Weird History

Just How Poor Was People’s Hygiene During The French Revolution?

Today, we think of 1700s-era France as a period of unwashed and unparalleled squalor. While this is partially a misconception, it does contain some truth. During the 18th century, people's attitudes towards personal hygiene were laxer than they are today, for a variety of reasons.

In a world without the hundreds of modern conveniences we take for granted, personal hygiene was expensive and logistically difficult to maintain. Besides that, experts of the time believed that being too clean was unhealthy. Towards the end of the century, medical and scientific advances showed the benefits of cleanliness, and hygiene was gradually understood to be beneficial. Despite this, cleanliness was still a luxury reserved for the elite.

The French Revolution (1789-1799) was meant to secure more rights for all citizens, and it completely transformed the country's political landscape. However, it also changed the day-to-day aspects of French lives, including people's hygiene. For many living in the 21st century, bathing is little more than a mundane habit, but during the French Revolution, hygiene was very much a political issue.