Beauty secrets of Empress Sisi

Empress Elisabeth of Austria (1837-1898) was known for her beauty and was already seen as a style icon in her time. Here are some of the beauty secrets of Empress Sisi.

To preserve her beauty, Sisi turned to unusual resources. She followed strict diets and does daily gymnastics exercises. In all her palaces equipment for physical exercise like rings, horizontal bars and climbing frames places are installed. 

Anorexia nervosa was not yet known at that time, but it is almost certain that Sisi suffered from this disorder. She often ate only Oranges, or and drank milk. Also known is her diet of exclusively meat juices or a mix of egg whites with salt. In addition, she was a large buyer of laxatives at the Court pharmacy.

All these strict measures had an extaordinary result. Empress Sisi has never weighed more than 50 kilo (obviously something more during her pregnancies). Sometimes she even weighed 43.5 pounds.

To accentuate her slim waist she wore a corset, and her dresses were often sewed tight around her body, so no bumps and creases of clasps and buttons were visible. The estimates with regard to her waist size range from 47-55 inches. That her waist was extremely slim can be seen on all images that are known of her. 

One of Elisabeth's formal mourning dresses, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
Sisi in 1853, age 15
Sisi in 1862, age 24
Sisi in 1882, age 44

The hair of Empress Elizabeth

The maintenance of the hair of Empress Elisabeth was also very time consuming. Every two to three weeks the hair, that would touch the ground when she sat on a chair, was washed with eggs and cognac. This ritual would take almost the whole day. Dailey the maintenace of her hair would take abouth 3 hours. 

In april 1863 Sisi hired Fanny Angerer as her personal Hairdresser. Fanny was working in the theater untill than. Empress Sisi had seen a beautiful hair style on one of the lead actresses one evening and wanted to know who had done this. So Fanny changed her job and became partly responsible for the fame of the beauty of Empress Elisabeth. 

It was not an easy job to work for the demanding empress, but on the other hand, Fanny earned the same as professor at the time! Fanny had her tricks to keep Sisi happy. 

Fanny Angerer, Sisi's personal hairdresser

For example, she had a piece of adhesive tape hidden under her apron. During combing sessions she would secretely paste the remaining hair there out of the comb, so afterwards she could show the the Empress a clean comb.

Fanny developed the famous hairstyle where the braids were laid over the head as a tiara. The braids were so long they also covered the head and the back.

Empress Sisi with the famous braids hairstyle

Romy Schneider with the same hairdo, first in the famous "Sissi" film, and second in "Ludwig".

Empress Sisi took her horseback riding very seriously. Of course her hair had to stay neat.

For the horse riding Fanny designed a tight haircut as a Diadem on the head, a hair net had to keep the hair in place. From 1875 Sisi had a bang, which was fashionable than (not my personal favorite!).

Sisi was rarely seen public with her hair down. The famous paintings of her in a robe with loose hair were intended for the private rooms of the emperor Francis Joseph, and not for the public eye. The hair came to her ankles and gave her headaches because it was so heavy, but nevertheless it was her most precious beauty feature of which she was extremely proud.

The famous Paintings “Empress Elisabeth with her Hair down” by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1865

Romy Schneider as Sissi in Visconti's lush film, Ludwig - 1972.

Romy Schneider as Sissi. To the  left in Visconti's lush film, Ludwig - 1972.

To the right in the Sissi Trilogy by Ernst Marischka - 1955

The left one is probably more realistic, compared to the  paintings.

Romy Schneider as Sissi in the Sissi Trilogy by Ernst Marischka - 1955

Sisi's Skin

The bath room of Empress Elisabeth in the Hofburg Palace, Vienna

But all these efforts did have effect because Empress Elisabeth kept looking young and beautiful, even at old age.

She did not think so herself, and when she was past the age of 40 she was not keen on being photographed anymore. She tried to hide behind fans, umbrella’s and gloves, but was pictured sometimes anyway.

Beacause of the fact that the famous Sissi films only cover the first years of the Empresses life, we turn to think that she did not get very old. But in fact when she was killed in 1898 she was 60 years old.

Sisi also used extreme measures to keep he skin soft and beautiful. When she first came to the Hofburg Palace, the sanitation was very poor. Sisi had a bathroom build, a rare novelty in those times. In the bath tub she would frequently bathe in warm olive oil or donkey milk. This would keep her skin soft and young.

On her face she would have masks of strawberries, rose petals and other herbal ingredients. Sounds all lovely, but she would also take  a mask of raw veal, which was kept in place by  leather mask which she would keep on the whole night. I think  Franz Joseph went to his own bedroom on those nights, must not have been a pretty picture!


Empress Sisi hiding behind her fan when someone wants to take her photograph.

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