing, and scissors, for sewing. They were often suspended from elaborate Chatelaines that hung from a belt.

I hope that this brief summary helps you have a better understanding of the nature and origins of toiletry sets.