Wednesday, February 11, 2015

18th century hairstyling

18th century hairstyling have had a lot of literary flack throughout the ages. It is greasy. It is greasy and loaded with powder. It stinks because the pomade has grown stale. It is full of vermin. And those big 1770’s styles? They even have mice in them. And they were only re-done once a week- if they were lucky. It all sound so gross but was it really true? The thing sis that many of the sources that speak of icky hair are satires. A satire is by its very nature exaggerated and I don’t think any of us believe in visual satire like this. 


Or like this.
We know that women didn’t really looked like this, but somehow literary satire is much easier to go for truth.
18th century haircare was different from how we treat hair today; there is no doubt about it. That doesn’t mean that it had to be gross. Grease, in the form of pomade and powder were used for hairstyling creating a matte, dry look to the hair, far from the super shiny ideal of today. Pomade does make the hair look greasy, but if you powder it, the greasiness disappears. The main ingredient in 18th century hair powder is starch. That’s the same main ingredient as modern dry shampoo. This mean that even if you didn’t wash your hair as often as today in the 18th century, the combing out of a powdered hair would in effect be the same as using dry shampoo today. No doubt pomades could go stale with no preservatives and no refrigerators. But there is abut here. Pomade does not go stale over a fortnight or even a few months. I can imagine that someone who made their own pomade and made large batches could end up with a product that went past its best before date, but you could also buy your hair pomade and I hardly think you would buy it if it was old and smelly and you would also be able to buy amount that you would use up before it went bad. Vermin on the other hand was an issue. However, head lice prefer clean hair if they can choose which is one reason to why children get it more easily than adults as adults often use various hair products. So a lice problem wouldn’t be worse by using pomade and powder. As for having live mice in your hair and not noticing it- well, that sounds just plain silly.
So I was absolutely delighted when I read about the 18th century haircare that Abby and Sarah at ColonialWilliamsburg have tried. I was even more delighted when I found that Abby make and sell pomade and powder) made from 18th century recipes in her Etsy shop, Heirloom Haircare. I have wanted to try to make pomade myself but haven’t got around to it, so I was very happy to be able to buy it. Her shop only ship within USA, but send her a PM if you are located elsewhere. That is what I did.

Pomaded, powdered and combed. With a little additional work,
this could work for the late 1780's.
The pomade is made from tallow and lard and is very hard and white. It also smells very nicely from clove and lemon oil. Last Saturday I had an opportunity to style my hair for a small party. I curled my hair as I usually do which is a wet set with standing pin curls. I combed through and then I worked the pomade into the hair. You have to warm it in the palm of your hand so it becomes liquid. After the hair was well coated you powder the whole head. Yes, you do that before you style it. I have only ever powdered my hair after the styling was finished, but I am aware that you did work in powder before styling in the 18th century. That is also what Abby recommends, so I decided to try it. I powdered it and then combed through the hair. The result was an instant late 1780’s do…
However, my goal was a tête de mutton. I have done that style once before after the instructions in Kendra’s 18th Century Hair & Wig Styling. Then I used hair wax to style the hair and powdered when I was done. My hair is quite short, between chin and shoulder length, so the back of my hair is just put up in a few curls, no bun, but that is hidden by a cap, so it doesn’t matter.
With hair wax and powder on top.
But let me tell you, I am completely converted to styling it in the proper way! The grease made the powder stick to the hair, making it feel thicker and extremely easy to style. It was much easier to make the hairstyle and it looks so much better! I am sorry that I can’t show you really good pictures, it was too dark by the time I was finished, but I think you can see how the powder is worked into the whole hairstyle, not just laying on top. As a result I didn’t have to powder my hair once I was done, though I could have if I had wanted a more heavily powdered look. There were also no problem with powder fall-out, it really stuck to the hair. There were also no need for any additional hair products, the hair held up perfectly all evening.

I had also made a new silk cap. It’s a style called “bindmössa” in Sweden and was worn from the 17th century onwards. It is still part of traditional Swedish folk costumes, though nowadays it is almost always a small, hard cap. Originally it was worn over a white cap but by the 18th century that cap had shrunk into a piece of pleated linen or lace, called “stycke”,  tacked to the silk cap.

When I came home I combed and then brushed my hair and got most of the powder out. The hair felt soft and not the least dirty and if my hair had been long enough to put up I wouldn’t have needed to wash it the next day. However, the tight curls made my short hair into an afro, so I had to wash it to get it back to normal. It was much easier to wash out than modern hair products and my hair felt very soft and nice when cleaned. So this will be how I style my 18th century hair from now on as I loved the result!