I can't move on from 18th c. feathered hats without sharing one of my favorite satirical prints of the era. The towering hairstyles and hats - not to mention all the ostrich plumes - were favorite targets, and while both likely were exaggerated for effect and not quite as over-sized as the cartoons suggest (here's a recreation that's probably more true to scale), they were still pretty astonishing.
OH-HEIGH-OH, or A View of the Back Settlements, the English print, left, from 1776 is typical. This lady is not only sporting a stylish be-ribboned and ruffled hat with the required curled ostrich feathers, but she has also tied her hat over a stupendously elaborate hair style, full of twists and curls and sprays of silk flowers and fruit. If all that hair isn't a wig, it likely does contain a good deal of false hair to achieve such heights and volume. In those pre-mousse days, the standard "volumizer" was sugar-water, which must have been sticky as well as a magnet for bees and flies.
But there are more jokes here beyond the obvious visual jab at extreme fashion, with the "Heigh-oh" referring the height. "Heigh-ho" was an old expression when this print was new. Dating back to the early 16th century, it was used to indicate boredom or weariness – think of Snow White's seven dwarfs singing "Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it's off to work we go." So the first joke here is that no matter how fashionable a lady tries to be, there's always something new to make yesterday's style hopelessly passe and boring: Oh, heigh-ho, we've seen that look before.
Yet that's only the beginning of the pun. In 1776, Ohio was still part of the remote North American wilderness, populated mostly by fur traders. The territory had only recently been ceded from the French to the British as part of the terms of the 1763 Treaty of Paris, so recently that it was still considered more French than English. Thus on another level, OH-HEIGH-OH is a political joke, too, making fun of the uncivilized French settlements as well as French fashions and hair-styles. Whew! Thanks to Chris Woodyard (who happens to live in Oh-heigh-oh) for sharing this print with me. Above: OH-HEIGH-OH, or, A View of the Back Settlements, published July 9, 1776 in London by M. Darly
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.