Disgusting Hygiene Habits in History that Have Us Running for the Shower
Disgusting Hygiene Habits in History that Have Us Running for the Shower

Disgusting Hygiene Habits in History that Have Us Running for the Shower

Larry Holzwarth - August 31, 2022

Disgusting Hygiene Habits in History that Have Us Running for the Shower
Benjamin Franklin’s fondness for both air and water baths was a source of gossip among his peers. Wikimedia

Personal hygiene historically affected relationships among peers

Among the Europeans beginning in the medieval period, and continuing well into the 18th century, it was widely believed that undergarments, usually made of either linen or wool, served to cleanse the body of the wearer. The impurities transferred to the undergarments during the day were transferred in turn to the bedding during the night. Airing the bedding sent them on their way. Sleeping fully clothed prevented this transfer of grime, and was thus considered as immoral as sleeping clothed in nothing at all. Gradually nightshirts came to be considered the proper dress for bed, though they were typically worn over the undergarments worn during the day. Benjamin Franklin scandalized John Adams when he first took an air bath, sitting naked before an open window, before donning his nightshirt alone and retiring to bed. Franklin came to consider his “air-baths” essential to his good health.

Disgusting Hygiene Habits in History that Have Us Running for the Shower
A gentleman’s neckcloth, or cravat, of the Regency period was both good fashion and good camouflage. Pinterest

Because the undergarments were not washed with frequency they quickly became discolored. Those areas which showed, especially around the neck, were available for public viewing, and therefore public judgments. Rather than changing the underwear, or washing it more frequently, a means to hide the neck area evolved. The neckcloth, often decorated with a lacy front descending from throat to chest, covered the less than presentable state of the undershirt’s collar. Much later, the detachable collar, at first made of starched linen and later of celluloid, served a similar purpose. Gentlemen presented their “linen”, as the visible portion of the neckcloth came to be called, as decorative and a sign of cleanliness, no matter how grimy was the collar the neckcloth served to obscure. When viewing the Founding Fathers in their finery, it is interesting to reflect that each is concealing an unpresentable, grime-streaked collar under all that lace.

Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“King James Bible”. Various books and verses cited in text. Online

“Baths and Bathing Culture in the Mideast: The Hammam”. Elizabeth Williams, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. October, 2012. Online

“Did people in the Middle Ages take baths?” Article, Medievalists.net. Online

“The 1647 Westminster Confession and Subordinate Documents”. Article, the Westminster Standards. Online

“Cherokees in Transition: A Study of Changing Culture and Environment Prior to 1775”. Gary C. Goodwin. 1977

“Medieval Monastery”. Article, Mark Cartwright. Worldhistory.org. December 14, 2018

“Everyday Life in the Middle Ages”. Suzanne Comte. 1988

“A history of humanities disgusting hygiene”. Helen Murphy Howell, Owlcation. August 5, 2022. Online

“Of lice, and men: An itchy history”. Emily Willingham, Scientific American. February 14, 2011

“Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior”. George Washington. Circa 1747. Online

“Would simple signs in your bathroom increase handwashing?” Article, The McMorrow Reports. Online

“Groom of the Stool”. Ben Johnson, Historic UK. Online

“Life as sea in the age of sail”. Article, Royal Museums Greenwich. Online

“How Our Ancestors Did It: Shaving Through History”. Fendrihan, February 12, 2016. Online

“Soaps and Detergents History”. Article, Cleaning Institute. Online

“The Wars Over Christian Beards”. Ted Olsen, Christianity Today. August 28, 2013

“Washing in the Ancient World”. Tim Lambert, A History of Washing. Online

“The hogs that created America’s first urban working class”. Gwynn Guilford, Quartz. July 16, 2017

“Overlooked and undervalued: Underwear in the Middle Ages”. Madeleine Colvin, Medievalists.net. Online

“Showering daily – is it necessary?” Robert H. Shmerling MD, Harvard Health Publishing. August 16, 2021. Online

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