Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Truth about the Big Hair of the 1770s: Part II: How They Did It

Thursday, July 24, 2014
Isabella reporting,

Considering the towering hairstyles worn by women in the 1770s, the question that inevitably comes to mind is "how did they do it?" For the answer, I turned to two of our friends from Colonial Williamsburg, the manuta-maker's apprentices of the Margaret Hunter shop: Abby Cox and Sarah Woodyard.

These two young women not only dress in the clothing of the 1770s on a daily basis, but they are constantly researching the period to make their "look" as authentic as possible. Because they participated in the fashion trades, 18th c. milliners, mantua-makers, and their shop assistants dressed in the latest styles as a form of advertising as well as personal preference. This can be seen in prints like the one, right, where the milliners are wearing elaborate hair and caps. (For a photograph of the Margaret Hunter shop's interpretation of this print for a recent conference, see here - plenty more big hair!)

As part of her apprenticeship, Abby has been searching primary sources and prints for the secrets of these hairstyles, and of Georgian hair-care in general. Here are a few of her findings (and many thank to her for sharing them!)

First, forget 21st notions of bouncy, squeaky-clean hair. Eighteenth-century women did not scrub their hair clean, so much as cleanse it. Instead of daily lathering of soap and water (which can damage hair), they worked pomatum into the hair with their fingers, added powder, and then brushed and combed vigorously. The pomatum could have been made at home or purchased, and consisted of animal fat plus fragrance. The powder could have included a variety of finely-ground products: wheat, corn, or potato starch, acorn, and tapioca, with ground sheep or beef bones and ground orris-root for a light floral scent.

Following recipes in The Toilet of Flora, first published in 1772 (and here online), Abby made pomatum of mutton fat and pig's lard with essence of lemon and clove oil, to be kept in a jar. I can report that this mixture smelled absolutely, delightfully spicy – plus, as Abby noted, clove oil is a natural flea and tick repellent. Her hair powder featured ground cuttlebone. Think of the pomatum as a rich, deep conditioner applied as a kind of scalp massage, followed by the powder as dry shampoo. This treatment is hardly limited to the Georgians, either. Indian women, known for their beautiful, long hair, have long followed a similar cleansing regimen of oiling and combing.

This process was done frequently, too. No matter how elaborate the style, Georgian women always took their hair down at night and combed it out. For many women, this was likely a relaxing, aromatherapeutic ritual for the end of the day - although there were no doubt some lazy, slovenly hussies who didn't, giving rise to the myths about maggots.

Hair that had been treated like this made styling much easier, just as modern hairdressers rely on powdered dry shampoo to add texture and body before attempting up-dos. More powder was dusted on before styling to achieve the fashionable matte, "dusty" look of powder and to make dark hair paler. Unlike the beehives of the 1950's-60's, Georgian women did not tease their hair, but added extra volume with padded forms called rollers and cushions, middle right. Think of them as the 18th c. answer to Bumpits.

Sewn of wool cloth to match the wearer's hair, these were shaped pillows stuffed lightly with down or sheep's wool. The hair was wrapped around, (that's Abby demonstrating, middle left), or pulled through the forms, and smoothed and pinned (with u-shaped hairpins) into the desired shape. Side curls could be rolled and pinned into place, and extra touches could include braids or false curls. (Wearing a more elaborate style, above left, is the third of the shop's summer interns, Rebecca Starkins, a PhD candidate at N.Y.U. in English literature.) There was no mousse, gel, or hairspray; the pomatum and the powder offered the necessary staying-power.

How long would all this take a busy 18th c. apprentice before she appeared for work? If Abby and Sarah are any indication, not long at all. They accomplished these elaborate styles in about ten to fifteen minutes, or less time than many modern young women spend with blow-dryers and flat-irons. A skilled 18th c. professional hairdresser would have been able to perform the basics in less time, plus construct a more towering edifice of hair complete with flowers, ribbons, and strands of pearls.

More impressive still is the fact that both Abby and Sarah have both given up modern hair care products altogether, and "practice what they preach" with pomatum and powder. When they go visit their (modern) hairdressers for a cut, they're greeted with amazement, for their hair is healthy, strong, and thick - and, they swear, in better condition than ever. Hmm...perhaps the old ways ARE the best.

For the record: The length of Abby's hair is just below her shoulders, Sarah's is to the middle of her back, and Rebecca's is to her waist. Many thanks to them all!

Upper right: detail, A Morning Ramble, or - The Milliners' Shop, published by Carington Bowles, 1782. The British Museum.
Photographs by the Margaret Hunter Shop and Susan Holloway Scott.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Gothic Grand Piano for July 1826

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Gothic grand piano
Gothic piano description
Loretta reports:

This is not at all what we’re accustomed to, in the way of grand pianos.  But as the text informs us, a piano was a relatively new instrument, so there wasn’t much in the way of preconceived notions about what it ought to look like.  The idea, as explained, is to make the instrument match the decor, and the Gothic* style was well loved.  Though many associate classic Greek simplicity with this time period, "more is more” tended to be the design ideal, most notably for the sovereign (formerly Prince Regent), King George IV.

*Previous posts on the Gothic style include Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill, looking glasses, dairy houses, and cottages.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Truth about the Big Hair of the 1770s: Part One

Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Isabella reporting,

Even people who don't know anything about 18th c. women's fashion know about the hair. Towering hair styles, wigs filled with maggots, clouds of powder making everyone sneeze - EVERYONE knows that!

They may know it, but that version isn't quite right. Negative myths about past-fashion like maggot-filled wigs and rib-breaking corsets are so easy to accept because they're self-congratulatory. We're so much wiser now in 2014, aren't we?

The truth about the elaborate hair styles of the 1770s is actually more interesting than the myths, and makes more sense, too. Yes, it's an extreme style, first worn at the French Court before traveling to England. It's a status-fashion, too. The complexity of the styles showed that the wearer had both the leisure-time to devote to her hair, and most often the wealth to employ a professional hairdresser or accomplished lady's maid to achieve it. The height framed the face, and balanced out the full skirts of the period, creating a proportion that was much admired at the time. (Anyone who believes modern fashion is beyond extremes like this need only recall the huge power-shoulders popular in women's clothing of the 1980s.)

The Duchess of Beaufort, above left, is going for the height of formal hair, with a very large hair style given a dusting of pale powder; her natural brunette color is just showing through the powder.

Big hair was considered stylish for less formal wear, too. Mrs. Vere, upper right, is simply dressed. Her hair is not powdered, and while it's free of ribbons and hats, it is still piled and pinned to a towering height.

Nor were the tall hairstyles limited to the upper classes. From contemporary prints and paintings, it's clear that women who aspired to fashion - maidservants, actresses, milliners, and mantua-makers, as well as the mistresses of wealthy gentlemen - also copied the taller styles. The bar maid, middle left, crowns her hair with an elaborate cap, the better to beguile her customers.

What astonishes me is that these styles were, for the most part, not wigs, but the wearer's own hair. Nearly all Georgian gentlemen cropped their hair short and wore wigs, but few women did. Women did not cut their hair, but let it grow as long as possible. This hair was augmented with pads and rollers (more about these in Part Two), and if necessary enhanced with false curls and switches. Further embellishment came in the form of plumes, caps, hats, swags of ribbon and strands of faux pearls.

Of course, the caricaturists had a field day. The extreme hair styles were exaggerated even more, like the lady, bottom right, who is wearing an entire flower garden (including a folly) in her hair. You'll find another print here, and here. Not only could such prints make fun of the tall styles, but they also mocked the vanity of women and the foolishness of French fashions: a triple-win for the caricaturists.

But how did those women in the 1770s make their hair do this? Thanks to some of my good friends (including mantua-maker's apprentice Sarah Woodyard, bottom left) from Colonial Williamsburg, I'll have the answers, plus more photographs, in Part Two on Thursday.

Top left: Detail, Duchess of Beaufort, by Thomas Gainsborough, 1778, The Hermitage, St. Petersburg.
Top right: Detail, Mrs. Vere, by Nathaniel Dance, 1770s, private collection.
Middle left: Detail, The Pretty Bar Maid, 1778, printed by Carington Bowles. Walpole Library, Yale University.
Middle right: Detail, The Flower Garden, printed by Matthias Darly, 1777. Walpole Library, Yale University.
Bottom left: Photograph courtesy of the Margaret Hunter Shop, Colonial Williamsburg.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Where do dukes come from?

Monday, July 21, 2014
Duke of Wellington 1818
Loretta reports:

One of my readers recently sent this message:

<<How do the dukes...get their initial titles? And where does the name that follows their title come from? e.g. The Duke of Wellington; Does he earn his title? And where does the Wellington come from?>>

The Peerage is tricky, even for the British.  I often quote Whitaker’s Peerage“The rules which govern the arrangements of the Peerage are marked by so many complications that even an expert may occasionally be perplexed.” For a blog post I have to keep to very general terms, and ask you to bear in mind Whitaker’s observation.  Exceptions abound.

In a nutshell, the sovereign bestows the title—and a dukedom is not frequently bestowed, as my post about dukes points out. The name following the title is a place name, usually one with which the duke is associated.  For the Duke of Wellington, this was Wellington, in Somerset.  Does he earn his title?  That depends on your definition of “earn.” The 1820 Annual Register, listing members of the peerage, includes a column explaining the reason the title was bestowed:  Court Favour, Family Influence, State Service, Naval Services, Military Services, Diplomatic Services, Legal Services, Marriage, Influence of Wealth.

1918 Whitaker's Peerage
Interestingly, the column is blank for dukes except Leinster and Wellington: Military Service. This and royal favor seem to be the main reasons for dukedoms.  As we’ve mentioned on this blog before, King Charles II made several illegitimate sons dukes—e.g., of Monmouth, Cleveland, Grafton, Northumberland, St. Albans, and Richmond—as well as restoring or creating some for favored courtiers.

For more details, you might want to peruse Whitaker's or read the Wikipedia British Peerage entry.

Image, The Duke of Wellington on Copenhagen, by Thomas Lawrence (1818)
courtesy Wikipedia. 1918 Whitaker's Peerage cover courtesy Internet Archive.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source page.  

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Breakfast Links: Week of July 14, 2014

Saturday, July 19, 2014
Fresh for you! Our weekly collection of favorite links to other web sites, blogs, articles, and images, gathered from around the Twitterverse.
• How a move to Ceylon at age 60 affected the life and art of celebrated 19th c. photographer Julia Margaret Cameron. 
• Thomas Jefferson's handwritten vanilla ice cream recipe.
• From Downton Abbey to Pemberley, the famous fictional homes you can visit.
• Victorian doctors warned female cyclists against danger of developing serious condition called "bicycle face."
• On the anniversary this week of Alexander Hamilton's death: how Aaron Burr spoke about their duel in later years.
• The case of the misjudged gypsies: a tale from the early 19th c.
• What was inside the traveling studio of an 18th c. miniature portrait painter?
• Amelia Jenks Bloomer and the real story of "bloomers."
Image: View of the London Hospital in Whitechapel, c. 1760, when it stood in an open landscape.
• The life and clothing of Princess Diana, on display in a moving exhibition.
• In Glasgow, signs of slavery and the imperial past are never far away.
• A grievous offense: selling sexy snuffboxes to schoolgirls, 1816.
• An Elizabethan costume that appeared first in movies also was featured on a book jacket.
Video: Manhattanhenge: New York's solar phenomenon.
• The covert history of condoms in America.
• Cripples and baked potatoes: Victorian street traders.
• A lovely silk moire bonnet, c. 1845.
• An illustrated brief history of pockets from the Victoria & Albert Museum.
• Top ten marriages of the Revolutionary War era gone bad.
• This glorious 1929 Harlem movie palace survives totally intact thanks to a church.
• The sad life and unhappy marriage of the Duchess of Wellington.
Image: Ban this book!
• Well-preserved (but cursed) 16th c. warship found at the bottom of the Baltic.
• A tricky Jane Austen quiz.
• New research: thinking pink at the Royal Pavilion.
• Cooking up an 18th c. recipe for carrot pudding.
American Pastels in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: free book to read online or download.
• Lucile vs. M. Poiret: the fashion gauntlet is thrown down, 1912.
Staircases that will make you glad there's no elevator.
Image: Tour de Cool: stylish cyclists of a century or so ago.
• Brilliantly colored collection of portraits of boxers dating from 1750.
• Should we revive the art of dressmaking?
• The Nottinghamshire Giantess was born Frances Flower in 1800.
Image: Bookstore/library marketing, you're doing it right.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
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