Thursday, July 14, 2011

Feather'd Hair, 1777 and 2011

Thursday, July 14, 2011
Susan reporting:

Feathers and plumes have always been a favorite way to decorate hats and hair. Fashionable Georgian ladies had a particular love for extravagant plumage. While all feathers could be stylish (there's even a description of headdresses using vulture feathers), the most desired were ostrich. Showy, fragile, and imported, the feathers were expensive, which, of course, made them all the more in demand. In 18th c. parlance, a plume was a cluster of feathers bound together at the barb, and towering white ostrich plumes on the head were actually required for English court dress.

Needless to say, the fashion didn't escape the keen eye of satirical artists. This print, left, titled The Feather'd Fair in a Fright, takes the ostrich's point of view, who is justly furious at being plucked clean of his feathers for beauty's sake.

Yet as is often the case, what's old in fashion will eventually become new. Feathers are once again turning up in stylish hair, this time in the form of colored rooster-feather extensions, a fad driven not by the royal court, but by music celebrities like Ke$ha and Steven Tyler. This time around, too, the birds have more vocal defenders in the form of the Audubon Society and PETA – though not surprisingly, the fashionistas still seem to get the last word over hapless fowl.
Above: The Feather'd Fair in a Fright by John Collet, c.1777, Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.
Many thanks to Janea Whitacre & Sarah Woodyard for first sharing this print with me!


Heather Carroll said...

This is the first time you beat me to a topic I was planning to write! I myself, couldn't resist in indulging in the newest feather trend (in a nice, subtle fashion, of course) mostly because of the one Georgiana took such a roll in in the 1770s.

Rowenna said...

I love these satirical prints on Walpole's library--the false rump ones are hilarious, too! Thanks for posting this--and I hadn't heard of the new feather trend, but it shouldn't be surprising that anything 18th century comes back around :)

Jolene said...

Me too! When feather extensions became the rage in my small but trendy town of Ojai, I asked if they could make one that was a clip-on. They designed it just for me, and now everyone wants them. Me, I stick them on a hat, a la 18th century!

Jolene said...

And oh, lest we forget, Happy Bastille Day! Liberte, Fraternite, Equalite!

Chris Woodyard said...

What a great image! When I saw the heading, "Feather'd hair", I thought, pixie-cuts, a la Titus...

Zho Zho said...

Loved your article and the engraving, gorgeous, the ostrich's revenge. I have much reverence for the art of the Plumassier, feathers are so ephemeral, particularly ostrich feathers. If you are interested you might like to read a post I wrote on feathers the demise of the Plumassier.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Heather, I'm sure whatever you post about feathers, plumes, & the Duchess will be entirely different from mine - and entirely informative. And I'm hoping you'll include a glimpse of your own be-feathered tresses. :)

Rowenna,I agree- the Walpole Library at Yale really does have a magnificent collection of 18th c prints - and there's no better era for fashions to caricature, nor better artists to do so.

Jolene, you are clearly a trendsetter. And a Happy Bastille Day to you and everyone else (except, of course, our Royalist readers.)

Chris, Hah, I should have thought of that angle - a little Jane Fonda in Klute, right?

Zho Zho, thank you so much for sharing your article & link. Beautiful plumes, and the craftsmanship is phenomenal. Let's hope the art of Plumassier isn't entirely forgotten, and hope, too, that perhaps fashion will bring plumes back again.

Zho Zho said...

Viva les plumes

Jo Jo

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