Thursday, March 19, 2015

More Secrets of 18th c. Big Hair

Thursday, March 19, 2015
Isabella reporting,

I've written on the blog several times before about the elaborate hairstyles of fashionable 18th c. ladies, as well as sharing how the mantua-makers of Colonial Williamsburg are studying and copying the intracacies of power and pomade (including herehere, and here.)

One of the last sessions of the textile symposium (Stitching Together a National Identity) that I've attended here in Colonial Williamsburg this week included several beautifully dressed and coifed ladies in the fashions of around 1770. Their hair was dressed by apprentice mantua-maker Abby Cox. Here are the back and side views of one of the artfully arranged styles, inspired by fashion plates of the time. This was all done without any modern hairspray, mousse, or gel. Everything was held in place with 18th c. powder, pomade, and pins, plus a few strategic silk flowers, and took about 45 minutes to achieve.

Today Abby showed me one of her newest replica hairdressing tools, bottom left. This small tin cup was copied from an illustration in the 1780 French Encyclopédie méthodique par ordre des matiéres, and was made by journeyman tinsmith Steve Delise, another member of Colonial Williamsburg's historic trades program.

The three compartments of the cup keep the major ingredients for an 18th c. hairstyle together in a single place. The large main cup holds finely ground hair powder, while the two smaller cups hold the two different kinds of pomade. Common pomade is the softer pomade used for everyday, while hard pomade includes beeswax, and is used for full, frizzed styles as well as for creating the large side curls shown here. Consider it the "extra-hold" pomade.

The silk puff sitting in the powder is an educated guess. Although silk puffs are mentioned in 18th c. descriptions of hairdressing, their descriptions are sketchy. This one is made of unspun silk filament, which Abby has found holds the fine particles of the powder for dusting onto the hair. Pretty handy!


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