Wednesday, April 20, 2011

18th Century Wigs

Wigs (or 18th century hair, if you're blessed with hair long enough) has always fascinated me. I remember reading about La Belle Poule (the ship-in-the-hair style) when I was a kid and marveling at how silly it was. Now, of course, I'm obsessed enough with the 18th century that I'd actually give it a try. :) I can't remember where I came across this 18th century illustration of hair styles, but I love that each one has its own name:

I was thrilled to make it to the Wig Maker during my latest trip to Williamsburg. Check out their new Facebook page. They're not always open on the weekend when I tend to visit, so it was a treat. The wig maker was restyling the governor's wife's wig. It still blows my mind to think that ladies would shave their heads if they wanted to wear a wig. I wonder how common ladies wigs were vs. getting your own hair styled. Does anyone know?

There were all sorts of new wigs on display. In the past, it seems like the store generally had men's wigs on display, but this time there were tons of ladies' wigs. This one is actually a man's wig (can you imagine what a dandy a guy would have to be to wear one of these?). It makes me think of the hairstylist Leonard in Sophia Coppola's "Marie Antoinette."

I LOVE this wig, because it's my hair color and has peacock feathers. I have no idea what's up with the scissors. I think maybe they were on the shelf in the background (not IN the wig), but I didn't notice it when I took the photo.

I love the one on the left. The pretty pin curls toward the top are my favorite.

And here's my favorite. What's not to love? It's the powdery ideal of the 1770's and doesn't look anything like the horrid white wigs costume shops sell (I do realize comparing the quality between costume wigs and the Williamsburg Wig Maker is like comparing a Fiat to a Ferrari, but that's what came to mind).
Check out all the little side curls piled one on top of the other! That, combined with the twisted chignon and feathers, it's just to die for!! I want one. I'm not very talented when it comes to hairstyling, or I'd have already bought a wig and tried my own hand at creating an 18th century poof. Kendra has a great tutorial on how to style a 1770's wig, and Abby of "Stay-ing Alive" has a great 1780's hedgehog tutorial if you are more talented at hairstyling.

I'm hoping that there will be a wig workshop in my future or that I cajole my way onto the wigmaker's wait list.


Kelsie-Anne said...

What stunning wigs! I just came across you blog not long ago, and I have so enjoyed reading your post and looking at your lovely photos. I am a big fan of the 18th century and civil war type clothing etc so I have really enjoy your blog. Keep up your wonderful work.


meganphntmgrl said...

I know this post is almost two years old, but to answer your question:

Women actually only rarely wore full wigs in this time period. False hair used to thicken/augment the real hair while it was being styled was common- pads of horsehair were pinned or braided in and then used to add length or (in many cases) height, and then powder was added to make sure the color was uniform. Because this was highly expensive, though, it would be left as it was styled for a week or more, and the lady would have to sleep sitting up!

Full wigs were far more common on men. Occasionally, the real hair was still worn, but the styling that went along with real hair tended to be a lot simpler (ponytail and a couple of sidecurls) than wigs usually were. Earlier in the century, it was highly fashionable to outright shave the head in order to make the wig fit as closely as possible, and men who could afford to wore little turbanlike caps at home instead of wigs for comfort. Presumably the caps started off as a way of hiding one's bald head, though as time went on the fact that most men of means were fashionably bald under their wigs regardless of what youth or genetic good luck had to say about it made it less of an embarrassment, and so, having a bit of bare scalp showing under a rakishly angled cap was not only okay but common.

In later decades, though, it became more usual to just cut the hair short and smooth it down to wear a wig, or just powder your own hair.

Costume Diva said...

Megan...thank you so much for your comment! Your comments were jive with what I had previously read about 18th century hair styles (though I'm no expert). I think my confusion stemmed from a few visits to the Willamsburg wig shop. They almost made it sound commonplace for ladies to get fitted for wigs and shaved. Maybe this is their way of explaining the presence of their gorgeous ladies wigs and having a bit of fun with the tourists ('my lady, would you like your head shaved?').

Steven Finn said...

It may be difficult to find suppliers of these wigs in your local area unless you live in or near a large metropolitan area Lace front wigs