Friday, July 30, 2010

Strange Fashion: 1830s Hair Cap

Friday, July 30, 2010
Susan reporting:

While Loretta and I spent a lot (a LOT) of time in museums, there are still things that, even at our absolute nerdiest, can stop us cold.

Hair pieces, false hair, and wigs have been in and out of style all the way back to ancient times, but I'd never seen anything quite like this. The museum placard calls it a "hair cap," and dates it to 1830-40. (To me the style looked a bit earlier – though that could be because the cap is probably American-made, and not from a fashion capitol like Paris or London.) Instead of costly human hair, it's made of dark brown silk, elaborately knotted and looped and twisted to simulate curls, waves, and braids.

Such a cap was worn over a lady's real hair, and was designed to boost what Nature had failed to provide. Fashions of the times emphasised the hair that framed the face, with the back of the head hidden beneath a lace-trimmed linen cap, and often a hat on top of that. This hair cap could have given the impression of an elegantly waved hairline, complete with a tidy bunch of curls over the ears.

But according to the placard, there were other advantages to a hair cap, too: "When running water was not available in homes, it was difficult to keep hair clean and styled. One advertisement suggests that caps like this one were especially convenient while traveling, when sanitary conditions were even less certain."

Hair cap, silk, 1830-40, Winterthur Museum.


Mindy said...

Did the real hair get woven through the holes to help hold the cap in place?

KuriosityKat said...

Now this is weird. It looks so totally fake. Did this like fool any one?

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Mindy, I'm afraid I don't know! I wish I did, but the museum's placard didn't give details.

KuriosityKat, I don't know if it fooled anyone or not, or even if it was supposed to. Maybe it was just considered a stylish accessory, and nobody cared that it was fake.

Any costume-people out there who have a better answer -- please feel free to comment! :)

Amber said...

I think this is sooo fabulous! Even though it looks fake it's really cool how they made it. I want to make one, for hte heck of it! :)

LaDonna said...

Why can I imagine this on Mrs. Bennet from PRIDE AND PREJUDICE? Would be perfect on her under a big ruffled cap, thinking she looked oh so stylish.

nightsmusic said...

My grandmother taught me how to tat when I was a small child (about a million years ago now ;o) ) and it looks very much like it's been tatted rather than simply woven. Either way, the intricacies are amazing!

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Tatting! You know, Theo, I hadn't thought of that, but you're right, it does have that loopy-look that tatting makes.

Someone on Facebook suggested that it might be not only silk, but horsehair, too, particularly in the dangling "curls." Obviously, I couldn't touch it, since it was in a glass case, but it did seem to have a little too much structure to be silk alone.

So many interesting possibilities...we should all be curators, right? *g*

Rachael Kinnison said...

I have several of these bonnets and posted about them on my blog, ~including a period ambrotype of how they were worn~ I hope it can clear up any confusions! rachael

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Rachel, thank you so much for sharing the link to your blog! The two examples of hair caps/bonnets you featured are so interesting, and discovering the photograph of the woman wearing a similar cap is a real find. Since I wrote this post four years ago, I've seen other hair caps, but none like your second example. Fascinating!

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