Love is in the air this Valentine’s Day. As we get out our Valentine’s cards, chocolates, and candy hearts, we decided to look back on how love, dating, and the holiday have changed over the years. From 325 year old lonely hearts ads to outdated advice for single ladies, we’ve compiled some of the most unusual love rituals throughout history.
The First Valentine’s Day Involved Lots of Goat Skin
Far from the hearts and chocolates of today, Valentine’s Day likely started in Ancient Rome. The festival of Lupercalia was held from February 13th-15th to celebrate fertility. Men would sacrifice a goat, then whip women with those fresh goat skins as a sign of...love? People believed the practice would increase fertility. Whether it did or not isn’t know, but it did decrease the goat population of Rome.
As Christians took over, they turned Pagan holidays into Christian celebrations. So Lupercalia became St. Valentine's Day. Fortunately, all the goat skin parts of the holiday faded away, but the St. Valentine's name stuck.
Heart-Shaped Boxes of Chocolates Have Been Around More Than 150 Years
Love and chocolate have been connected since the Aztecs. So, as the modern traditions of Valentine’s Day started taking shape in the 1800s, it makes sense that chocolate became the main way to celebrate the day.
Cadbury was the first to have the bright idea of combining the two biggest symbols of the holiday. In 1868, Cadbury released the first Valentine’s heart-shaped chocolate box out to the world and it’s been a staple of the holiday ever since.
The Internet Trolls of the 1800s
As Valentine’s Day cards grew popular in the mid-1800s, a different kind of card started popping up — the Vinegar Valentine. Instead of proclaiming love and affection, Vinegar Valentine’s were just plain mean. Basically, a Vinegar Valentine was an easy way to say “I hate you” or “You’re ugly” to the unpleasant people in your life.
Vinegar Valentine’s said everything from “you’ll die alone” to “you think you’ve got a pretty smile, but actually it’s horrible.” Of course, the cards would doll up the language with a cute rhyme or poem, but the cruel sentiment was the same. Eventually, people didn’t like spreading this negativity on Valentine’s Day and the cards fell out of fashion. Today, we save these kinds of hateful words for YouTube comments or Twitter.
Singles Ads from 1695
Though singles ads seem like a fairly modern way to get a date for Valentine’s Day, they’ve actually been around for 325 years! In 1695, a pamphlet in London held an advertisement from a 30 year old man looking for “a gentlewoman with a fortune of 3000 pounds or thereabout.” Try putting that on your Tinder profile!
Fill Your Dance Card
Going dancing to find a date doesn’t seem too unusual, until you dive deeper into the world of Dance Cards. In Victorian times, you couldn’t just go around dancing with anyone. It had to all be carefully laid out.
A lady would get a dance card which listed all the dances of the evening (waltz, polka, macarena, etc.). Then, the gentlemen would pencil in his name next to the dance he’d like to claim. If she filled her dance card, the lady got to dance with a variety of men throughout the evening. For most women, they hoped one of these dances would lead to a “date” (mostly walking around near your beau with a chaperone nearby), which could lead to an engagement.
Meet Me In St. Louis features a lovely scene of matchmaking gone awry, as Judy Garland gets stuck with a lousy dance card. Thankfully, now we don’t have to worry about carefully planned dancing partners. We just have to worry about our nights at the club showing up on YouTube.
Computer Dating in the 1960s
Heading to the internet is the easiest way to find a date for Valentine's Day in 2020, but computer matchmaking started before the internet!
In the 1960s, people could take a questionnaire analyzing their 64 compatibility areas, mail their answers to the Scientific Marriage Foundation, and wait for a room-sized computer to crunch the numbers and find them love. In an ad called “How to be comfortable with computer dating” from Life Magazine in 1969, it said:
Properly programmed, the computer should pull many names out of its memory bank, just for you. But make sure you get more than just a name, address, and phone number before you get together. We’ve developed a referral sheet which gives you vital statistics and a photograph of everyone the computer says you should meet...Nothing cute, just the facts about someone who may become mighty important to you. And we think that’s mighty important.
Head to the Hottest Spot in Town - T.G.I. Fridays
Today, your Valentine’s date might not be thrilled if you say you’re going to a hot new bar and you show up at T.G.I. Fridays. But T.G.I. Fridays wasn’t originally made to be a kitschy chain restaurant — it was a single’s bar!
According to The New Yorker, the first T.G.I. Fridays opened on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in 1965. At the time, it was still unusual for a woman to go to a bar without male accompaniment of some kind. But attitudes were changing, women and men clearly wanted an easy place to meet, and T.G.I. Fridays came to the rescue.
Decked out in ferns, bright lights, and welcoming domestic decor, T.G.I. Fridays looked brighter and safer than your average bar and it welcomed single people of all kinds. The summer it opened, T.G.I. Fridays had to hire additional staff to handle the long lines of young people waiting to hit up the coolest place in the city.
Other bars followed suit and soon enough more “fern bars” opened up on the Upper East Side, then the rest of New York, and the whole country was soon awash in singles saloons.
Don’t Talk About Hair
Educational films have been around pretty much as long as film, but the 1950s really take the cake for creating movies for almost any educational purpose. In “Beginning to Date,” the narrator offers girls some key advice: “Don’t talk about hair.”
“What does George know about hair?” the narrator asks. Instead, the film recommends talking about things the both parties would enjoy, instead of the “boring” female things like hair and makeup.
Thankfully, we no longer have films telling women what they should and shouldn’t talk about on dates. Though, if they made an educational film about the perils of ghosting, I might watch.
The history of dating is almost as interesting as the history of beauty. Find out more about fantastical moments of cosmetic history in Classic Beauty: The History of Makeup by Gabriela Hernadez