Friday, December 05, 2014

Styling a mid17th-century wig

This is part two of an article first appearing in Your Wardrobe Unlock’d. The first part covered thehistory of the hairstyle as well as some 17th century hair care. Here is a step-by-step instruction for creating the style. The hairstyle is perfectly possible to make of one’s own hair, I have made an early, frizzy version with shoulder length hair, for a later version one needs longer hair or/and some false hair to fill it up

Styling the wig
There are several different ways of setting curls on a wig, like using a steamer or dipping it in boiling water. I bake mine in the oven and I don’t use curlers. You will need , apart from the wig, a wig head and, to make styling easier, a wig stand, a comb, bobby pins and a spray bottle with plain water. If you prefer to use curlers, then use them, but personally I prefer to make standing pin curls and then you need something that will function as a dowel, like an old mascara wand.

A standing pin curl is fairly easy to make. You begin with wetting the wig and then combing out a hank of hair, making sure that it is smooth before placing the dowel under the hair, a bit over the ends.
First wind up that short bit of hair on the dowel, which will secure the tops underneath the rest of the hair as you continue to roll up the hair around the dowel. It may be easier if you fold a piece of paper, like Kleenex, around the ends before you start rolling. Roll up the hair as far as possible and then carefully remove the dowel.
You now have a tube of hair that you secure from both ends with booby pins. The great thing with standing pin curls is that you can vary the size of them after the thickness of your dowel and as there are no rollers, the hair dries faster.
Wigs can be made out of real hair or synthetic. My wig is synthetic and begun its life as a straight extra long wig. It then became an 18th century wig that the cats got hold of, so the first thing I had to do was to wash and comb it. It is much easier to start with a brand new wig! The main inspiration was this portrait of Queen Christina of Sweden, painted around 1650. I like the rather informal style and being Swedish I also like to know that this is a style that was definitely worn in Sweden.
Secure the wig on the wig head and make sure that you know were the mid front is.
If you want a fringe or curls over your forehead, then leave out some hair in the front, before combing the rest of the hair on top of the hair back, making sure that it is even on both sides and secure into a ponytail.
Comb the hair on the back of the head into another ponytail that you have secured just under the first hand. The ponytails will be the chignon on the finished wig and don’t have to be curled, so just pin them up so the ends are out of the way.
Now you will need to curl the hair on the sides. Make the curls vertical and wind the hair away from the face. My main inspiration had rather irregular curls so I didn’t bother to make the curls identical on both sides. Start from the top and work your way down. Do both sides.
The last thing I did was to curl the hair that I had left out at the front.
When the wig has been put up in curls the way you want it, it is time to set it. Now it is time to wet the wig really well. I usually hold it underneath the tap, gently squeezing each curl to make sure that the wig is damp throughout. Heat the oven on a very low heat, 50-60 Celsius/122-140 Fahrenheit as you don’t want to melt your wig. Place the wig, still on its wig head on a clean baking tray. As the back of this wig isn’t curled, I placed my wig on its “back” in an oven proof dish to make sure it wouldn’t roll and crush the curls.
Keep it overnight in the oven on the lowest heat, letting the wig first steam and the dry out. Upon removal, let the wig cool completely and check out the curls to make sure it is all dry. If not, then it needs to get back in the oven for a couple of more hours.

Now it is time to style it. Make the chignon before you take away the booby pins/curlers from the sides. How you do it is really up to taste, you can make a rope twist, a braid or just a plain roll. The fancier your clothes, the more elaborate you can make the chignon. My wig was very long and I had a lot of hair to make a chignon of. The first ponytail was twisted and pinned down to a shape rather like an 8, leaving two strands of hair free.
Then I crossed the free strands over the middle of chignon to neaten it up. The rest of the hair was braided and then I finished the chignon with winding the braid around it.
Then I removed the booby pins from the sides. What one does with the curls is really up to taste. They could be brushed into a frizz or just lightly combed to split up the curls. I liked the look of just pulling the curls out with my fingers.
The last step was to arrange the curl at the forehead.
Ready to be decorated and worn.
EDIT: After wearing the wig I have found that the curls are too long so I plan to cut them shorter and probably sew the cut bits on the wig to make the side curls fuller.

Monday, December 01, 2014

The 17th century "spaniel ears" hairstyle

This article first appeared on Your Wardrobe Unlock'd. As it is rather long and Picture Heavy I will make it into two blog posts. The first part will cover the hairstyles history as well as 17th Century hair care, the second part will cover a step-by-step tutorial how to create the hairstyle.

Young woman with side curls by Wenceslaus Hollar (1617-1677), 1645

I am venturing into a new costume territory this year, the 17th century, or, to be more precise, the 1640’s. With new clothes, comes the need for hair that is suitable. A very popular hairstyle in the mid 17th century was a style when the hair on top and back of the head was shaped into a chignon, or bun, placed rather high on the head and with the side hair hanging loose. By 1650 this style had already been popular for about twentyfive years and it had still twenty years of popularity to go, but during that period it went through several incarnations. To go through, and name, all the variations and names it had would be well out of the scope of this article, but I will describe some of the more significant changes it had over time. When it first came it was called “spaniel ears” and for ease I will call it that throughout the article. I will also talk a little about period hair care and show how I set and style a wig for a look fitting for the middle years of the 17th Century.
The same woman, back view by Wenceslaus Hollar (1617-1677), 1645
Fashionable hairstyles in the 17th century
In the beginning of the 17th century women’s hairstyles were high, worn over pads in front, coiled into a chignon in the back. Around 1615 this hairstyle started to phase out, it got lower on top and fuller around the ears. This softer and less formal way of styling hair corresponded well with a changing fashion in clothes, which also grew less rigid with a higher waist and lower collars. In the 1620’s the hairstyle this article concern became popular, though it was worn alongside more strict hairstyles as well. At first the side hair was quite short and either hanging in rather loose curls or arranged in a frizz that made the name “spaniel ears” quite fitting. Sometimes women also wore their own version of the male lovelock, one or two hanks of hair that was longer than the other curls. Sometimes they were pulled together close to the tops with small bows and there were also a variation were none of the hair was hanging loose, but completely gathered together. A short fine fringe was very common, possibly the first time fringes came into fashion in Europe and it could either be straight or arranged in small curls or loops, clinging close to the face. This hairstyle was worn by all classes, though the lower classes tended to forego the curling.
Leonora Christina, Countess of Schleswig and Holstein by Karel van Mander (ca. 1610-1670)
Portrait of Queen Consort Henrietta Maria of France by Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641), 1632-35
The chignon, which originally was quite small could be arranged into a number of different ways, a plain bun, braids, puffs or coils of hair shaped into an O. It was very often decorated with pearls, either braided into the chignon or twisted around it or shaped like a hairnet. Queen Henrietta Maria of England was portrayed several times with a crown or tiara encircling her chignon. Ribbons and bows were also popular decorations and the chignon could also be partly or completely covered by a bourrelet, a padded and decorated cover, shaped like a crescent.

Painting in profile of Henrietta Maria, Queen of England by Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641), 1638

Lady with Her Maidservant Holding a Letter (detail) by Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675), ca. 1667

Messenger by Gerard ter Borch (1617-1681)

In the 1640’s the side hair got longer and more abundant, arranged into more structured curls, looking more smooth and glossy rather than frizzy. At times the hair was left uncurled, though that was a fashion that seemed to have been more popular with the middle classes. The fringe disappeared and though curls could still decorate the forehead they became fuller than previously. It also became popular comb all the hair back, leaving the forehead completely bare. The chignon grew larger to balance the long curls.
Princess Louise Hollandine by Gerard van Honthorst (1590-1656), 1642

The rather simple style of the 1640’s was still popular throughout the 1650’s, but more elaborate versions were also seen. The section of hair on top of the head that was combed back into the chignon became broader, with the effect that the loose hair started just over the ears. The curls also grew more elaborate, giving the style more width around the face than previously. The use of false hair, by no means unknown earlier, became more popular to help achieve this effect and sometimes even wire constructions were used to allow the curls to defy gravity. It also became increasingly popular to decorate not only the chignon, but the loose curls with pearls, ribbons and bows.

Countess Beata Elisabeth von Königsmarck by Hendrick Munnichhoven, ca. 1654
Portrait of Anne Bulwer by Gerard Soest, 1654
The elaborate hair grew even more complicated in the 1660’s, with a more extreme width around the face. In general, there was a trend toward shorter curls, often with a few long locks hanging down from them. A simpler version with loose curls hanging more straightforward down remained in style, but it was still a lot more complicated than it had been twenty years earlier. The forehead was often decorated with an arrangement of very elaborate curls. In the early 1670’s the hurluberlu took the fashionable world by storm, a new style where the hair was shaped into a shock of short, wild curls all around the head, and the spaniel eared hairstyle that had remained popular for such a long period of the 17th century, finally became obsolete.
Portrait of Margaretha Delff, Wife of Johan de la Faille by Jan Verkolje (1650-1693), 1674

Thick, curly and glossy was the ideal hair for the 17th century and though blonde hair was popular, brown hair was quite modish as well. There were a number of recipes for hair dyes that promised golden locks with the help of rhubarb, saffron and the light of the sun, silvery white tresses from a decoct containing thistles as well as recipes for red and black hair. Most startling, perhaps, is a recipe for green hair, with the help of distilled capers. The tints rarely had any real staying power, though. Hair powder to change the colour of the hair had been known since the late 16th century, but even if it remained in some use throughout the 17th century, it didn’t suit a hairstyle with long flowing curls. It is difficult to keep hair powder on loose hair and the visual effect of dry powder is far from the glossiness one can see in portraits.
Queen Consort Catherine of Braganza by Peter Lely (1618-1680), 1665
Curls could be set with curling irons or with rag, paper or even pipe clay curlers. To maintain the curls the hair could be prepared with a setting lotion. Decocts containing flax seed, lemon juice, gelatine or sea weed had been in use at least since the 16th century and gum arabic, a water soluble resin, or egg white could also be used. A recipe for hair care to ensure a good curl gives the advice to wash the hair with a solution containing quicklime, then to anoint the hair with either myrtle or olive oil, powder it with perfumed powder and then put it up in curls and cover it with a cap over night. If one did put up the hair like that carefully every night, the recipe promise that the whole process of washing only needed to be repeated once or twice every week. Quicklime is not the best substance to wash hair, it can irritate eyes and skin, but it is related to potash which lye and soap can be made out of.

Myrtle and olive oil were also advised as good for keeping split ends at bay and there is no doubt that it would help hair that had been stripped of its natural oils by a quicklime wash. It may sound odd to powder the hair before curling it, but the main ingredient in hair powder in the 17th century was starch, and today that is what dry shampoo mostly contain. The powder would soak up excess fat from the oil and would then be combed out the next day when the hair was arranged for the day. One could also opt to boil Maiden hair, a kind of seaweed with salt and water to a honey-like consistency as a kind of leave in conditioner and then wash it with a wash made of beet leaves, fern roots and gum arabic, after that it was supposedly easy to curl it any way that was wanted. Hair too frizzy and unruly could be combed with oil of rose, lilies or marshmallows, two or three times a week to make it easier to maintain.
Catherine Howard by Wenceslaus Hollar (1617-1677), 1648
Corson, Richard Fashions in hair: the first five thousand years, 9. impression with supplement 2001 by Caroline Cox, London : Peter Owen, 2001

Lowery, Allison Historical wig styling. Ancient Egypt to the 1830s, Burlington, MA. : Focal Press, 2013

Pritchard, Will Outward Appearances: The Female Exterior in Restoration London, Bucknell University Press 2007

Salmon, William Polygraphice, or, The arts of drawing, engraving, etching, limning, painting, washing, varnishing, gilding, colouring, dying, beautifying, and perfuming in seven books: exemplified in the drawing of men, women, landskips, countreys and figures of various forms, the way of engraving, etching, and limning, with all their requisites and ornaments, the depicting of the most eminent pieces of antiquities, the paintings of the antients: never published till now, together with the original, advancement and perfection of the art of painting, and a discourse of perspective, chiromancy and alchymy: to which is added, I, the one hundred and twelve chymical arcanums of Petrus Johannes Faber, a most learned and eminent physician, translated out of Latin into English, II, an abstract of choice chymical preparations, fitted for vulgar use, for curing most diseases incident to humane bodies, The fifth edition, enlarged with above a thousand considerable additions, adorned with XXV. copper sculptures, the like never yet extant, London: Printed for Thomas Passinger and Thomas Sawbridge, 1685.

Sherrow, Victoria Encyclopedia of hair: a cultural history, Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 2006


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Keeping clean in the 18th century

The Bath by Sigmond Freudeberg, 1774
One question that crops up again and again when I talk about 18th century cosmetics and hygiene is “Is it true that they never bathed?”  There is a widespread assumption that people who lived then lived their lives in the most appalling filth, costly silks and perfumes covering a body that never touched water. That is not really the truth which is a lot more diverse. A simple yes and no to the bathing question is not possible.

Let’s ask another question, one that is much easier to answer: “Didn’t people in the 18th century want to be clean?”

Yes, of course they did. Cleanliness has always been an important aspect of every culture in history. In fact, cleanliness is an important aspect for every animal on earth, an animal that doesn’t keep itself clean is either sick or dying and that goes for humans as well. It was as important for those who lived in the 18th century to feel and appear clean as it is for people today. However, their view on what were cleanly habits was not the same as is the norm today. The standard of  personal hygiene means, for a lot of people now,  a shower every day, clean clothes every day, aided by washing machines, deodorant, soap, shampoo and tooth brushes. This is normal, this is what we are raised to believe is the minimum of cleanliness. If we would suddenly be planted in the 18th century we would find a world that smelled very differently from our modern world and it would smell more. But those who lived then would not have thought so. Even persons who washed themselves regularly would probably have smelled more than a modern person would think comme il faut, but that none of their contemporaries would ever notice. To understand hygiene in the 18th century we must understand that their view was different from ours, even if their aim, being clean, was the same.

Fashion plate, 1775

Baths, meaning immersion of the body in a tub full of warm water, was not something that everyone did on regular basis and there are a number of reasons for that. To begin with, we have to have clean and warm water. Today we use this all through the day without much thought, we just have to open a faucet in our bathrooms and kitchens, but in the 18th century this was a luxury item. In most large cities clean water was hard to find and to take a bath, a person must first have the means to acquire the water, which mean that someone would have to carry it from the source to the tub and then carry it all away, as most bathrooms didn’t have a plumbing system. If there even was a bathroom, a tub could be placed in a bedroom or a kitchen. If one didn’t do it oneself, then one must afford a servant to do it. There must also be the economical resources to heat the water to the right temperature. So something as simple as a bath wasn’t so simple to have two or three hundred years ago.

There was also a cultural resistance to warm baths, which was still around in the early 18h century,  a widespread notion that bathing in warm water was harmful. Pores were seen as openings in the skin and many doctors believed that bathing made it possible for diseases to enter the body. This idea got more and more unfashionable as the century progressed, though. It is also important to remember that the view on bathing differed from country to country.  In France and Britain public baths were largely closed which made it harder for the general populace to bathe, but in Germany they remained popular. In Russia as well as Sweden and Finland (then one kingdom) people used the sauna.
Toilette Intime by François Boucher

So, what did people do to keep clean?

Well, they bathed. Perhaps not everyone and perhaps not as often as we would like to, but baths were had throughout the century. Soaps of various qualities were easily obtained and most recipe books contained recipes for making wash balls, soap mixed with various substances, mainly herbs and spices, to make the soap goes further and often adding an exfoliating function.

Vaux de Vicomte bathroom with bathtub, toilet, and bidet.

People also took baths for other reasons than cleanliness. The medical profession saw no problems with contradicting themselves and to condemn baths for health reason while prescribing them for getting healthy. Jean Paul Marat is probably the most well-known example of bathing for medical reason. To alleviate a skin condition he spent a large amount of his time in a mineral bath and bathing was what he was doing when Charlotte Corday killed him. Going to spas were very popular as well, were you took to the baths to improve your health and, perhaps foremost, to socialize.

People also bathed outside, in lakes and river, when the weather permitted it. Cool water was never seen as dangerous as warm water and was more and more seen as something strengthening the body and keeping it healthy. When bathing regularly started to become the norm, at least for the upper classes, by the end of the 18th century, cool baths were seen as vastly better than warm.

Costumes de Différents Pays, 'Bains Publics à l'Usage des Femmes Turquea', France c. 1797
Even people who didn’t bath, or who did it rarely, had means to keep clean. In letters and diaries there are mentions of people who were considered dirty and smelly which point that even in a time where people smelled more than they do today, neglected hygiene was remarked upon. People did wash themselves, even if they did not take hot baths. 

With basins and water

Dry baths and sponge baths are a rather effective was of saving water while still getting clean.  With the help of a basin of water, soap and a sponge or towel it is relatively easy to wash the whole body in a minimum of water. In fact, you may even get cleaner than if you take an ordinary bath. While bathing everything loose on the skin gets to the surface, dead skin cells, hair, dust and dirt, mingled with soap. When you emerge from a bath that will cling to your skin and you will need to rinse the body to get rid of it. A bath can be nice and relaxing, but to get clean, you do have to shower or otherwise rinse your body before drying. Louis XV solved that problem with having two tubs, one for the bath and one for the rinse, but then he was a king. Both he and Madame de Pompadour were very fond of bathing and so was Marie Antoinette who bathed in the mornings. In France the bidet were popular, making more intimate hygiene easy, though a basin on a chair could easily be used as well.
Attributed to Gerardus Duyckinck

Another reason for washing was something we modern people rarely think about- the creepy crawlies. Lice and fleas were a problem shared by all and there are plenty of recipes for how to get rid of them. Some gives the advice of washing hair and body with herbal infusions, which perhaps wouldn’t’ work well as pesticides, but would help keeping you clean by default. To be truthful, some other recipes are more hair-raising, like washing the hair with an arsenic solution or anointing the body with a mix of mercury and butter. They might work on the lice, true, but perhaps a bit too well on the human as well.

Woman Searching For A Flea
White linen

An extremely important way to show the world how clean a person was was to have clean linen. It was an aspiration for all social classes to own as many shifts or shirts that it was economically possible.  For example, a budding admiral in the Swedish navy in the 1740’s writes that he owns several dozen linen shirts, while his man servant makes do with eight. Märta Helena Reenstierna, a Swedish upper class lady born in 1753 wrote in her diary in 1820 that she now owned 60 shifts and felt that she didn’t have to get more for the rest of her life. Those who could afford it had linen of different qualities, very fine fabric for the finest occasions and rougher fabric for hunting, sleeping or, actually, bathing. Martha Washington’s bathing shift of blue and white linen is preserved and there are both written sources and pictures of women bathing in their shift. In a time before bathing suits, a linen shift was used for modesty at public baths.

Dental care

Martha Washington's bathing shift
There is absolutely no question that dental care was much less effective than it is today. There were no dentists and if you needed to have a rotten tooth removed you went to a doctor or barber who could removed it with pliers and no anesthesia. They might also get the idea to fill up the empty cavity with some nice poisonous lead. Yikes. But there were a definite interest in caring for the teeth and every collection of cosmetic recipes devote quite a lot of space for various mouth washes and the precursor of tooth paste, tooth powder. Some of these recipes contain things that are too abrasive like pumice stone or sugary things like honey, but there are plenty of recipes that do a rather good job of cleaning the teeth. Tooth brushes came along in the 17th century, but were a luxury item, instead the cleaning were done with a piece of linen fabric, sponges, twigs or roots that was prepared in various ways to work as cleaning tools.


An important aspect of hygiene for every woman is how to deal with menstruations and other forms of vaginal bleedings. Comparatively little is known on how women dealt with it in the 18th century which often makes people assume that they just let it all flow, I think that is wrong and even if there are few mentions of sanitary pads, there are some. Rags made of old and worn out linen had various tasks in a household, as wiping rags, bandages, instead of the non-existing toilet paper and would work as sanitary napkins as well. Even if descriptions of the actual pad are rare, there are mentioned in François-Alexandre-Pierrede Garsault’s L'art de la lingerie from 1771. Called chauffoirs they were made of layers of linen, attached with the help of a belt around the waist. (Thank you Carolyn for drawing my attention to this in a comment at Frock Flicks.)

Ladies Bathing by Claude Simpol, 1717
There is also more roundabout evidence for some kind of protection, like descriptions of a man finding a rag that a menstruating woman had lost while dancing and not knowing what it was. Another roundabout way of getting a glimpse of menstruation habits comes, a bit surprisingly, from crime records. In Swedish court report during the 17th and 18th century it is mentioned that mothers could notice their unmarried daughter’s pregnancies due to the fact that there were no rags to wash after their period anymore.

To my mind there is one thing that no one really seems to think about when it comes to bleeding on your clothes and which really speaks for the use of sanitary pads are the fact that clothes in the 18th century were expensive. You remade and reused clothes until they were worn out and clothes were often sold second hand, given away in wills or as part as a salary. To wilfully spoil your clothes with blood seems totally counterproductive to all this. Blood starts to rot long before fabric do and bloodstained fabric will rot with the blood. True, most of the blood would stain the shift, which was boiled when cleaned, but a heavy period would go through the shift quickly and wool or silk can not be cleaned in the same way. I can’t imagine that women would go around with accumulating blood stains on their gowns and skirts destroying the fabric fibers, not to mention how it would look. And I rather think we would have some written records of women in bloody skirts if that was the norm.

Read more

American Duchess: Georgian Beauty Myths Busted, guest post by me.

Dressed in Time: Fancy a Swim? Going For a Dip 18th Century Style

Frock Flicks: The Gross 18th Century: Calling bullshit on hygiene myths

Historical Honey: Glorious Georgian Bathing

Madame Isis' Toilette: Bathing beauties, 18th century style

Two Nerdy History Girls: The Truth about the Big Hair of the 1770s: Part II: How They Did It


Anonymous The Complete Vermin-Killer, The Fourth Edition. With Considerable Additions, Fielding & Walker, 1777

Ashenburg, Katherine Clean: an unsanitised history of washing, London: Profile, 2009.

Buc'hoz, Pierre-Joseph The Toilet of Flora, London: printed for J. Murray, and W. Nicoll, 1775.

Chesterfield, the Earl of Letters to His Son, 1750

Corson, Richard Fashions in makeup: from ancient to modern times, London: Owen, 1972

Coxe, William Travels Into Poland, Russia, Sweden, and Denmark: Interspersed with Historical Relations and Political Inquiries, T. Cadell, 1785

Hammar, Britta  Rasmussen, Pernilla Underkläder, en kulturhistoria, Bokförlaget Signum i Lund, 2008

Read, Sara L., “Thy righteousness is but a menstrual clout: sanitary practices and prejudice in early modern England”, Early Modern Women, An Interdiciplinary Journal, 2008:3

Roche, Daniel The Culture of Clothing, Dress and fashion in the ‘ancien régime’, Cambridge University Press, 1996

Monday, June 09, 2014

Article on 17th century makeup at Your Wardrobe Unlock'd

My second article on mid-17th century beauty is now up. Makeup trends, skin care and ingridients and I also do two makeup tutorials with period makeup. I thought it was interesting to see how different makeup can look depending on ingridient and was of application.

If you subscribe to Your Wardrobe Unlock'd, then you can read the article here.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

I have written an article about 17th century hair for Your Wardrobe Unlock'd

Lady Margaret Tufton by David des Granges, 1638-1650
Some time ago, in February, I approached Your Wardrobe Unlock’d and asked if they might be interested in two articles about 17th century hair and makeup. To my delighted surprise they were and the first article went live today. I feel quite exited, I can tell you! The subject is the woman’s hairstyle that was popular for the whole mid-part of the 17th century where the hair was put in a chignon in the back and the side hair was hanging down around the ears. In my article I go through the key variations of it and also how to set and style a wig. The next article that will be up next month, is about makeup during the same period.

You can read, if you subscribe to Your Wardrobe Unlock’d, here.