sisi’s beauty secrets: one

Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful. I work hard at it.

A lot has been said about my vanity. The Paparazzi were always trying to paint me at my most unflattering. For instance, after having a baby when even the tightest of tight-lacing experts could not mold me into the miniature hourglass Spanx shape I required. Or worse yet, when my teeth began to rot and turn brown (I did so love to binge on the pastries in between stag-blood cleanses).

The only recourse I had against aging in the days before Botox and tummy tucks, was my disciplined regimen of nightly beauty cures, and the copious attention to my famous coiffure.

There were several recipes I employed over the years, but my Egg White Masque is one of the simplest and more effective:

2 oz rose water

1 oz milk

½ oz press-pressed grape juice

2 quintchens crushed frankincense

2 whipped egg whites


Combine all ingredients, saving egg whites, which you must fold in at the end. Apply liberally to face and hands before bed. Splash off in the morning with freshly blessed water.


If you employ this masque religiously, thrice weekly for a fortnight, you, too, can have a peaches-and-cream complexion. But, as you know, the face is nothing without a lovely mane in which to frame it, yes? So here is a little tidbit about taking care of one’s hair in 19th-century Vienna.

On a fortnightly basis, my hair was washed with a specially made mixture of egg yolk and cognac–which, btw, took up an entire day–and for a little sheen, my dear hairdresser, Fanny, crushed and sprinkled in some fresh nutshells.

Lest you think I sat idle whilst my hair was twirled and pulled and brushed, let me erase that idea from your head.  I used this time to learn Hungarian and Greek (both ancient and modern), my tutors reading, and issuing exercises–boldly correcting my pronunciation.  Idid not allow my mind to escape through the hair and onto the fingers of Fanny.

Hence my headache afterwards.

Three hours a day, ladies.

Ah, to have the freedom that comes with anonymity.  But alas, my hair and face became my crown, but unlike a crown, it was not so easily laid aside.  And yet, as in all types of irony, I feared the day I no longer would have a choice in the matter, because with the conclusion of each and every hairdressing, dear Fanny laid the broken and dis-embodied hair at my feet.  The coiled strands curled wickedly in that silver bowl whilst I inspected them. On bad days, there were enough to make a nest, and I looked askance at Fanny while she curtsies her apology.  (It had to be the servant’s fault, you see, because anything other than that was unthinkable.)

And then, there was the matter of the occasional sinus infection from raw egg whites. Painful. Nasty. Disfiguring, even, as my head and face would swell to hideous proportion. The servants would gossip, you know, and then along would come the Court Portrait Artist, his brushes at the ready to capture yet another bad face day for all to see.

A curse and a blessing, this beauty business.

four centuries of bad hats

I have gone on and on about my hair in past posts. I have written of the three-hour ordeals involving washing, conditioning, delousing, the weaving in of flowers and jewels.

And here, I bored you to tears with my thoughts on the relationship between hairstyles and tarts.

And who could forget my reportage on the Sisi Museum’s display of wigs meant to model my various styles?

Well, I’m sick of talking about my hair, so I’m going to rant about hats, instead. Hideous hats of all eras. Not only the ones popular in my day (which, you must agree, were rather tame). No, the hats that I wish to malign are those ridiculous head dresses that found popularity before and after my reign.

Case in point: the photo at right showing my dear great-grand something in-law, Marie Antoinette. Born nearly 100 years earlier than myself, she epitomized the lavish and overkill of France in the 18th century. Really, Marie, we know you were born into a huge family, but your cries for attention were all so obvious! Is it any wonder that your silly head ended up severed from your shoulders?

Well, those Regents and their pomp were no match for the Victorians and their gloom. I submit: those are actual dead parrots on that hat! Can you imagine? Who but the most oppressed and misaligned would deign to put a bird on it in such a fashion?

But ladies, if I may, none of these ghastly examples of head dress compare to hideosities in the current era. I submit: the royal wedding, so full of promise and sleek style. Remember Kate and Pippa and their gorgeous gowns, and then along comes the Duchess’s daughter smiling proudly under a … what? Something from the Tiny Toons section of Disney? Is that a hat, or did somebody stick a section of wrought iron gate on Bea’s head? Charity-shmerity, there is no excuse to allow oneself to be the family fop. Is there?

And, we don’t really have to point the finger at the royals only, do we? Recall that embarrassing get-up on the Vegas chanteuse, Celine Dion a few Oscars ago? Well, to some people Celine is some sort of queen, I suppose.

Of course, the original intention of women’s hats was not for frivolity and fashion. It was to cover the heads  of the fair sex, lest they fall victim to the carnal temptations of men. Given the atrocities in headwear over history, I’d say the original intent has survived, and is alive and well!

my hairstyles on display. using genuine hair!

my hair was my crown, but much more difficult to take off at night!

Since I am widely known as a coiffure icon, it is only fitting that, at long last, my trendsetting hairstyles (such as the one to the left) are now on display at the Sisi Museum.

Finally, a realistic representation of the lavish and painstaking details of my plaited garland. If you care to read the accompanying display literature, you’ll note my disdain and refusal to have my tresses arranged in the lumpy kob of nape known as the Cadogan (see diagram below).

the hideous cadogan was all the rage for men and women. I refused to follow that trend!

The museum saw fit to feature three versions of my most oft-worn hairstyles–and they are made from genuine hair! (Not mine, of course, for that would be rather macabre, don’t you agree?)

Rather than wear my hair in boring knots and knobs, I took my inspiration from the actresses of the day. The fancy Opera singers and their more fascinating coiffures piled and plaited and curled. Ah, but having hair such as mine was a blessing and a curse. For three hours each day I sat in one place while Fanny, my hairdresser, fiddled and fussed. And that precludes the egg yolk and brandy treatments I succumbed to each and every fortnight!

The brushes, the combs, the flat irons! Indeed, it’s quite possible that the modern curling iron was perfected due to its application on hair such as mine. See for yourself. And, in particular, the salon history buffs among you, do not leave the museum without investigating the curling tongs and blades in the front cabinet (I understand it’s located near the turnstile).

apollo knots, exotic tarts and everything greek

Like all proper duchesses, Mummi continued to slave over her hair until it started falling out.   Fancy hair was of utmost importance in our castle and thereabouts.  All of us girls had to spend hours with the ladies-in-waiting, with their pulling and oiling and poking in sphendones and wreaths and so forth.

Of all the elaborate coiffures, the Apollo knot was most popular with us Bavarian Princess types, mainly because it’s very Greek, which is big in our family.  We love the Greeks!  Our cousin Otto was King there for a bit, before he was exiled by the masses and sent back to Munich.

Gossipy aside: Rumor has it that Otto had the same lover as his father, King Ludwig–none other than the notorious tart Jane Digby!  Now, I know our family is known for nepotism and intermarrying, but please…this Apollo knot-wearing harlot was over the top, even for us!

Mirror, mirror, on the Wall

oh, to be a woman in this troubled time

Nené’s face was covered in her beauty cream of lard, marshmallow root and ground slugs; her dark grey eyes looked like tarnished coins peeking out of a ghostly dew.  She’d begun to freckle, too, and Mummi had warned against the sun, so when my sister wasn’t covered in slime, she dabbed her face with milk and vinegar. Her hair, as usual, was completely covered in a silk bonnet, giving her the look of a nun at vespers.

is this what lies ahead?

Whenever I addressed Nené, I now curtsied.  Once an official engagement had been announced, I would also have to kiss her hand.  Her hand, by the way, was now eternally cloaked in a silk glove.