Friday, February 18, 2011

Never a Bad Hair Day in Regency England

Bonnets, hats, bandeaux, turbans, caps, and veils--Regency fashion has any number of ways of concealing the hair of the highly fashionable ladies of the ton. Often, as a result, the styles of hairdressing themselves are overlooked.

As I have been looking at fashion journals lately, I decided to take particular note of the descriptions of hair styles. And, as I was considering pictures, I cropped out some head illustrations because I find, in looking at fashion plates, I am often so distracted by the details of dress that I don't consider the head unless it wears a striking bonnet. I wonder what that is on the 1807 head above right--pearl droplets?

This hair illustration from 1807 suits a description in La Belle Assemblee from a year later:

"Cropt hair, confined with a band, and curled over the left eye."

In the same issue, from January 1808, another style is described :

"The hair confined from the root, the ends flowing in irregular curls, leaving the forehead and temples exposed."

In January 1810 a more substantial description of evening hairstyles was given:
"The hair is either worn brought forward in a full tuft of curls on one side the face, or else closely twisted up behind, and confined with a pearl comb; a wreath of heath is placed at the back of the head a-la Daphne, encircling the knot of hair twisted twice round, and inclining to the left ear.."
The styles below each seem illustrative of that report.

Descriptions from the Edinburgh Annual Review of 1813 are less fulsome:

"Hair in curls and ringlets confined on the crown of the head, and intermixed with flowers."

"Hair twisted up behind in a very large full bow, divided in front, and much fuller on the temples than last month."

Ackermann's Repository for January 1815 describes the classic style we tend to associate with the Regency:

"Hair parted in the centre of the forehead, confined in the Grecian style, and blended with flowers."

In June of the same year, the Repository describes: "Hair in irregular curls, blended with a wreath of lilac."

This illustration from 1819 is unmistakably late Regency; the face shows an almost Victorian sensibility. The hair is showing an emphasis on symmetrical side curls that was to develop and deepen during Victoria's reign before the curls eventually were replaced by simpler bands of hair.

For all the elaborate dressing of hair, products were seldom mentioned in advertising. Atkinson's Curling Fluid and Rowland's Macassar Oil appear in advertisements in La Belle Assemblee in 1815, but no dedicated shampoos appear for sale. Indeed the word 'shampoo'--from Hindi--meant, in the early 1800s, a sort of head massage with oil. Late in the Regency, soap began to be shaved into boiling water and herbs added for fragrance, and the resulting mixture used for particularly washing the hair.

In the present day, we have hundreds of products for the enhancement of the hair, and yet hair styles have never been simpler. How exquisitely ironic!

Next week, popular author Louise Allen will visit to talk about "Exploring the Building of Bath". In her own words, "The Regency is my passion. I find it an endlessly fascinating era full of contrast and change, danger and elegance, luxury and squalor." You can visit Louise here, to read her complete bio and view her impressive books list.

She has two new releases; one is Walks Through Regency London, and another is a double fiction treat Regency Pleasures.  

Be sure to join us next Friday for Louise's fascinating look at Bath.

'Til then,



Anne Gallagher said...

I wonder how long it took their maids to do their hair? Two hours, maybe three? And then dressing another hour or so. Makes me think they'd be exhausted before they even went out. And then to do it all over again the next night? Ewww.

Thanks again for another great post. I love your blog.

Unknown said...

Wow! Thank you again Lesley for an enjoyable post.... loved it!!

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

Thanks for visiting, Tee and Anne! I'm glad you enjoyed the hair post--I think I'd go for a cap rather than sit for a hour or two for an elaborate style!