How Could You Spot A Prostitute In The 19th Century?

DATED: 16.10.15

Here at, we are certain that this question is something that has frequented all of you Ripperologists out there. How are we to know if Jack the Ripper struggled to find his victims if they were not earmarked as ladies-of-the-night in the heart of the East End…

Well, just in case this was a problem that was causing you a loss of sleep, we have come up with a very handy guide to help you pinpoint the Courtesans in their natural environment.


Typically, a Victorian lady who was selling her body would advertise this with showy materials and linens. In particular, they would tighten their corsets, accentuating their busts and drawing attention to their figure.

It was common for a woman’s dress to be completed with a bonnet and shawl. However, to drum up custom, the prostitutes would forgo these accessories and raise their dress or skirt a little higher, giving sight to their ankles and stockings.

As was typical of the Victorian era, ringlets were the in-style for hair, and women who were looking for a little more than a glance would allow these ringlets to fall from their up-do, in order to create a more attractive look.

Economic Class

Ordinarily, women would target their male counterparts within the same socio-economic class. This would allow them to recognise their customers and match their needs. While some were what we would now refer to as ‘street-walkers’, others worked within brothels, military barracks and public houses.

There were only a few that were lucky enough to be employed as Mistresses. For example,  Nancy in Oliver Twist, who appeared to be the long-term partner of Bill Sykes.

Many females who had been in the business for some time would be running brothels or housing the younger prostitutes, offering them a safe(er) place to live and work than the streets. Click here to learn more about our Halloween tour special and more Ripper facts.

Powdered Cheeks

While the majority of females in the 21st century will apply make-up as part of their daily routine, working women of the night would powder their faces to excess and apply red cheeks to imply health.

Some recent findings have highlighted evidence that perhaps this very powder was toxic and damaging to skin,  but unfortunately,  this has come forward a little too late.

So, was it likely to be overly tricky for Jack the Ripper to find a victim amid the bust(ling) Victorian East End? Probably not, especially if he was local. If you fancy taking a look at his surroundings, and indeed those of his tragic victims, then come and check out one of our tours right here!


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