Thursday, September 5, 2013

"Curls Frizzed Out with Laborious Nicety", 1747

Thursday, September 5, 2013
Isabella reporting,

Whenever I write books set in the 17th-18th c., the question of wigs always makes my editors very nervous. If I were to be true to the times, all my noble-born characters would be wearing hair other than their own. Apparently, however, this is too horrifying a concept for modern readers to accept, so I have to be very discreet whenever mentioning wigs or other false hair. No matter that nearly every modern Hollywood celebrity sports a full head of glued-on extensions....but I digress.

Still, while wig-wearing was very popular in Georgian London, it wasn't above being ridiculed as a fashionable frivolity, and there are scores of caricatures such as this and this poking fun at the style. The following passage begins with a brief history of wig-wearing, but soon lapses in scornful criticism. It's from a description of the peruke (wig) maker's trade from The London Tradesman, written by Robert Campbell in 1747. He might have had the exaggerated pair, above, in mind.

Our Forefathers were contented with their own Hair, and never dreamed of thatching their Skulls with false-curls. It is a foreign Invention, but of what Country I cannot learn, and appeared among us at the Restoration...It was originally but rude and simple, but kept a nearer Resemblance to Nature than it does at present; the Fashion was to wear Wigs nearly resembling the natural Colour of our Hair, and shaped in such manner as to make the artificial Locks appear like a natural Production; but in Process of Time full-bottomed Wiggs became the Mode; and the Heads of our Beaus and Men of Fashion were loaded with Hair...and the Natural Colour was laid aside for Silver Locks. The Bobb, the Pig-tail, Tuppe, Ramilie, and a Number of Shapes, are now become the Mode. Sometimes the Beaus appear plaistered all over with Powder and Pomatum, and their Curls frizzled out with laborious Nicety; at other Times the Powder Puff is laid aside, and they affect to dress in Wanton Ringlets. Originally Wiggs were confined to the Male Part of the Species, but of late, that usurping Sex the Ladies, are grown ashamed of the Natural Production of their own Heads, and lay Snares for our Hearts in artificial...Têtes de Mouton [sheep's heads]. The Black, the Brown, the Fair and Carroty, appear now all in one Livery; and you can no more judge of your Mistress's natural Complexion by the Colour of her Hair, than by that of her Ribbons. The whole Species of our Modern Beaus and Belles appear in a perpetual Masquerade, and seem contending with one another who shall deviate most from Nature, and the ancient Simplicity of their Forefathers.

Above: Modern Refinement, or, The Two Macaronis, published 1772 by Francis Adams. Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.


GSGreatEscaper said...

Discreet means careful, judicious. Discrete means separate.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Yes, but Spellcheck doesn't know the difference, especially not when I wrote this very late last night. ;)

Regencyresearcher said...

I find it very odd that an author writing in various times in the 18th c would have to be careful about mentioning wigs. It was a fact of life for rich people like those dreadful hoop skirts of the 18th and 19th centuries. Or what of the fashion for really big BIG hair? Towering high with ships and a farm and colonies of fleas ( no doubt) in it. POwdering the hair was another odd custom. We do odd things to ourselves in the name of fashion .
I enjoy your blog.

Madame Gilflurt said...

People do get very edgy about the subject of wigs; I wrote something that made casual mention of wig-wearing and one or two people found the concept very off-putting. Strange!

Isobel Carr said...

“they affect to dress in Wanton Ringlets”

This is by far my favorite bit from that diatribe!

@RegencyResearcher: It’s not just wigs! I’ve been taken to task by editors for descriptions of a man with a shaved head (which he would have had under his wig, and which I don’t think most modern women would find offensive), for saying his coat had a “skirt” instead of tails (which is accurate), for using the word “breeches” (this was labeled “not sexy”; not sure what other word she wanted me to use in the 1780s), for calling a man’s shoe a “pump”. These are all the world building details that I think help transport a reader, but clearly not everyone agrees, LOL!

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Editors likes & dislikes vary widely, a mix of general editorial policy by publisher and just plain personal quirks. Editors aren't historians, either, and they tend to look at historical reality quite a bit differently from NHG. In my historical novels, there weren't any taboos, but in historical romance, I've had all sorts of things bounced over the years: beards, red-haired heroes, swearing, and chamberpot-usage. As Isobel/Kalen mentioned, 18th c. male clothing makes editors uneasy all over the place. I've had descriptions of richly embroidered coats and waistcoats as well as male jewels bounced for sounding too effeminate. I've never heard this from any readers, who usually seem to appreciate historical accuracy, but I have to chalk it up to being all part of the publishing business....:)

Two Nerdy History Girls. Design by Pocket