The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.
Shortly before Louis XIV died in 1715 he initiated a cleanliness measure: a new ordinance decreed that the faeces left in the corridors of Versailles would be removed once a week.
Personal hygiene has had an up-and-down history. Bathing was considered normal until the 14th century – before the Black Death London had 18 bath houses, but during the Black Death a view arose that hot baths made you susceptible to the ‘disease vapours’ by relaxing the body and opening the pores. Washing soon became a remarkably rare occurrence, and things stayed that way for the next 350 years. Oils, powders, and scents were used to cover the smell of body odour, and hair was brushed and powdered rather than washed.
Monarchs were particularly filthy. James I claimed to have only ever washed his fingers. King Louis XIII of France (1601-43) did not have his hair combed until he was nine months old and his legs were first washed (in tepid water) when he was five. He had his first bath at almost seven.
Throughout the 17th century, changing shirts was the main method of 'bathing'. White linen supposedly attracted sweat, and was considered better than washing. Louis XIV boasted that he changed his shirt three times a day, and would put on a freshly-laundered shirt after exercise to show he was clean. In 1626 the Parisian architect Louis Savot decided not to put bathrooms into the mansions he was building because linen was so much better than baths.
During the 18th century water gradually made a return, due to the popularity of spas. A century after Louis XIV, Napoleon was spending two hours in the bath each morning while news was read to him.
Not Washing Your Hair
West End hairdressers used to be considered quite dangerous places. Stories abounded about people who, while bending their face forward to have their hair shampooed, caught the stench of the vile air emanating from the Victorian sewers from the plughole. The fear of cholera and getting various viruses through the miasmic air was one of the factors which led to the practice of washing a customer's hair while they tilted their hair back – the others included it being easier for longer hair.
There is a school of thought which says that it does your hair no harm to give up shampoo and just rinse it with warm water every couple of days. Two brave QI Elves tried this as an experiment, and found that after over three months without shampoo, their hair looked absolutely fine and they got no strange looks on public transport. Lots of people advocate it – the movement is referred to as the ‘No Poo’ movement.
Some people advocate not washing at all and claim that after two weeks or so the body normalizes. We haven’t tried this.
The word ‘shampoo’ is a Hindi word, referring to a type of sensual massage. Sake Dean Mahomet, the man who opened Britain’s first Indian restaurant in 1809, was also appointed Shampooing Surgeon to both George IV and William IV (in the sense of head massage, rather than hair-washing).
Herbert Hoover, former US President, wrote a book entitled Fishing for Fun - and to Wash your Soul.
It is illegal in Switzerland to hang out washing, dig the garden or wash your car on a Sunday.
In the British Navy in the 18th century, sailors washed their clothes in urine.
Normal is nothing more than a cycle on a washing machine.
It is against the law to wash your car in your driveway in New York.
In the 19th century people bathed in cold water because warm water was considered too exciting to the body.
Casanova claimed he had his first orgasm at the age of eleven when a girl was washing his legs.