18th century hairstyling have had a lot of literary flack throughout the ages. It is greasy. It is greasy and loaded with powder. It stinks because the pomade has grown stale. It is full of vermin. And those big 1770’s styles? They even have mice in them. And they were only re-done once a week- if they were lucky. It all sound so gross but was it really true? The thing sis that many of the sources that speak of icky hair are satires. A satire is by its very nature exaggerated and I don’t think any of us believe in visual satire like this.
Or like this.
We know that women didn’t really looked like this, but somehow literary satire is much easier to go for truth.
18th century haircare was different from how we treat hair today; there is no doubt about it. That doesn’t mean that it had to be gross. Grease, in the form of pomade and powder were used for hairstyling creating a matte, dry look to the hair, far from the super shiny ideal of today. Pomade does make the hair look greasy, but if you powder it, the greasiness disappears. The main ingredient in 18th century hair powder is starch. That’s the same main ingredient as modern dry shampoo. This mean that even if you didn’t wash your hair as often as today in the 18th century, the combing out of a powdered hair would in effect be the same as using dry shampoo today. No doubt pomades could go stale with no preservatives and no refrigerators. But there is abut here. Pomade does not go stale over a fortnight or even a few months. I can imagine that someone who made their own pomade and made large batches could end up with a product that went past its best before date, but you could also buy your hair pomade and I hardly think you would buy it if it was old and smelly and you would also be able to buy amount that you would use up before it went bad. Vermin on the other hand was an issue. However, head lice prefer clean hair if they can choose which is one reason to why children get it more easily than adults as adults often use various hair products. So a lice problem wouldn’t be worse by using pomade and powder. As for having live mice in your hair and not noticing it- well, that sounds just plain silly.
So I was absolutely delighted when I read about the 18th century haircare that Abby and Sarah at ColonialWilliamsburg have tried. I was even more delighted when I found that Abby make and sell pomade and powder) made from 18th century recipes in her Etsy shop, Heirloom Haircare. I have wanted to try to make pomade myself but haven’t got around to it, so I was very happy to be able to buy it. Her shop only ship within USA, but send her a PM if you are located elsewhere. That is what I did.
|Pomaded, powdered and combed. With a little additional work, |
this could work for the late 1780's.
However, my goal was a tête de mutton. I have done that style once before after the instructions in Kendra’s 18th Century Hair & Wig Styling. Then I used hair wax to style the hair and powdered when I was done. My hair is quite short, between chin and shoulder length, so the back of my hair is just put up in a few curls, no bun, but that is hidden by a cap, so it doesn’t matter.
|With hair wax and powder on top.|