Friday, August 21, 2015

Gone Fishin'

Friday, August 21, 2015

Isabella and Loretta reporting,

Yes, it's that time of the year again, when we're taking a little time away from blogging, tweeting, pinning, IG-ing, and FB-ing to recharge and relax, and blissfully concentrate on doing nothing. We hope you, too, will find pleasurable ways to enjoy these last weeks of summer.

As the old song says, we'll see you in September!

Above: Detail, Karrie Boyd Foster and Suzie, Anna, and Lena Schlechten Fishing, near Bozeman, Montana, by Schlechten Brothers, 1915. Museum of the Rockies.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Friday video: The Clock That Changed the World

Thursday, August 20, 2015
Loretta reports:

Years ago, after reading Dava Sobel’s Longitude, my husband and I were very excited to see the actual Harrison chronometers at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich.

This BBC program does a good job of explaining, in half an hour, Harrison’s achievement. It also might make some elements of Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey series a bit more comprehensible.

You can see one of the clocks we saw at Greenwich here.

Readers who receive our blog via email might see a rectangle, square, or nothing where the video ought to be.  To watch the video, please click on the title to this post.

From the Archives: The Truth about the Big Hair of the 1770s: Part II: How They Did It


Isabella reporting,

Here's the second part of our popular "big hair" posts, continuing where Part One left off. Thanks again to Abby Cox for sharing her research with us!

Considering the towering hairstyles worn by women in the 1770s, the question that inevitably comes to mind is "how did they do it?" For the answer, I turned to two of our friends from Colonial Williamsburg, the manuta-maker's apprentices of the Margaret Hunter shop: Abby Cox and Sarah Woodyard.

These two young women not only dress in the clothing of the 1770s on a daily basis, but they are constantly researching the period to make their "look" as authentic as possible. Because they participated in the fashion trades, 18th c. milliners, mantua-makers, and their shop assistants dressed in the latest styles as a form of advertising as well as personal preference. This can be seen in prints like the one, right, where the milliners are wearing elaborate hair and caps. (For a photograph of the Margaret Hunter shop's interpretation of this print for a recent conference, see here - plenty more big hair!)

As part of her apprenticeship, Abby has been searching primary sources and prints for the secrets of these hairstyles, and of Georgian hair-care in general. Here are a few of her findings (and many thank to her for sharing them!)

First, forget 21st notions of bouncy, squeaky-clean hair. Eighteenth-century women did not scrub their hair clean, so much as cleanse it. Instead of daily lathering of soap and water (which can damage hair), they worked pomatum into the hair with their fingers, added powder, and then brushed and combed vigorously. The pomatum could have been made at home or purchased, and consisted of animal fat plus fragrance. The powder would have included some sort of finely-ground starch, with ground sheep or beef bones and ground orris-root for a light floral scent.

Following an 18th c. recipe, Abby made pomatum of mutton fat and pig's lard with essence of lemon and clove oil, to be kept in a jar. I can report that this mixture smelled absolutely, delightfully spicy – plus, as Abby noted, clove oil is a natural flea and tick repellent. The recipe for her hair powder came from The Toilet of Flora, first published in 1772 (and here online.) Think of the pomatum as a rich, deep conditioner applied as a kind of scalp massage, followed by the powder as dry shampoo. This treatment is hardly limited to the Georgians, either. Indian women, known for their beautiful, long hair, have long followed a similar cleansing regimen of oiling and combing.

This process was done frequently, too. No matter how elaborate the style, Georgian women always took their hair down at night and combed it out. For many women, this was likely a relaxing, aromatherapeutic ritual for the end of the day - although there were no doubt some lazy, slovenly hussies who didn't, giving rise to the myths about maggots.

Hair that had been treated like this made styling much easier, just as modern hairdressers rely on powdered dry shampoo to add texture and body before attempting up-dos. More powder was dusted on before styling to achieve the fashionable matte, "dusty" look of powder and to make dark hair paler. Unlike the beehives of the 1950's-60's, Georgian women did not tease their hair, but added extra volume with padded forms called rollers and cushions, middle right. Think of them as the 18th c. answer to Bumpits.

Sewn of wool cloth to match the wearer's hair, these were shaped pillows stuffed lightly with down or sheep's wool. The hair was wrapped around, (that's Abby demonstrating, middle left), or pulled through the forms, and smoothed and pinned (with u-shaped hairpins) into the desired shape. Side curls could be rolled and pinned into place, and extra touches could include braids or false curls. (Wearing a more elaborate style, above left, is the third of the shop's summer interns, Rebecca Starkins, a PhD candidate at N.Y.U. in English literature.) There was no mousse, gel, or hairspray; the pomatum and the powder offered the necessary staying-power.

How long would all this take a busy 18th c. apprentice before she appeared for work? If Abby and Sarah are any indication, not long at all. They accomplished these elaborate styles in about ten to fifteen minutes, or less time than many modern young women spend with blow-dryers and flat-irons. A skilled 18th c. professional hairdresser would have been able to perform the basics in less time, plus construct a more towering edifice of hair complete with flowers, ribbons, and strands of pearls.

More impressive still is the fact that both Abby and Sarah have both given up modern hair care products altogether, and "practice what they preach" with pomatum and powder. When they go visit their (modern) hairdressers for a cut, they're greeted with amazement, for their hair is healthy, strong, and thick - and, they swear, in better condition than ever. Hmm...perhaps the old ways ARE the best.

For the record: The length of Abby's hair is just below her shoulders, Sarah's is to the middle of her back, and Rebecca's is to her waist. Many thanks to them all!

Upper right: detail, A Morning Ramble, or - The Milliners' Shop, published by Carington Bowles, 1782. The British Museum.
Photographs by the Margaret Hunter Shop and Susan Holloway Scott.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Those American Goliaths [from the archives]

Wednesday, August 19, 2015
Gilbert Stuart, Dolley Madison 1804
Loretta reports:

Lieut. Francis Hall, an Englishman traveling in North America in 1816-1817, offers some fascinating observations of the young United States and its people. Dolley Madison, at left, was the president's lady at the time.
The President, or rather his lady, holds drawing-room weekly, during the sitting of Congress. He takes by the hand those who are presented to him; shaking hands being discovered in America to be more rational and manly than kissing them. For the rest, it is much as such things are every where, chatting, and tea, compliments and ices, a little music, (some scandal, I suppose, among the ladies,) and to bed. Nothing in these assemblies more attracted my notice, than the extraordinary stature of most of the western members; the room seemed filled with giants, among whom, moderately sized men crept like pigmies. I know not well, to what the difference may be attributed, but the surprising growth of the inhabitants of the Western states is matter of astonishment to those of the Eastern, and of the coast line generally. This phenomenon, which is certainly a considerable stumbling-block to the Abbé Raynal's theory, may probably be resolved into the operation of three positive causes, and one negative, namely, plentiful but simple food, a healthy climate, constant exercise in the open air, and the absence of mental irritation. In a more advanced stage of society, luxurious and sedentary habits produce in the rich that enfeeblement of vitality, which scanty food, and laborious or unwholesome occupations bring upon the poor. The only persons to be compared with these Goliahs of the West, were six Indian chiefs from Georgia, Chactaws or Chickasaws, who having come to Washington on public business, were presented at Mrs. Madison's drawing-room.

They had a still greater appearance of muscular power than the Americans; and while looking on them, I comprehended the prowess of those ancient knights, whose single might held an army in check, "and made all Troy retire."
—Lieut. Francis Hall, "Washington," from Travels in Canada, and the United States, in 1816 and 1817, courtesy Library of Congress.

Images: Gilbert Stuart, Dolley Madison 1804, courtesy Wikipedia; George Caitlin, “Three Celebrated Ball Players—Choctaw, Sioux, and Ojibbeway,” 1861, National Gallery of Art, Paul Mellon Collection [my photograph of the painting].

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

From the Archives: The Truth about the Big Hair of the 1770s: Part One

Tuesday, August 18, 2015
Isabella reporting,

This post, and the second part that will appear here on Thursday, are among our all-time most popular blog posts. Unfortunately, they're also among our most plagiarized and "borrowed" as well, and hacked versions have appeared all over the internet, without credit to us or to Abby Cox and her ground-breaking, hands-on research. Here's the original - accept no substitutes!

Even people who don't know anything about 18th c. women's fashion know about the hair. Towering hair styles, wigs filled with maggots, clouds of powder making everyone sneeze - EVERYONE knows that!

They may know it, but that version isn't quite right. Negative myths about past-fashion like maggot-filled wigs and rib-breaking corsets are so easy to accept because they're self-congratulatory. We're so much wiser now in 2014, aren't we?

The truth about the elaborate hair styles of the 1770s is actually more interesting than the myths, and makes more sense, too. Yes, it's an extreme style, first worn at the French Court before traveling to England. It's a status-fashion, too. The complexity of the styles showed that the wearer had both the leisure-time to devote to her hair, and most often the wealth to employ a professional hairdresser or accomplished lady's maid to achieve it. The height framed the face, and balanced out the full skirts of the period, creating a proportion that was much admired at the time. (Anyone who believes modern fashion is beyond extremes like this need only recall the huge power-shoulders popular in women's clothing of the 1980s.)

The Duchess of Beaufort, above left, is going for the height of formal hair, with a very large hair style given a dusting of pale powder; her natural brunette color is just showing through the powder.

Big hair was considered stylish for less formal wear, too. Mrs. Vere, upper right, is simply dressed. Her hair is not powdered, and while it's free of ribbons and hats, it is still piled and pinned to a towering height.

Nor were the tall hairstyles limited to the upper classes. From contemporary prints and paintings, it's clear that women who aspired to fashion - maidservants, actresses, milliners, and mantua-makers, as well as the mistresses of wealthy gentlemen - also copied the taller styles. The bar maid, middle left, crowns her hair with an elaborate cap, the better to beguile her customers.

What astonishes me is that these styles were, for the most part, not wigs, but the wearer's own hair. Nearly all Georgian gentlemen cropped their hair short and wore wigs, but few women did. Women did not cut their hair, but let it grow as long as possible. This hair was augmented with pads and rollers (more about these in Part Two), and if necessary enhanced with false curls and switches. Further embellishment came in the form of plumes, caps, hats, swags of ribbon and strands of faux pearls.

Of course, the caricaturists had a field day. The extreme hair styles were exaggerated even more, like the lady, bottom right, who is wearing an entire flower garden (including a folly) in her hair. You'll find another print here, and here. Not only could such prints make fun of the tall styles, but they also mocked the vanity of women and the foolishness of French fashions: a triple-win for the caricaturists.

But how did those women in the 1770s make their hair do this? Thanks to some of my good friends (including mantua-maker's apprentice Sarah Woodyard, bottom left) from Colonial Williamsburg, you can find out in Part II here.

Top left: Detail, Duchess of Beaufort, by Thomas Gainsborough, 1778, The Hermitage, St. Petersburg.
Top right: Detail, Mrs. Vere, by Nathaniel Dance, 1770s, private collection.
Middle left: Detail, The Pretty Bar Maid, 1778, printed by Carington Bowles. Walpole Library, Yale University.
Middle right: Detail, The Flower Garden, printed by Matthias Darly, 1777. Walpole Library, Yale University.
Bottom left: Photograph courtesy of the Margaret Hunter Shop, Colonial Williamsburg.

 
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