POWDER, PATCH, PERUKE
SHALL WE CHANGE OUR HAIR AS WE SHIFT OUR GOWNS?
Is the Wig to Be an Important Accessory of the Fashionable Wardrobe as in the Directory Days?
Hair-Dressing for 1889.
They say that Mme. Tallien had five-and-thirty wigs, each of which had cost thirty gold louis. There was a certain noble young Parisian named Mlle. Lepelletier de St. Fargeau, who was married not long after Robespierre lost his head. In her trousseau were included twelve fine blonde wigs, with twelve tulle, feather, flower, gauze and ribbon caps, worth, some of them, three hundred francs each, to adorn the coiffures.
We model our gowns after the fashion of the Directory. Are we to look to “ye olden times” also with regard to hair?
The query is suggested by a mass of superb pale gold tresses shown yesterday by one of the bright, business-like young women who form a majority of the city hairdressers. The silky lengths were very soft and fine and heavy, falling of their own will into wavy curls. The color was the rarest ever seen, a lovely white floss just tinged by sunbeams, such as one catches sometimes for a year and a month on the poll of a baby girl.
“What pretty actress is putting the $150 that it must cost into a single suit of hair?”
“Not for the stage; for the ball. This is a wig for Miss__,” naming a fleet-footed dancer of the society whirl.
“But Miss___ is a brunette. Besides, she has a magnificent head of hair of her own.”
“She is going to the ball in a Greek gown of pale green, and light hair is more becoming with that, you know. See, here is a bit of the stuff she left with me. She wanted the wig made up of the exact color which would look best with it and with its garniture,” and the little woman produced a scrap of Liberty silk worked with the Greek fret pattern in Japanese gold thread across one end.
“It’s to be made, she says, with classic draperies. This gold embroidery–it’s not a heavy tint and is not put on in masses–makes a border about the bottom of the skirt and about the waist, and there is just an edge of it around the neck opening. There is a scarf of pale green tissue caught up on the right shoulder and there is to be a band of green about the hair.”
“You dress the wig, then, before it goes home?”
“Why, certainly. The dressing, like the color, is to correspond with the gown. You let a wavy lock or two, not a bang, escape on the forehead. Then you gather the rest loosely and gracefully back into a soft, curly knot Then you thread the front hair, fillet-wise, with green ribbons. I think I shall add in this instance, if the lady will permit it, a ribbon wound about the knot, crossed below it, and having the two ends brought out on either side to join the fillet, and fastened by tiny jeweled crescents. Miss___ has a clear, delicate complexion, and in all that pale green with this straw-gold hair she will shine like a star.”
“Isn’t it a new thing for a girl to come out in hair not her own?”‘
“Well, I could tell you of three of four women who have ordered wigs to correspond with their evening gowns, but I suppose should lose good customers if I let the names escape. Perhaps, though, Helen Dauvray wouldn’t mind my saying that the first wig I ever made for her was selected after she left the stage–there used to be a fuss, you know, because she wore her own hair on the boards and wouldn’t adapt her coiffures to her parts–for wear in London drawing rooms while Ward is in Australia. A beautiful suit, too, it was. And, honest now, isn’t it more sensible than bleaching? How many women do you suppose have ruined their hair completely by drenching it with golden washes? It costs more to buy a blonde wig than it does to bleach your own hair, but there is this advantage that you can change back again any day you please. And in the busy weeks of the social season it is so convenient A woman can send her wig to a hair-dresser and get it fixed for the opera or a ball without any trouble to herself, when, to have her own hair done as elaborately and becomingly would cost much time, cutting her out entirely from Mrs. A’s delightful tea or the charming drive which she has promised to take with Mrs. C. It adds from an hour to two hours to her day,” and the small hairdresser smiled convincingly.
And will it come to that? Are we going back to the days when a woman changed her hair almost as often as she did her gown, when the wardrobe of a blonde beauty was not complete without a couple of raven wigs, and when the brunette’s dressing room was not properly furnished unless it contained sunny tresses in as great abundance as black hair? It would be a dress novelty indeed when a toilet was to be ordered to shop first for the coiffure. The hair-dresser–a mighty man he used to be and a mighty woman she may be yet–should bring out golden switches curly and fine, auburn switches ruddy and soft. One should try on hair as one tries on bonnets, to suit the complexion and the style. Fitted with the suit which was judged most becoming, one should beg for a lock as one carries off samples of silk or gauze. Then would come the task of matching and comparing.
“What have you in evening silks to go with this shade of hair?”
And to the dressmaker.
“Would you advise a pale blue embroidered crepe or a rainbow tulle as likely to go better with a curly crop of this light yellow?”
“I thought you were wearing bronze waves this season.”
“So I was, but I saw this being made in Mlle. K’s this morning and it was so fluffy that I couldn’t resist getting it for the ___’s dance next week. I do adore fuzzy yellow curls.”
“Well, I should recommend black lace. The tint is so delicate that any other color would kill it, I’m afraid.”
“Suppose I call it black gauze; then I can have covered with those lovely cobwebs in silver threads, with enameled spiders and dragon flies in colored mother-of-pearl and wear blue and yellow butterflies in my hair!”
And so on and on ad infinitum would it go. The revival of powder certainly points in the direction of wigs. Not perhaps as powder is now used, with just a dust of silvery crystals scattered over the head or the faintest shadow of frosting about the temples and forehead, but patches–wee ones–are venturing out with the powder, and the unusual popularity of fancy balls will give both a chance to show themselves and to accustom the conservative to their presence, while the Pompadour gown will suggest them inevitably to the eccentric for almost any even big occasion. Powdering the hair was the most uncleanly of habits, and powder with wigs would be less of an outrage than powder without them. Whoever has worn a poudre dress at a fancy ball knows what an incredible amount of powder it takes to whiten thoroughly the hair. Again and again one dusts it on, and again and again it sifts down on the scalp and leaves a streaked and mottled coiffure. By the time one’s patience is exhausted and one’s powder, one has laid out gigantic task for one’s self, one’s maid or the shampoo man to restore things to their normal condition. Powder for the evening means wigs for the evening if one values one’s peace of mind next day.
Aside from powder, fashions in hair show great variety this winter. In general hair is going higher in front and lower behind. A small coil low in the neck with just a lock or two relieving the bareness of the forehead is a simple style for all informal occasions, which to many women is the most becoming coiffure possible. With the artistic and historical costumes which are now correct form for full dress occasions the hair is, or ought to be dressed, with modifications, to correspond. For the Marie Antoinette gown the directions given by a fashion writer of 1773 are, save in one particular, literally followed by fashionable dames of the year of grace 1889. “Every lady,” says this beau of a century gone, “who wishes to dress her hair with taste and elegance should purchase an elastic cushion exactly fitted to the head; then, having combed her hair and properly thickened it with powder and pomatum, let her turn it over her model in the recognized fashion.” The headdresses of towering weight in which the unlucky Queen delighted, and of which it is said that they placed the face of the wearer in the middle of her figure, are an absurdity which cannot return. There is no fear of a pouf like that of Louis Philippe’s mother, in which “every one might admire the Due de Beaujolais, her eldest son, in the arms of his nurse, a parrot pecking at a cherry, a little [servant] and a multitude of other designs,” making a coiffure so high that its owner must kneel on the floor of her carriage in order to accommodate it, but my lady in her Louis XVI. Watteau gown or flowered brocade at a Delmonico ball preserves a certain semblance of consistency by rolling her hair high over her forehead on a cushion, letting only a curl or two drop to her temples and planting a puff comb of gold and diamonds, a diamond crescent, an aigrette of feathers, a flower or a pompon to confine and ornament it.
The modern Mme. Pompadour wears a flounced lace skirt with overdress of rich yellow brocade, paniers on hips, square cut neck, elbow sleeves lace – trimmed, ribbon tied in a bow about her throat, and hair drawn loosely back from her face and gathered in a bunch of light curls on top of her head with a tiny wreath or a fluff of marabout feathers set coquettishly to one side. With her promenades one of Napoleon’s dead beauties in a severe, statuesque Empire gown of dead white silk, her black hair brushed straight and braided glossy and tight in a smooth and shining coil on the back of her head. And so they pass, each one different from the other, for if we are attaining individuality in dress in any particular it is in hair dressing.
ELLEN OSBORN. Copyright, 1888.
The Times [Philadelphia PA] 19 January 1889: p. 3
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Rococo Revival flourished periodically throughout the nineteenth century. Second Empire and Belle Epoque beauties were fascinated by the ribbons and lace and dainty flower garlands of what was interpreted as “Marie Antoinette” style; Worth did a thriving business in rococo fancy-dress for the Empress Eugenie and her court; the designer Lucile decorated her salon in rococo gilt and satin and encouraged panniers and Louis-heeled shoes, and powdered/white hair allowed any lady to feel like the Queen of France, frolicking about the le Hameau de la Reine.
But why stop at wigs of natural hue, even to match one’s gown? In 1914 France, wigs in a rainbow of colours were touted as the essential fashion accessory:
Coloured wigs are the latest fad of fashion. These wigs are made in all colours to match the dresses, blue, pink, purple, white, etc., and displayed as they have been in the windows of one of the Paris retail shops, they do not seem so very extreme. A lady nowadays purchases shoes to match her dress, so why not a wig to harmonise the top portion of the colour scheme? A superb fashion parade has just come off in one of the big hotels here (writes a Nice correspondent). The loveliest “mannequin” from Paris, dressed up in “the very latest” strolled in and out between the tea tables. An old lady who sat near us said rapturously, “My dear, what a sartorial feast,” and indeed it was that. Several of the pretty mannequins wore blue or green wigs, and as they matched their gowns the effect was rather splendid. One girl, for example, wore a bright green transformation with a ball gown composed of ivory and sea green chiffon. There was a pleated tunic, and under that long fringes in diamonds and crystal. The low bodice, of which there was very little, was a mass of diamond and crystal embroideries, and there was a green mirror velvet sash. Another mannequin pranced about in an extraordinary dinner gown made of tango-orange chiffon and striped taffetas, the stripes being in shades of rose, green, black, and yellow. The skirt was finely pleated—please take notice that pleats are the rage of the season—and there was a bunchy tunic which gave a pannier effect at the sides. There was a high Medici collar piped with dull rose velvet, and the transformation was bright orange.
Observer 4 July 1914: p. 21
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdote
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.