Wednesday, August 15, 2012

More 19th c Faux Hair

Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Isabella/Susan reporting:

Long-time readers of this blog may recall this curious hair cap from the 1830s, designed to help disguise thinning or ungroomed hair. While full wigs have exisited since ancient Egypt, they were expensive to buy and maintain, and 19th c women looked for other alternatives.

The hairnet, left, features a knotted silk mesh, enhanced with clusters of hair curls and a silk bow in the back. It's unclear whether the wearer drew her own hair through the mesh to hide it, wore a cap, or simply counted on the mesh to blend in with the hair beneath. At least she was confident that she'd have the full, bunched curls on her forehead like the ones shown in this fashion plate from 1831. By the time this hairnet was made in the 1840s, however, the style was already considered a bit old-fashioned, and perhaps the wearer was longing to recapture a look from her youth.

But hair anxiety was never more acute than in the 19th c., when the sentimental ideal of perfect womanhood always included lushly flowing locks. Consider this melancholy passage, written with an eye to the "young matron," from Godey's Lady's Book, July, 1854:

No one, until they themselves have suffered it, can understand the mortification with which one resigns one's self to the necessity of wearing caps. After they are fairly assumed, it ceases to be thought of; but when the gift of luxuriant hair is passing away, and what once was a pleasure becomes an unsatisfactory task; when no parting, or brushing, or curling will conceal the deficiency, and one is obliged to decide between the two evils – false hair or caps! – forgive our sex if we do so with a troubled and dejected spirit, nor be it all set down to a weak personal vanity by those who have never been so tried. And then the expense, and the difficulties that arise from it, in procuring new caps, or new and becoming styles – if there be pangs of vanity, there is also "vexation of spirit."

Yet false hair and caps weren't solely the solution of the middle-class matrons reading Godey's. Check out this elegant gold-embroidered mesh toque from the early 19th c. (on our Pinterest boards), complete with a band of hairline curls permanently attached to an inner band. Its owner? The ever-elegant Empress Josephine Bonaparte.

Thanks to Shoshana Resnikoff, Winterthur Museum, for discovering the Godey's quote.
Top: Hairnet, Britain, c 1840. Photograph courtesy of Victoria & Albert Museum.


Clay and Fiber Artist said...

I must say, I think ladies of the past were much more canny than we are disguising bad hair days, hiding grey or thinning hair by wearing hats, lace caps and hair falls or switches in elaborate coiffures.

Today's ladies must resort to wigs, ball caps or extensions. Wigs are hot, ball caps don't suit everyone and extensions are very hard on the existing hair.

However, Japanese Maiko and Geisha had it worse; many had to endure such radical hair dressing that by the time of retirement, many were bald.

mq, cb said...

Totally off topic, I just saw this photo gallery of old London and thought of the two of you:

Chris Woodyard said...

What a wonderful post--love it when you can pair a primary source with an artifact or two. Thanks!

MaryJeanAdams said...

Very interesting. I suppose between the lead paint makeup and the constant pulling of the hair into an ellaborate coiffure, hair loss was an even more common problem than it is today.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

I could use a cap like that!

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