Seeking Handsome Beauty

Victorian English Silver Brooch with Botanical Spray (LEO Design)

For at least the last 100 years, the adjective “Handsome” has been reserved only for describing men or masculine objects.  Prior to that, it was a frequently-used description for a certain type of woman, a woman of  sense and substance.  A “handsome woman” meant a female who was good-looking, yes, but also healthy and strong—clearly not an insult when used by writers like Jane Austen.  Perhaps “handsome” connoted maturity and experience, also not bad things.  Today the term, when applied to a woman or a feminine object, might be mis-understood by its contemporary recipient, which is unfortunate.

The pin above, which I bought in London earlier this summer, is what I would call “handsome.” It is clearly feminine, intended for a woman’s lapel or scarf.  But it comes from the 1880’s, when girlishness was a characteristic few sensible women expected (or hoped) they would preserve indefinitely.  It was also a time when the Queen, Victoria, set the fashion trend—and she was still mourning the loss of her husband, Prince Albert.


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