Day 7 of 30 days with Daisy.
Don’t forget if you want to win the copy of Fiona’s Wish, tell me which post you’ve enjoyed most so far, and leave me your contact address.
As I promised, today I’m talking about hair.
If one era screams big hair it has to be the 18th century. In the late 1700’s they did things with hair not seen before and what fun was had by hairdressers. However, a century is a long time and my story A Gentleman’s Folly is set in 1754 and the huge hair styles that would become so famous were not yet the fashion.
These images show the styles in vogue in the 1750’s.
Notice here the hair seems almost short and is savagely tamed into tight waves. This was done with curling tongs which had to be carefully heated and applied to avoid damaging the scalp and worse, if you have seen the lovely film Little Women you may recollect the ringlet of hair dropping off the hot tongs held on too long. All of us can only imagine the smell.
This 1750’s style is different from the dangling false curls of later era’s. These tight little waves cover the front of the head and move toward the back where short neck length ringlets hang. These darling curled locks can engender great interest from a gentleman.
Flowers were used as decorations, ribbons, jewelled combs too. The whole effect was nature tamed but not yet tortured. I happen to like this style and think it offered young women the chance to show off their slender and sculpted features. Those women over a certain age must have felt wretched, because it’s a damn unforgiving style, and after a certain lifetime milestone best covered with a lacy cap.
You can imagine with all the curling and heat the scope for damaged hair, for frizzels and general bad hair days was massive. This style was used with natural hair colours and then powder became the latest must have. At first a little but later much more was used. Once pomade and powder became fashionable hair washing must have seemed like pasty day. One such unpleasantness befalls my poor heroine in A Gentleman’s Folly, but I won’t tell you too much about that as it would spoil the surprise.
Hair was not washed as often as it is today. Most women’s day to day grooming was done with brushing. I suppose it was cheaper to pay a maid to brush than wash. When the hair was washed there was no shampoo such as we know and as soap could cause damage to scalp and hair people were cautious with its use. Herbal blends were used and dry hair was treated with flower oils.
I can say in truth, my teenage son who suffered greatly with eczema and sometimes couldn’t tolerate shampoo went for months without washing his hair with shampoo. He followed the 18th century wet and comb to remove dust, and did nothing more. His hair, as he was a student was shoulder length, and it shone lustrous because the natural oils did the job. But that’s another story. Back to the 18th century.
If you were among the rich and lived in London or Bath you could get a hairdresser to come and attend you at home. This man, and as far as I know they were all men, would wash, cut or trim hair as necessary, singe it too, and entertain you with conversation while your hair dried enough for the tongs to be applied. Thus gossip rolled around the town.
Some of you may be shaking your head and saying yesterday you said some of them shaved their heads because of lice. Yes, I did and yes, they did. Age can do terrible things to hair, I know. In the 18th century treatments were few and if medical conditions damaged hair then the razor might have been a help. A pretty wig or hair piece would have helped women feel better about their appearance and themselves. Also the head lice issue was less likely to be a bother and some women liked to have several wigs in the most fashionable style.
This fabulous cartoon says so much.
I’ve included some images of the later 1700’s when hair towered above the head wrapped over metal cages to create the enormous styles. I’ve included two images of the woman who did so much to popularise this extravagant style. Each hair design could take several hours to complete and might last its owner over two weeks. As the whiteness came from powder applied over pomade which was made of fat it eventually must have dried out to a kind of biscuit texture. A recipe from the Gentleman’s Gazzete states pomade could be made from lard, apples and herbs, sadly the quantities are not given. Happy mice might have ensued as women kept their hair designs in place and slept with them as they were.
In houses that often had mice, stories are told of ladies discovering the little creatures nesting in their hair. On an examination of evidence to ascertain the truth of this I find opinions divided. Therefore I may well be continuing a myth to say it wouldn’t surprise me that hair became infested with bugs and mice when such a banquet of goodies was available to lure them. There is evidence of considerable head scratching going on as long handled scratchers were invented to deal with the itches.The fashion for powdered hair continued until the era of the French Revolution when there was a huge back-lash against such ostentation and women wore their hair long and loose before the return of classical styles.
All images taken from Wikipedia under free commons Licence.