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.

Portrait of Empress Elizabeth by Georg RaabPortrait of Empress Elizabeth by Georg Raab

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Sisi in 1853, age 15Sisi in 1853, age 15
Sisi in 1862, age 24Sisi in 1862, age 24
Sisi in 1882, age 44Sisi in 1882, age 44
Sisi in 1897, age 59Sisi in 1897, age 59

To preserve her beauty, Sisi turned to unusual resources. She followed strict diets and does gymnastics exercises on a daily basis. In all her palaces equipment for physical exercise is installed. Rings hanging in the doorway, horizontal bars and climbing frames placed.  

Hofburg Vienna, Empress Elisabeth’s dressing/exercise room (Vienna Hofburg, Imperial Apartments) © Schloß Schönbrunn Kultur- und Betriebsges.m.b.H. - Lois LammerhuberEmpress Elisabeth’s dressing/exercise room (Vienna Hofburg, Imperial Apartments)

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 famous 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.

One of Elisabeth's formal mourning dresses, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

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

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. 

The hair of Empress Elizabeth

Fanny Angerer, Sisi's personal hairdresserFanny Angerer, Sisi's personal hairdresser

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. The daily maintenance of Sisi's hair would take about 3 hours. 

In April 1863 Sisi hired Fanny Angerer as her personal Hairdresser. Fanny was working in the theater until than. Empress Sisi had seen a beautiful hairstyle on one of the lead actresses one evening and wanted to know who was responsible for 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 a University professor at the time! Fanny had her tricks to keep Sisi happy. 

For example, she had a piece of adhesive tape hidden under her apron. During combing sessions she would secretly paste the remaining hair there out of the comb, so afterward she could show 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
Empress Sisi with the famous braids hairstyle

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 then (not my personal favorite!).

From 1875 Sisi had a bang, which was fashionable than
From 1875 Sisi had a bang, here with flowers
Empress Elisabeth of Austria, ca 1890

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.

Empress Elisabeth with her Hair down by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1865
Empress Elisabeth with her hair down by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1865. This was the favorite painting of Franz-Joseph.

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 in Visconti's lush film, Ludwig - 1972
Romy Schneider as Sissi in the Sissi Trilogy by Ernst Marischka - 1955Romy Schneider as Sissi in the Sissi Trilogy by Ernst Marischka - 1955

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.

Fanny (Franziska) Angerer - Feifalik

Fanny's  efforts resulted in receiving the title  “imperial hairdresser" and becoming indispensable to the Empress. Sometimes Sis even refused attending official occasions because Fanny was not available to do her hair!

You can image that Empress Elisabeth was not amused when she learned that Fanny had fallen in love. She wanted to get married with a banker called Hugo Feifalik, a commoner! This would of course mean that Fanny could not remain in service of the court. Elisabeth spook with the emperor and after his intervention Fanny was allowed to stay on after her mariage Her husband got a position at court in the secretarial staff.  The Feifalik's served the empress for the next thirty years.

Fun Fact; Elisabeth would use Fanny as a double when she was visiting abroad. Fanny would attent the official meetings and farewells, and Elisabeth, who detested these attentions, could dissapear and go on a sightseeing tour or boat trip unattended. Fanny loved receiving the cheers of the curious public, so it made them both happy!

Fanny Angerer, Sisi's hairdresser, would stand-in on official occasions abroad.

Sisi's Skin

The bathroom of Empress Elisabeth in the Hofburg Palace, ViennaThe bathroom of Empress Elisabeth in the Hofburg Palace, Vienna

Sisi also used extreme measures to keep her 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 hides behind her fan when someone takes her photograph.Empress Sisi hides behind her fan when someone takes her photograph.

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.

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