Big Hair is like so 1770s
July 24, 2014 11:14 PM   Subscribe

Wigs filled with maggots, hair filled with mice and tiny battleships - twonerdyhistorygirls have The Truth About the Big Hair of the 1770s and How they Did It. Inspired to make your own bone powder and pomatum? You can use the original recipe or these recipes, or just buy some pretty lemon-lard at Etsy, or pick up a modern substitute from the drugstore.
posted by viggorlijah (23 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
So wait, is that stuff on Etsy actually made from whales?
posted by Pre-Taped Call In Show at 11:33 PM on July 24, 2014

That is a really good question because to my horror/amazement, you can buy spermaceti still! Ah, but not in the U.S. legally. People seem to be using substitutes, mainly jojoba and artificial waxes, so I'd bet the Etsy one is jojoba.
posted by viggorlijah at 11:40 PM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

That a was very interesting post.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 1:24 AM on July 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

And of course, the styles never got to be extravagant (self link) or anything.
posted by peacay at 2:36 AM on July 25, 2014

The only constant is that caricaturists never like current fashions and "why can't these youngsters dress like their grandparents did," with a side dish of "stupid women and their stupid clothes."

(Some links NSFW because caricaturists really didn't like Regency dresses. They showed the shape of the legs and some bosom, totally scandalous!)
posted by sukeban at 4:00 AM on July 25, 2014 [9 favorites]

I'm a Dapper Dan man!
posted by jadepearl at 4:16 AM on July 25, 2014

I had never heard the "18th century big hair full of maggots" myth until reading this... But clearly it's the progenitor of the 1950-60s "beehive hairdo full of spiders" myth.
posted by usonian at 4:32 AM on July 25, 2014

I liker the men's stockings in sukeban's "their" link. It shows that the comic book style -- draw nude people and then color clothes in on top -- has been around for centuries! And the Regency women all pretty much seem to get the same treatment.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:52 AM on July 25, 2014

I get the new fashion hate. Before there were sweatshops, it cost a pretty penny to keep up with the latest fashions!
posted by mantecol at 6:06 AM on July 25, 2014

Angela Carter has this very interesting short essay about Rousseau and corsets - she discusses the contemporary critique of tight-lacing (which was similar to the critique of big hair only angrier) and talks about how tight-lacing both disguised pregnancy and was believed to make miscarriage more likely, and that for women, particularly single women who were sexually vulnerable, tight-lacing was a strategy as well as a fashion. Rousseau, who hated tight-lacing, she characterizes as someone who basically wanted women to be utterly unable to refuse men or control their own fertility. (I haven't read any Rousseau since I was 19, and didn't read much then, so I have no idea how true this is.)

Things-on-top-of-things seems to be an 18th century idea more broadly - weren't there all those desserts (the term for which escapes me) which were basically stiffened sugar in fantastic architectural or botanical shapes? They weren't intended to be eaten and could sometimes be trotted out at party after party. (MFK Fisher reports seeing one, much later, which was brought out multiple times over the course of a ship's voyage. It didn't date back to the 18th century, admittedly, but it sure wasn't for eating.)
posted by Frowner at 6:08 AM on July 25, 2014 [9 favorites]

(I still would not want hair full of powder and grease, no matter how "healthy" it was when I cleaned it off. Re-enactment sounds like a fascinating and non-alienated job, though.)
posted by Frowner at 6:09 AM on July 25, 2014

Frowner! Those sugar sculptures anticipated the porcaline craze, basically people wanted thier favorite sugar figurine to actually last and it became a thing , leading Madam Pompodour to start the first French porcaline factory as an import replacement scheme for expensive Chinese ...china.
posted by The Whelk at 7:01 AM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I recently played Lady Catherine de Bourgh in a local production and one of the things I most enjoyed was being given the opportunity to produce the biggest hairstyles possible using just my own hair. If only I'd been aware of the ubiquitious nature of hair enhancements I could have really freaked out Lizzy.
posted by h00py at 7:14 AM on July 25, 2014

I've always wanted to stage a Regency-era farce where one characters hair would just get bigger and higher ever time she appeared on stage.
posted by The Whelk at 7:36 AM on July 25, 2014 [10 favorites]

weren't there all those desserts (the term for which escapes me) which were basically stiffened sugar in fantastic architectural or botanical shapes?

posted by winna at 7:41 AM on July 25, 2014

Frowner, Rousseau was a vile and repugnant and - I don't quite know how to describe the level of loathing I feel towards him, it's visceral. If he did not approve of big hair, then I will get the biggest damn hair there is.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:43 AM on July 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

He framed his maid for theft when he lost a watch! My loathing for Rousseau is timeless, let us all have the biggest hair.
posted by The Whelk at 7:48 AM on July 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Rousseau was a big advocate of mothers nursing their own children, and a sort of proto-attachment-parenting style in general, but then he sent all five of his OWN children to a foundling home, which was an almost certain death sentence at the time. To hell with Rousseau.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:02 AM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have to think that women like my family not blessed with thick hair might have resorted to caps or wig pieces quite a bit more than these ladies, though. Doesn't matter what you put on it if there's not enough to make big hair out of.
posted by emjaybee at 8:03 AM on July 25, 2014

@ emjaybee Hair donuts are a nice, tame, modern equivalent. They're surprisingly comfortable, and kind of fun.
posted by Flipping_Hades_Terwilliger at 9:27 AM on July 25, 2014

Completely random witterings on:

The 20th century name for the pads and cushions used to bolster these styles is hair rats.

The shift in grooming practices engendered by the 60s and 70s is profound: I'm old enough to remember 'grooming and beauty' articles that insisted that you had to give your hair 100 brushstrokes a day. The idea was that the oil from the roots was distributed through the hair as a form of natural conditioner, and that you were literally 'brushing out' dandruff. But of course my Mom's generation took baths and only got their hair wet once a week when they washed and set it. Brushing was a way of cleansing the hair as well as 'freshening' the style. Showers encourage people to wash and style their hair every morning.

It's such a pleasure to see people recreating period styles: the fact that these really big updos only take 15-20 minutes to do is surprising but makes quite a bit of sense. There's a limit to the amount of time and energy women have to devote to grooming.
posted by jrochest at 10:26 AM on July 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Loved this post, although it doesn't have enough maggots.
posted by glasseyes at 3:13 PM on July 25, 2014

No, no, it has a perfectly adequate quantity of maggots. Which is to say, none.
posted by Lexica at 5:29 PM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older Recreating everything in Sun Records sound   |   Prove your music nerd cred Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments