Saturday, October 29, 2011

Wiggery and poufs!

So I'm back in town and I had a fantastic trip! We went great places and I learned a ton of new things as I wandered through museums etc, and I can't wait to share! ... But, I have so many pictures I can't even face uploading them yet... So in the mean time, I thought I'd share some great wigs, since I've been working on my wig for Halloween today. Eeek! I am up to my chin in ostrich feathers!

Some tidbits about 18th century wigs...

- In America, a ladies wig could easily cost as much as 5 or 6 acres of land. This type of pricing is why only about 5% of the population wore wigs.

- How to powder: Using your fingers, apply your pomade to the hair, then using a small bellows filled with powder, puff the powder onto the wig. Apparently you would have needed to do this more than once in the course of an evening. Messy...

- The pomade was made of lard mixed with essential oils. I touched some in the wig-making shop in Williamsburg. Very interesting. If you have never touched lard it feels like shinier, oilier, whipped butter. Below is a picture of a wig bellows. The photo shows no size reference, but unlike a fire bellows, it fits in one hand.

- Since people were often shaved bald under their wigs, not everybody incorporated their natural hair into their hairstyles. One notable person who didn't wear a wig at all was George Washington. His man servant, William Lee, kept after his hair. The painting below shows George with William Lee in the background.

Painting by John Trumbull, 1780

- Over to France. The famous pouf  could reach up to three feet high. 

- Marie Antoinette often had her hair inspired by an event (pouf a la circonstance). For example, the Belle Poule. A hairdo with a naval ship of the same name adorning her hair, marking the entrance of France into the American Revolution.  There was also the pouf a l'inoculation, which commemorated Louis XVI getting his small pox vaccine. Note about that: smallpox vaccines were fairly common in Austria, but not widely recognized in France. Louis XV died of smallpox. And a side note about that too: apparently Louis XV was the first Bourbon whose heart was not cut out and put in a special box. Instead, alcohol was put over his body and he was covered in quicklime. Had to add that - it was just too strange!

- Marie also wore the pouf a la jardiniere, which included artichokes, carrots, radishes and even the head of a cabbage. This pouf may have been a pouf au sentiment. A hairstyle to express a feeling. One lady at court is quoted saying, "I shall never again wear anything but vegetables! It looks so simple, and is so much more natural than even flowers." Oh, fashion!

- Those long fancy head scratchers that ladies used were called grattoirs. They could be made of ivory, silver, gold and sometimes diamonds.

Grattoirs from a Christie's Auction. April 2006.

- To go to sleep, ladies would have their hair wrapped up in a triple bandage, grease, pins and all.

A lady getting her pouf dressed for bed..

- There was an invention called the coiffure a la grand-mere, by le Sieur Beaulard, which was a mechanism that allowed the hairdo to be lowered in stature, and then raised again, at the wearers pleasure. It was named the grand-mere, or grand mother, after the older ladies who disapproved of the new, very high hairstyles.

- To protect their amazing hair from the elements, ladies would wear a calash, a type of bonnet, structured with boning, that accordioned open. A calash covers and protects the hair without touching it and mussing it. See the lady in the black calash below.

 And I leave you with some more fab hair to drool over... Enjoy!

Pictures of my wig to come!

And this info comes with special thanks to Caroline Weber, whose book, Queen of Fashion, is a wealth of information! Thanks also to whoever was in the wig-making shop at Williamsburg, because I must have bugged them to death with questions!


  1. Glad you're back! Missed the daily blogs! I'm wearing a wig to a party this eve. I am jealous...mine is very small in comparison to these marvels!Ha ha!

  2. Amazing post! I'm reading about Marie Antoinette to prepare for a trip to France and came across your site. These facts are incredible! Great post!

  3. Thanks, Dana! If you want to learn tons about Marie Antoinette, check out Queen of Fashion, by Caroline Weber. Tons of information on Marie and her era.

  4. Leather sealant is the easiest way to apply a finish to your leather repairs, Ensure the areas you are applying the leather sealant are clean and dry before use.
    For more information kindly visit:- Leather Sealant