• Victorian Nipple Rings – Part One

    A longtime legend in the piercing community has it that during the Victorian Era, young women from England were briefly caught up in the fad of having their nipples pierced. It was all the rage, and then it went out of style.

    It’s one of those stories, like Julius Caesar’s own pierced nipples, or King Tut’s stretched lobes, that seems made up, or at least padded with potential exaggeration. It’s the sort of thing that raises eyebrows, challenges how we think about Victorian Culture (The same people who supposedly covered their table’s legs because they too closely resembled female ankles were getting their nipples done?) and just plain seems impossible.

    Victorian Lady

    Like this lady doesn’t look like her nipples would be pierced, does she?

    Except it’s all true, and then some. I’ll get to that. But first, we need some clarification.

    The Victorian Era extends from 1837 to 1901, and that’s the reign of Queen Victoria – who apparently had the lifespan of a Highlander — in England. It’s the time of Charles Dickens, the rise of factories and the middle class. A time when gentlemen belonged to clubs and wore top hats and tails, and ladies wore steel ribbed bustles and wasp-waisted dresses and petticoats. Popular characters who lived the Victorian Lifestyle include none other than Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

    If you want to know why a lot of people thought this was a tall tale, just imagine Dr. Watson saying, By jove, I think her nipples are pierced! It just sounds off somehow.

    And people were, sort of, reserved. But they did not cover their table legs for propriety, that’s a popular myth. It was also an age of gambling, drinking, burlesque shows and pin-ups. There were theaters where you could go see women in lingerie racing chariots pulled by real horses. They also had erotica. Filthy, filthy erotica.

    “…suddenly letting his ***** go as she felt the crisis coming, rammed a couple of her well-oiled fingers up his ******-**** and ******* him there…” That’s a scene from Forbidden Fruit, an erotic novel. That scene, by the way, is between a brother and sister, and it goes on to include their mother and aunt.

    So they weren’t as prudish as we sometimes assume. The era is associated with stiff upper lips, but it could just as easily have been well oiled fingers.

    I started trying to track down evidence of the nipple ring trend, and found plenty of other people on the trail, including some other piercing bloggers and Wikipedia. What everyone had in common was a guy named Stephen Kern, who published a book called Anatomy and Destiny in 1975.

    It completely changes how you watch Downton Abbey.

    It completely changes how you watch Downton Abbey.

    Kern says, “In the late 1890s the ‘bosom ring’ came into fashion briefly and sold in expensive Parisian jewelry shops. These ‘anneaux de sein’ were inserted through the nipple, and some women wore one on either side linked with a delicate chain. The rings enlarged the breasts and kept them in a state of constant excitation…The medical community was outraged by these cosmetic procedures, for they represented a rejection of traditional conceptions of the purpose of a woman’s body.”

    That represents just about everything anyone seemed to have on this. But I checked out Kern’s book and the above passage was cited to Eduard Fuchs, who published something called a moral history, where he talks about the Victorian Nipple Ring trend. The problem with Fuchs was that he wasn’t big on citing sources. He was like the Marco Polo of sex. So the whole thing looked more and more like a tall tale.

    That’s what a lot of people figured it was.

    Then I found The Golden Age of Erotica, published in 1965, which cited the same thing, except they said Fuchs got his idea from a magazine article. A magazine article, published in the 1890s, in Victorian England, about people getting their nipples pierced, and connecting those nipples with chains.

    I’m not going to lie, I let this sit for a while. I wrote other blogs. There were easier stories to tell. I have deadlines. But like a fool, I’d opened my mouth. I’d told people. And everyone who heard about the Victorian Nipple Rings was like, “Wha?” and then they wanted to know more. It started coming up in conversations. Hey man, how’s that Victorian Nipple Ring article coming? And, you know what? I was curious too. Badly.

    Something had to be done. I dusted it off and kept digging and then, one glorious day, I found the magazine: English Mechanic and the World of Science.

    This magazine is filled with informative articles about small engine repair, electricity, how to build your own bicycle, along with more complex subjects like Chemistry and Medicine. Because in the Victorian Era, you could just lump everything together and call it Science. Each article – don’t worry, I’m going somewhere with this – has a number. People write in with questions and they quote the number and name of the article. The person who wrote the article answers them in future articles.

    Victorian Man

    This isn’t really a good Victorian picture. But this guy looked so much like steampunk Mad-Eye Moody that I had to include it.

    In other words, it reads like an 800 page mail-order message board.

    In April of 1888, a man named Jules Orme, a Polish immigrant, wrote in to tell a story. When he was a schoolboy, a bunch of his chums went with him to have their nipples pierced in Lycee, which is what they called High School in France. So to recap, this guy, writing in 1888, got his nipples pierced, with a bunch of his friends, when he was in High School, in France.

    And because this was a Victorian Era message board, this information was received with poise, and responded to in a respectful manner.

    Just kidding. People went apeshit.


    Part Two

    Categories: History & Culture

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