The Female Head-dresses Of 1776

big hair 1770s

In the 1770s, women’s hair reached extraordinary heights. With the help of a sticky pomade, layers upon layers of horse hair were attached to natural hair to create huge towers that could reach 3 feet tall! And like that wasn’t weird enough, the hairdo was then decorated with feathers, pearls and all sorts of ornaments, including ships in full sail!

Imagine how difficult it must have been to walk with all that stuff piled up your head! And riding comfortably in a carriage was impossible. In fact, women were forced to sit on the floor of the carriage not to ruin their carefully arranged hairstyles, which required hours, and more than a hair stylist, to create!

This crazy fashion was ridiculed by the magazines of the time, like this entry in the The Book of Days: A Miscellany of Popular Antiquities in Connection with the Calendar, Including Anecdote, Biography, & History, Curiosities of Literature and Oddities of Human Life and Character, Volume 2 explains:

THE FEMALE HEAD-DRESSES OF 1776

On the 12th of July 1776, Samuel Foote appeared at the Haymarket theatre in the character of Lady Pentweazle, wearing one of the enormous female head-dresses which were then fashionable—not meaning, probably, anything so serious as the reform of an absurdity, but only to raise a laugh, and bring an audience to his play-house. The dress is stated to have been stuck full of feathers of an extravagant size; it extended a yard wide; and the whole fabric of feathers, hair, and wool dropped off his head as he left the stage.

King George and Queen Charlotte, who were present, laughed heartily at the exhibition; and her majesty, wearing an elegant and becoming headdress, supplied a very fitting rebuke to the absurdity which the actor had thus satirised. There are numerous representations to be met with in books of fashions, and descriptions in books of various kinds, of the head-dress of that period. Sometimes it was remarkable simply for its enormous height; a lofty pad or cushion being placed on the top of the head, and the hair combed up over it, and slightly confined in some way at the top.

Frequently, however, this tower was bedizened in a most extravagant manner, necessarily causing it to be broad as well as high, and rendering the whole fabric a mass of absurdity. It was a mountain of wool, hair, powder, lawn, muslin, net, lace, gauze, ribbon, flowers, feathers, and wire. Sometimes these varied materials were built up, tier after tier, like the successive stages of a pagoda. The London Magazine, in satirizing the fashions of 1777, said:

hairstyle 1776

‘Give Chloe a bushel of horse-hair and wool,
Of paste and pomatum a pound,
Ten yards of gay ribbon to deck her sweet skull,
And gauze to encompass it round.
Of all the bright colours the rainbow displays,
Be those ribbons which hang on the head;
Be her flounces adapted to make the folks gaze,
And about the whole work be they spread;
Let her flaps fly behind for a yard at the least,
Let her curls meet just under her chin; Let these curls be supported, to keep up the jest,
With an hundred instead of one pin.’

The New Bath Guide, which hits off the follies of that period with a good deal of sarcastic humour, attacked the ladies’ head-dresses in a somewhat similar strain:

‘A cap like a hat
(Which was once a cravat)
Part gracefully plaited and pin’d is,
Part stuck upon gauze,
Resembles macaws
And all the fine birds of the Indies.
But above all the rest,
A bold Amazon’s crest
Waves nodding from shoulder to shoulder;
At once to surprise
And to ravish all eyes
To frighten and charm the beholder.
In short, head and feather,
And wig altogether,
With wonder and joy would delight ye;
Like the picture I’ve seen
Of th’ adorable queen
Of the beautiful bless’d Otaheite.
Yet Miss at the Rooms *
Must beware of her plumes,
For if Vulcan her feather embraces,
Like poor Lady Laycock,
She ‘d burn like a haycock,
And roast all the Loves and the Graces.’

The last stanza refers to an incident in which a lady’s monstrous head-dress caught fire, leading to calamitous results.

*The Pump-rooms at Bath, a place of great resort for fashionables.

Would you have worn such crazy and tall hairstyles?

6 Comment

  1. I guess I would have followed the trend to a certain extent simply to avoid being too different. One has to consider the fact that in those days it wasn’t has easy as today to be socialy accepted and if one wanted to be part of a certain circle there was little choice. Thankfully we can now have our own personal style without being set aside. That being said, this trend must have been painful, imagine the damage on both the neck and back? Ouch!
    Icaria´s last blog post ..A Nice Accolade…My Profile

    • Icaria, you make a good point. Even today there are certain circles where entrance is banned if you don’t conform, but luckily, we are much more free to express ourselves in whatever way we like.

      It must have been very painful, and very uncomfortable indeed. I think, like you, I would have conformed to an extent, but not to the point of having to seat on my carriage. Travelling in one can be very uncomfortable even when you’re sitting properly!

  2. Hilarious, and very interesting to read how they managed such looks. I’m afraid I would have been a servant, and so not fashionable in that way. But I did do a retro beehive or two in the ’80’s…

    • Heavy Hedonist, I probably would have been a servant too, and envying my rich mistress for all her finery. Although, following this trend must have been painful!

    • Annabella, it definitely was. Noone did big hair like they did in the 18th century. It was crazy!

      I would so love that too!

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