Silly Ways Old-Timey People Were Just As Vain As Us
We always hear about how, as opposed to the good ol' days, modern society is far too shallow, image-driven, and narcissistic. The thing is, we checked with the good ol' days and ... Well, they were just like today, but with fewer apps.
Vedute Were the Braggy Instagram Posts of the 1800s
We all follow someone that goes on vacation, then spends the entire time clogging up your feed with photos of sunsets, cityscapes, and historic landmarks -- which thanks to the endless amounts filters they're using, don't inspire 'awe' as much as to sit in a dark room to recover from having so many vivid colors bukkaked into our retinas (Is that photo Tatooine or Burning Man? We genuinely can't tell.). And it turns out that these show-offs have been around for ages.
In the 1800s, the baller thing for wealthy, coming-of-age men to do was to embark on a 'grand tour' of Europe. During which time, they were expected to take in as many sights, sounds, and smells as daddy's money would allow. However, as upper-class gentlemen, they couldn't just bring back any old crap to remember their travels by. Whatever would their bros, Chadington and Bradingford, think if they returned home with only a shot glass, lame t-shirt, and douchey fake accent? The social implications were too horrific to even imagine.
From this, the trend for 'vedute' was born -- literally, 'view paintings' that were commissioned by travelers to capture whatever awe-inspiring sight they wanted to take home and remember forever.
There are countless examples of vedute, depicting everywhere from Paris to Rome to Venice, and everything from exquisite gardens to crowded marketplaces to live music performances. They were each captured in such astonishing detail that in the case of a vedute depicting a performance at Rome's Teatro Argentina, it's possible to identify the specific musical passage being performed from how the musicians are positioned.
There are also vedute which depict historical events such as royal weddings and volcanic eruptions, which is pretty cool but also a textbook case of someone doing too much for the 'Dute.
Nose Jobs Are Old as Hell
Despite being the go-to example of our culture's obsession with image and beauty, nose jobs have been around since the dawn of civilization. That's not a joke. The first empire to experiment with rhinoplasty wasn't the Kardashians, it was the Ancient Egyptians in somewhere between 3000 BC to 2500 BC, followed by the Ancient Indians (600 BC) and Not-That-Ancient-Comparatively-But-Still-Pretty-Old Romans (14 AD).
Although each of these cultures left behind a medical text showing how they did rhinoplasty, none compare to how the procedure was performed in Renaissance-era Italy, where -- according to a medical textbook published in 1597 -- the first thing surgeons did was, um, this.
The patient would remain like this for three weeks, which was enough for the sewn-together arm and nose to join together in a nightmarish union of blood and skin. They would then be carefully separated in such a way as to avoid damaging the precious excess skin that'd grown, at which point the surgeon would slice open the patient's nose and using the new skin, reshape the patient's nose into whatever form they wanted, like a flesh tarp.
Unlike today, this procedure was more popular with men than it was with women. At this time, it wasn't uncommon for men to wind up getting their noses cut off or lopped off in duels -- which wasn't only physically devastating, but also socially devastating. You know those jokes about men with big hands and feet having big dongs? In Renaissance Italy, that was the thing for noses and they were deadly fucking serious.
Wanting this procedure meant you had to really want it -- and if you had a small nose, you really wanted it.
Civil War Soldiers Dyed Their Hair to Make Themselves Younger in Photographs
During the Civil War, it wasn't unusual for forts and encampments to contain not just soldiers and war stuff, but a variety of small businesses including taverns, post offices, and photography studios -- where soldiers could buy a print of themselves dressed in their wartime best. Is it a bit odd to have portrait session time in between battles? Maybe, but these photos were incredibly meaningful to soldiers -- who would enclose them in letters back home, so friends and family could not only see how they were getting on but to also have something to remember them by in case ... you know, the war.
With this came a need for soldiers to make themselves look as good as possible. For instance, if a soldier's ratty uniform had him looking like a cosplaying hobo, the studios would often have loaner uniforms. They'd even have prop swords and guns that they could borrow to pimp up their game, like Rudolph noses in lameass Christmas card photos. There was another way too, though few soldiers would ever admit to using it. Make-up? No. Fake muscle suit? No. Hair dye? Yup.
One of the weird quirks of black-and-white photography was that it washed out light-colored hair, which could result in someone with blonde/fair hair looking gray and old as shit. To get around this, soldiers could arrange to have their hair dyed. That way if the worst did happen on the battlefield, they'd be remembered by their loved ones as rugged stallions, not mortals that aged like they drank the from the wrong cup in Last Crusade and got up to pee several times a night.
Though, this isn't to say that hair dye was a perfect solution to everyone's photographic problems. For one, hair dyes back then contained dangerous chemicals such as silver nitrate, turpentine, and sulfur, which, if you paid attention in chemistry class, can respectively cause skin irritation, burns, and neurological damage. For another, according to hair historian (hairstorian?) Sean Trainor, dying one's hair was seen as "foppish, vain, and unnatural." So any soldier who got found out was liable to get ripped on by troops from both sides for the rest of the war.
Tattoos Are Over 5,000 Years Old
You already know that tattoos are old. Except they're not just hundreds of years old or even a thousand (Which, incidentally, is roughly the age of this newly-discovered set of tattooing needles.), they've actually been around for over 5,000 years, as evidenced by Otzi -- an iceman who was discovered on top of a mountain in 1991 by two tourists.
After defrosting Otzi, archaeologists discovered two amazing things about him. First, that he'd been on top of that mountain since 3250 BC. Though it's possible he was "discovered" countless times before then by people too scared to do anything but run, leaving a pee trail in the snow. If we were hiking along a mountain ridge and discovered a petrified, screaming human-shaped husk of skin, we'd leave him be too. We've seen how that horror move ends.
The second thing? Otzi was covered in tattoos. He had 61, all over his body, situated at points where he'd suffered bone degradation or osteoporosis, suggesting that these were medicinal tattoos designed to alleviate pain. And the dude was in PAIN. As we mentioned, he was tatted up everywhere from his wrists and legs to his torso and lower back -- which especially confused archaeologists because up until now, the oldest creature known to science with a back tattoo was your mom.
It's not just Otzi, either. Until 2015, the battle for the world's oldest tattoo-haver was between Otzi and a 6,000-year-old mummy, from the Chinchorro culture of South America, found with a pencil mustache tattooed on their upper lip. However, when this mummy was tested with more precise methods of dating, its age was downgraded (upgraded?), and Otzi clinched the crown. We'd feel sorry for the other guy, but he's clearly the one that started that godawful 'ironic' mustache trend a few years back, so fuck him.
Top image: De Visu/Shutterstock