Vinegar Valentines: hate those you love

In the mid nineteenth Valentines Day started to undergo a disturbing transformation. Sure, the syrupy sonnets proclaiming love were still there, along with the de rigueur over priced gifts and cards, but just under that rose tinted surface something terrible was rising up: a wave of hate disguised as love.

Dubbed Vinegar Valentines, these cards took the guise of traditional valentines, but replaced sentiment with twisted vitriol and cutesy pictures with cruel caricatures.

The only man who smiles on you, via Museum of London
The only man who smiles on you, via Museum of London

So, I hear you ask, what started this mean spirited valentines revolution?

Changes to the postal service.

Sexy, I know….

In the early Victorian era postage was really expensive, but letter writing was the only way to talk to anyone not in walking distance. Lovers, business contacts, family, friends – all needed to be corresponded to through letters, which cost a bomb.

Many tried to save money by doing things like cross writing. Where you first wrote vertically and then when you ran out of room, turned the page horizontally (at a right angle) and wrote over the letters first part. It may have saved on paper but to our eyes it looks way more like a cipher than any discernible letter (it was a rough time to be dyslexic)

As the era progressed and the number of people able to read and write rose, the fact that much of Britain was priced out of communication became a huge issue. A massive national campaign for affordable post was sparked and by 1840 the battle was won – the penny post was born.

Once postage prices plummeted, Britain went card crazy. The country went from sending 200,000 cards in 1820 to a staggering 1,500,000 by the 1870s.

Valentines cards saw a spike, especially since the amends to the post also meant you could now send cards anonymously. Thus there was a boom in embossed, frilly cards. With some men purportedly saving a months salary so they could send OTT embellished card making confections to their paramours.

Embossed Valentines, 1860s-1880s, via Museum of London
Embossed Valentines, 1860s-1880s, via Museum of London – the workmanship that went into this, you just can’t bin come 16th Feb

But not everyone wanted to spend a months rent on a fancy card, nor did they necessarily want to spread the love.

Printed on cheap paper, crudely coloured and sold for a penny, Vinegar Valentines, were the answer.

Many of these cards were bought as a joke gift to send to a mate, poking fun at something they were self conscious about (e.g their weight, lack of hair or low paying job) which still seems like kind of a dick move, but let’s be generous and file this one away under ‘banter’.

Still, for as many people that used the cards for a fun joke amongst friends, there were others who were excitedly using the fact they could send the cards anonymously to target someone they loathed.

Just have to tell an ex they’re going to die alone? There’s a vinegar Valentine for that. Co-worker you want to knock down a peg? Yep, vinegar valentine for that too. Woman turned you down and now you need to point out all her flaws? Of course, there was a vinegar Valentine for that!

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Though there are archives containing Vinegar Valentines, not a great deal survive. Not that surprising, after all whose going to hang onto something designed for personal insult? Much like we hit the delete key today, Victorians threw these vitriolic messages in the bin.

But there’s still so much that we can learn from the surviving cards! And kind of horrifyingly, we can see that not a lot as changed in well over 100 years!

Lesson 1: The majority of the cards were targeted at women.

Drawing from the archives, we can see that there was a mix of genders, but there is a roughly 60:40 split, with women being the focus of the majority. Interesting when you consider that…

Lesson 2: The cards insults drew from people stepping outside of societal norms

Be it physical or lifestyle based, the cards took a shot at it. From being slightly bigger, single at 40 or in a job deemed outside of gender norms.

Lesson 3: Those deemed ‘lower class’ were blamed for the cards.                         Vinegar Valentines were condemned as morally reprehensible, ripping the fabric of mannered society. So of course, it was those in ‘lower social standing’ who were pointed at as the perpetrators, suggesting that this huge group of people may have fought for the right to communicate but had then used that power to create a harder, harsher world to live in.

And just like with trolling today, Vinegar Valentines had fatalities. In London in 1885 it was reported that a husband shot and killed his wife, after receiving a card that he believed could only have been from her. There were also suicides, with deaths happening shortly after the recipient got the card in the post.

So what happened? Why don’t we still have Vinegar Valentines? 

Well… Vinegar Valentines died out. 

By the end of the Victorian era they just were not as popular. That’s not to say they disappeared completely, sticking around right up to the early and mid 20th century:

show off, later Vinegar Valentine
‘You claim you’re good at anything! so come on show some proof. And let me see how good you are at jumping off the roof!!’

There are a couple of reasons for these cards dying out. The social demonization of the cards didn’t help, especially as many people at the time aspired to one day escape the working classes. Later when the First World War hit, people understandably didn’t really love the idea of using their precious letters to loved ones to send hate.

And of course there is the really schmaltzy reason – given the choice, most people would rather send out love than hate.

  • Oh, that and people evolved into finding new and better ways of telling people they hated them.
Yeah sorry to end that on such a downer. Ok. Bye

This was interesting! Where can I find out more? Brighton Unviersity has a great paper on Vinegar Valentines, by Annabella Pollen, which you can download for free here

More great stuff likes this:

History Fight! Who had the best royal wedding dress in history?

Who doesn’t love a wedding? Trick question! Everyone does. There’s cake, booze and tons of stuff to secretly judge (we all do, its fine!)…sadly though there are also dull great aunts, too long speeches and the fact that wearing heels for more than 3 hours is basically torture.

And THAT my friends is why a Royal Wedding, is the best kind of wedding.

You can not so secretly judge away at every little detail, free from guilt and without any form of shoe based pain! THE DREAM.

So in that judgemental spirit, we’ll be pitting iconic royal wedding dresses against each other to discover which royal bride had the best (and worst) dress in history!

For this we will be ranking each on the below categories (out of 10) 

  • Dress functionality (because everyone needs to be pee)
  • Poofyness (v important)
  • Sass factor (also v important)
  • Ability to look back at pictures without thinking you looked an absolute twat

 I’ll also be taking away 5 points if the dress is so expensive that you need to sell your organs/first born to afford it.

At the end we’ll see which historic wedding dress wins!

Right then! Lets get started!!!! 

wedding dresses.gif
settle in, it’s gonna get messy!

For much of history, wedding dresses were only a thing for the rich. They were a chance to show of wealth and status; because, well..marriage was an exchange of goods between families and the dress was just a chance to show off how awesome those goods were (sad but true!)

So where as poorer brides would wear their nicest dress, rich brides would deck themselves in jewels, embroidery, beading and sumptuous fabrics in all colours of the rainbow.

That’s right, colours! Vivid reds and blues, yellows, even golds. This dress would serve as a girls best dress for a while, so why waste it on a colour that gets dirty crazy easily and is hard to wear again?

Well, logic like that doesn’t matter if you’re…

Mary Queen of Scots

In 1558 Mary Queen of Scots married Francis, Dauphin of France, in a no expenses spared ceremony in Paris.

The coming together of two countries was an auspicious occasion that demanded the best in lavish excess and Mary more than held up her end of things with her dress.

Mary Queen of Scots, wedding picture.jpg
Hooray for child weddings!

The train of Mary’s dress was over 10 ft long and so stuffed with jewels that it required two ladies maids to hold it aloft at all times!

Mary carried the theme of all the jewels into her accessories, rocking a golden cornet and necklace, both absolutely stuffed with gems.

Yet despite all its rocks Mary’s dress caused quite the scandal; you see Mary…..


The scandalous bitch!

Now, in the 16th century white was a colour of mourning, not really the vibe you want for a wedding.

BUT white was Mary’s favourite colour! She thought it made her look amazing and emphasised her porcelain skin and auburn hair; so haters be damned, she was wearing god damn white if she wanted to.

Sadly it didn’t prove to be a great sartorial choice.

Two years after the wedding, Mary’s groom died, which caused the French court to claim that Mary’s white dress was to blame, as her poor fashion choices must have cursed their wedding and killed her hubby!


Functionality: 3/10 (you need 2 ladies to carry the dress at all times, it doesn’t say much for how likely you are to be able to pee…)

Poofyness: 6/10

Sass Factor: 10/10

Ability to look back without thinking you looked an absolute twat: 0/10 (sorry, but if people think your dress killed your husband, its not great is it now?)

And I’ll be taking away 5 points for cost, as even for a Royal all those gems are leaving you out of pocket!

Overall: 14/40

Princess Charlotte

Princess Charlotte of Wales was a hugely popular royal; heir to the throne and  a bit of a fashionista – it shouldn’t come as a surprise that her 1816 wedding to Prince Leopold (later King of Belgium) was a big fucking deal!

On the morning of the wedding people lined the streets hoping to catch a glimpse of Charlotte. And when she finally emerged, she caused an immediate stir.

Princess Charlottes Wedding Dress
This is most likely only 1 part of Charlottes dress…but still, so pretty!

Charlottes dress was made of a woven silver thread with intricate embroidered flowers on the hem.

Under the dress was a tissue slip made of the same silver thread and on top was a sheer silk netting. Charlotte’s mantua was an estimated 7.4 feet and she was also dripping in diamonds.  It’s even said that Charlotte had diamonds in her hair.

I repeat. Diamonds. In. Her. Hair.

The whole thing cost an estimated £10,000. Or in a todays money, a cool 800k.

I’m sorry now…how much?


Functionality: 5/10 (The fact that she didn’t need help to move is a plus, but that 7 foot mantua must have made going through doors a bloody nightmare!)

Poofyness: 7/10

Sass Factor: 8/10

Ability to look back without thinking you looked an absolute twat: 7/10

I’ll be taking away 5 points for cost, as a wedding dress shouldn’t cost the same as a Donald Trump golfing holiday.   

Overall rating: 22/40


Queen Victoria

Victoria wanted a lot from her dress. You see, big priority for her was making sure that her dress reflected British industries, which would grow British trade (admittedly a bit of a big ask for a dress!)

More than that though, Victoria wanted her dress to make it clear her new husband was not becoming her subject. See, Victoria was really traditional and in marrying Albert she wanted to become his wife, not his Queen.

So Vic dumped the red ceremonial robes and instead plumped for something demure, simple and British made. Queen Victoria Wedding DressKeen to promote the hand made British lace industry (which was taking a bit of a battering thanks to the industrial revolution!) Vic decided to cover her dress in delicate lace.

And to make the lace really stand out, Vic went rogue.

She wore an all white dress.

Victoria was actually the first British royal to ever wear an all white dress. And it wasn’t to symbolise purity (she wore Orange Blossom to symbolise that!) the white, was just to pimp out British lace.

BUT the trend stuck. Soon brides all over the country were copying the Queen and wearing a white dress for their weddings.


Functionality: 10/10     

Poofyness: 4/10

Sass Factor: 5/10  

Ability to look back without thinking you looked an absolute twat: 10/10 (when you start a 100+ year old wedding trend, you kinda nailed kt…)  

As Victoria’s dress was used to promote British industry, I’ll be taking away no points!

Overall rating: 29/40


Wallis Simpson

When Wallis Simpson was picking out her wedding dress for her 1937 marriage to The Duke of Windsor (formally King Edward Vlll) she was walking a very precarious tightrope of public opinion.

Everyone was still pretty pissed off that the King had abdicated to be with her, plus Wallis was a two time divorcee, which people weren’t fans of.

Both gossip magazines and the public thought it would be deeply inappropriate for her to wear white, as she’d been married before! Colour wasn’t the only issue facing Wallis.

She wouldn’t be getting a huge royal wedding (In the same way Edward now wouldn’t be getting his huge royal coronation…) so if she stepped out in full princess poof…well…it wouldn’t go well.

Basics this. But with more pitchforks 

Luckily Wallis wasn’t the fro fro princess type. After all this was the lady who famously said:

 ‘you can never be too rich or too thin’

*not great advice, btw  
Wallis Simpson Wedding Dress

Wallis opted for a simple understated dress in a bespoke pale blue (dubbed ‘Wallis Blue’ as it matched her eyes)

She followed royal protocol, covering her cleavage and arms, but bar that it was nipped in, slinky and all in all, a big two fingers up to the monarchy.

Instead of a veil Wallis wore a hat with a tulle ‘halo’.

Sources from the time suggested the ‘halo’ was to help people warm to her and see her in a less demonised way; wearing a literal halo seems a bit on the nose, but it’s your wedding day, you do you boo.


Functionality: 10/10

Poofyness: 0/10

Sass Factor: 7/10  

Ability to look back without thinking you looked an absolute twat: 7/10   

 Overall rating: 24/40


Diana, Princess of Wales

Truly the Kardashians of wedding dresses. You can’t get away from it. It’s everywhere. It’s even got it’s own Wikipedia page!!!!

diana wedding dress gif.gif

Designed by David and Elizabeth Emanuel, Diana’s dress was huge. Both in scale of the global media attention it received (and continues to get!) and in the form of the actual dress.

The train came in at 25 feet. It had thousands of pearls and and sequins sewn throughout its many many layers. Estimates for the dress cost vary, but the latest one (from the designer) is just under £4,500 (at the current exchange rate) which seems a bit of a steal!

diana wedding dresspic

Within hours of Diana appearing in the dress, brides were calling up for copies and soon a decade long love of meringue dresses was born. 


Functionality: 3/10  *cough* 25ft train

Poofyness: 10/10

Sass Factor: 5/10

Ability to look back without thinking you looked an absolute twat: 3/10 (I’m sorry!)    

Overall rating: 21/40


So the results are in!

I can reveal that official (ish) best wedding dress in history is: 

Queen Victoria’s wedding dress from her 1840 wedding to Prince Albert!

Yay! Look how happy with her win!!

 What do you think? Is this the right pick?

Which dress would you wear? Let me know!

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