LADIES’ CAPS©

Caps were worn by all classes, the difference being primarily the fineness of the fabric and level of decoration with ruffles and other trim.  Women weren’t as likely to wear caps in a formal setting as in doing work or “undress” (at home).  Almost always, the caps were white, the exception being a pink cap in one portrait.  They might be cotton, linen, organza, etc.  Silk ribbons, in any number of colors, were often used to ornament caps.  Caps were worn over dressed hair and sometimes a hat was worn over the cap.  Today, the caps are de rigor for covering a modern hair style. 

What you won’t find in searching period images is a “mob cap” which looks like a round shower cap.  Caps from the period have a distinct shape created using three main pieces – a caul (the body), the band, and ruffles.  A cap can have a single ruffle or be double ruffled.  It might also have a caul ruffle and another ruffle framing the face. 

If you have good sewing skills the American Duchess shows you how to make your own cap at: See:  https://blog.americanduchess.com/2017/12/correction-1780s-cap-pattern-american.html or Kannik Korner and others offer patterns which I prefer.  Generally a stiffer fabric makes up nicer and is less likely to collapse in wearing it.

Jean-Francois Gilles Colson (1733-1803)
Portrait of Mrs. John Broadbent and child. Philadelphia Museum. ca. 1793
Portrait, Marthe Marie Tronchin, 1758-61 by Jean-Etienne Liotard.
Sketchbook, mid-18th century, anonymous artist.
British Museum
Portrait, 1779. Nathaniel Hone Tate.
Etienne Aubry Versailles, 1745-1781
sketch 1770s
Portrait, Madame Charles-Pierre Pecoul, nee Potain. 1784

LADIES JACKETS: Mid to Late 18th Century©

Jackets were made of wool, silk, linen, Chintz etc. Length varied, somewhat, with the decades. They were worn for work or for dress as was determined by cut and fineness of fabric. They could be accessorized similarly to gowns and even working class women are sometimes seen in paintings with some form of jewelry.

From: “An album Containing 90 Fine Water Color Paintings of Costumes”, collection of Bunka Fashion College in Japan, ca. 1775.
LACMA. Woman’s Caraco. France. Ca. 1775.
Caraco, silk, metallic thread, French
The Met. Caraco. Ca. 1780.
Caraco, cotton, Belgian
The Met. “18th Century”. Caraco.
Caraco, silk, Italian
The Met. Caraco. Ca. 1785.
Jacket, ca. 1780, collections of the de Young and Legion of Honor Museums in San Francisco.
Pet-en-lair with quilted petticoat, Scottish, 1780-81, Glasgow Museum.
Metropolitan Museum, ca. 1775. Caraco jacket and petticoat. French. Silk. Front
Back, Met Museum, ca 1775.
Caraco jacket and petticoat. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Ca. 1770-80. Indian Cotton. English.
“The Sleeping Kitchen Maid” by Peter Jakob Horemans, 1765.
1770s - 18th century - woman's outfit with mixed print fabrics (jacket in solid, skirt in stripes, apron in floral, neckerchief in plaid / checks) - From "An album containing 90 fine water color paintings of costumes." Turin : [s.n.] , [ca.1775]. In the collection of the Bunka Fashion College in Japan.
1770s. Mixed fabrics.
Embroidered silk jacket (trøye, a rural version of the casaquin), ca. 1770. From The National Museum in Oslo (OK-06197)
Embroidered lady’s jacket, ca. 1770. National Museum of Oslo.
Casaquin de velours rouge, vers 1700-1725, France, Palais Galliéra, Musée de la mode de la ville de Paris sur Base Joconde
Casaquin de velours rouge, vers 1700-1725, France, Palais Galliéra, Musée de la mode de la ville de Paris sur Base Joconde
PLAID SILK CARACO JACKET, c. 1770. Narrow sea green vertical stripe over cream and tan horizontal bands, open neck, short angled sleeve, pleated peplum angled at front, all trimmed in wide self furbelows, looped silk cord and tiny tassels, lined in linen with adjustable lacing closure and front stays.
Plaid silk caraco jacket, ca. 1770, Whitaker Auctions.
Jacket, silk, linen, French
1725-30, French. The Met Museum.

Review of Nancy Loane’s Following the Drum

As a writer, I deplore the passing along of inaccurate undocumented information and I’m happy to see Ms. Loane debunk some of the Martha Washington myths that arose during the flowery Victorian era. A primary source is one written by someone who personally witnessed an event and wrote about it in a timely manner (before the memory dimmed and details blurred). Without primary source documentation, the information is doubtful at best.

Unfortunately, once published false information is quoted for generations and it never seems to die even after the myth is debunked.

Not only did Ms. Loane do an exorbitant amount of research in primary documents for what did happen, she addresses just when various myths were first penned, by whom, and why. In some cases, after an exhaustive search of available primary sources what Ms. Loane could not find speaks volumes.

Martha Washington has been described as circulating among the crude log huts at the Valley Forge encampment ministering to the troops, but this could not be documented in any primary source. None of the people who were at Valley Forge and wrote about their experiences spoke of Martha physically administering aid to the troops. Such comments were first written by George Washington Parke Custis, who wasn’t yet born at the time, some fifty-six years after the encampment.

Custis described his grandmother as a ministering angel at various camps when she is clearly documented by reliable sources as being elsewhere at the time and his accounts continued to grow more flamboyant as he grew older. Ms. Loane considers Custis a writer of poetry but not a historian, and other modern writers compared him to Mason Weems who created the story about George chopping down the cherry tree.

George Washington wrote a letter to the president of Princeton saying there was nothing particularly wrong with his step-grandson except for Custis’s, “aversion to study. . . mere indolence, & a dereliction to exercise the powers of the mind.” This isn’t a glowing recommendation for anyone attempting to write a historical account.

Martha was a cultured woman who knew exactly what was proper for a lady of her stature. Entertaining distinguished guests, arranging dinners or tea for the officers and their wives, outings for the ladies, and perhaps writing letters requesting donations from ladies of means is admirable for the time negating the need for creating stories to frame her in a good light.

Walking through the quarters of raggedly dressed and dirty men who came from all walks of life and may have carried on conversations unfit for a lady’s ears was unacceptable. Neither Martha or George Washington were documented as having made such a claim. No such account has been found in the writings of officers or their wives who were in the camps. As is Ms. Loane, I’m sure her “deeds of charity and piety”, were appreciated by those in her presence, but weren’t noted amongst the troops.

Ms. Loane gives an account of the officers’ wives who did spend time at the Potts home with Martha and various military and civilian visitors. Perhaps more importantly, she describes in great deal what the working women in the camps experienced – both the working class and the poor and wretched, and what they contributed to the aid of the troops. These latter were the laundresses, cooks, nurses, letter-writers, prostitutes, and wives who found themselves homeless when their husbands took up arms. A handful of women also took up arms.

Women born into poverty or who found themselves reduced to it through no fault of their own had few choices and slogging along in the mud behind the army hoping for meager rations or a coin for their labors was the best many of them could do for themselves and their children. Yes, there were children in camp and babies born in camp or on the way to camp, all of whom had to eat and most adding to Washington’s burden of obtaining enough supplies for all.

This book is well researched, well written, and deserves to be read. I highly recommend it.      

GARDENER: Seed Saving Prior to the Nineteenth Century©

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This is part of our series on eighteenth century occupations prior to, and following, the wars.  Gardening was necessary and before one can grow vegetables, herbs, grasses for forage, or flowers he must have seeds.  Saving seeds from one year to the next was economical and perpetuated select varieties when properly harvested. 

For those of us who rely heavily, or all together, on heirloom and open pollinated seeds the following information taken from primary sources is as accurate today as it was two centuries ago and would serve any gardener well.

For saving flower and vegetable seeds a 1758 source gave sound advice.  “The Care of saving Seeds for a next Year’s Crop, should come early into the Gardener’s Mind:  he should mark the strongest plant as soon as they come into Flower, and not suffer this to exhaust itself by too large a bloom:  he should cherish the ten or twelve Flowers that first open, and take off all succeeding Buds.  Then the whole Strength of Nature being in a most perfect Manner, and his next year’s Plants will very well shew the Effect of his Care…

The Time of saving Seeds [published in June] from many of the Kitchen Garden Products is now come; and let the careful Gardener here imitate, in some degree, what we have directed for the Florist.

Let them always stand upon the Plants till well harden’d; and then be thrown upon a Mat or Cloth, in an airy Room to dry in their Pods for some Time, before they are rub’d out of them.

When clear’d from the Husks, let them again be thin spread out several Days; and they will thus get that perfect hardening, which will render them fit for keeping or sowing, according to their several Natures”.

It was important to keep seeds pure, otherwise they produce quite differently from the plant the seeds were saved from.

“The truest plants should be selected” for saving seed.  In other words, save from plants that exhibit the characteristics you desire – the biggest flowers, the desired color flower, strongest stems, etc. and the same holds true for vegetables. 

“Effectual means must be taken to prevent a mixing of the sorts, or, to speak in the language of farmers, a crossing of the breeds…”.  There can be no crossing between a cabbage and a carrot, but squash and cucumbers, gourds, pumpkins, or melons can cross.  When a watermelon is insipid instead of sweet and juicy this may be why.  Corn will cross producing more than one color grain in the ears.  These are but a few examples.

To prevent crossing, varieties must be planted far enough apart that the wind doesn’t blow pollen from variety to variety and insects don’t travel between the plants carrying pollen from one to another. 

“To save the seeds of two sorts of any tribe, in the same garden, in the same year, ought not to be attempted; and this it is, that makes it difficult for any one man to raise all sorts of seeds good and true.

However, some may be saved by every one who has a garden; and, when raised, they ought to be carefully preserved.  They are the best preserved in the pod, or on the stalks…

They should stand till perfectly ripe, if possible.  They should be cut, or pulled, or gathered, when it is dry; and, they should, if possible, be dry as dry can be, before they are threshed out”.

Once seeds are threshed, they must be stored where they will remain perfectly dry until planted.

If one man saves beans he may swap some of his seed with his neighbor who saved squash or melon seeds so that each man may have a variety of vegetables the following year”. 

By the 1740s seeds were readily available for purchase but their quality varied greatly.  “…Gardeners about London…will never buy any Seeds…if they do not know how they were saved”.  That writer referred to, “seed of your own saving, or from a Friend that you can confide in…”. 

Seeds do not last forever and such fantastic stories of planting seeds hundreds of years old found in caves or some such are just that – stories.  “Seeds, if they be old very old, and yet have strength enough to bring forth a plant, make the plant degenerate…and therefore skillful gardeners make trial of the seeds before they buy them, whether they be good or no, by putting them into water gently boiled; and if they be good, they will sprout within half an hour”. 

Bib:

“Eden:  or, a Compleat Body of Gardening”.  London.  1758.

Cobbett, Wm.  “The American Gardener”.  1821.

Miller, Philip.  “The Gardener’s Dictionary”.  1748.

Miller, Philip.  “The Abridgment of the Gardener’s Dictionary”.  1771.

Military Hygiene for Revolutionary War Troops© – By: Victoria Brady

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A description of General Washington during the war was published in 1823 which coincides with what was expected from his troops. “His dress. being suited to the road, was simple and plain, but such as was worn by the higher class of his countrymen: he wore his own hair, dressed in a manner that gave a military air to his appearance, and which was rather heightened by his erect and conspicuously graceful carriage. His whole appearance was so impressive, and decidedly that of a gentleman…”.

“The oftener Soldiers come under the inspection of their Officers, the sooner will they acquire the method of dressing to advantage; it is therefore, necessary, that every morning at Troop-beating, the Companies should be drawn up in squads, and when the rolls are called, that the Serjeants and Corporals strictly examine the Men of their Squads, one by one, observing in a particular manner, that their Hats are well cocked, brushed, and worn, their Hair combed out, and the stocks put on smoothly, that their Shirts are of a proper cleanness, and in good condition; their Coats, Waistcoats, and Breeches free from rips or spots, or wanting Buttons; the Lace and Lining in proper order, and the whole well brushed; that their Stockings are perfectly clean, drawn up tight, and without holes; their shoes well blackened and buckled straight; their stock clasps, buckles, and Cloaths buttons extremely bright; their Beards close shaved; their Hands and Faces well washed; their side Arms properly put on; and that every particular about them, be in the most exact order.” – Baron von Steuben.

Orders/recommendations abound for a clean-shaven appearance, and H.M. 42nd Regiment of Foot [1783] specified, “runners [a sort of precursor to the sideburn] will be overlooked but no full-haired face will be passed. Top lips are to be shaved to and all”.

Von Steuben also advised that the officers should make sure the men’s clothes are whole and put on correctly, hands and faces clean, accoutrements properly fixed, and, “every article about them in the greatest order”. Those guilty of repeated neglects were to be confined and punished. Those who kept a remarkable appearance were to be applauded publicly.

Other writers discussed long beards, breeches open at the knees, dirty hands or face, etc. which were punishable infractions and instructed that the men should turn out, “well powdered, fresh shav’d, & [with] clean linen”. All agreed the men should turn out as clean, and dressed as well, as their circumstance would allow, but given the privations encountered during their service there were obviously times when “best” was sorely lacking.

A recruit was expected to quickly learn how to wash his linen, cook provisions, and keep his belongings in his knapsack which was to be easily at hand night or day. Bathing, morning and evening, was expected, although some orders were addressed to such men as wished to bathe, indicating it was not strictly mandatory. Those unable to swim were to take care not to enter too deeply into the water. Some specified bathing, or at least washing feet, three times per week.

Cleaning and oiling the feet and shoes rendered the men ever ready for marching.

While some accounts address clothing, some of what was discussed was not practical given the hard circumstances in which the men found themselves. Clothing wore out, shoes got holes, and hats failed to keep their shape when repeatedly worn in the rain.

The hair might be short or long but was to be clean and combed. It might be pulled back “pony-tail” fashion, and tied with a ribbon or leather, braided and then tied in like manner, to be tucked up under the hat, or not, or clubbed (turned back upon itself and tied with a ribbon or leather wrapper). Some officers requested the men keep their hair cut short and perhaps wear a “small wig” for wear in inclement weather.

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From the Regimental Orders of H.M. 23rd Regiment of foot, “Hair to be plaited and turned up behind with a black ribbon or tape, three quarters of a yard long, in a bow knot at the tye [sic]. Those men who have their hair so short that it will not plait are to be provided as soon as possible with a false plait”.

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Dr. Benjamin Rush penned a letter to Col. Wayne, 4th Pennsylvania Battalion, in Sept 1776 in which he referenced General Howe’s orders and Count Saxe’s recommendations for short hair saying it prevented lice and dried quickly reducing the likelihood of illness from exposure with wet hair.

Side curls were not usually worn by the common soldier though some officers did maintain this style. In situations where a man with short hair was expected to appear with long dressed hair he might wear false hair, but full wigs were thought by some too difficult to maintain for the average soldier.

Bathing was, at least sometimes, limited to the morning and evening hours. Some orders, including those of Gen. Washington, explicitly forbade bathing between the hours of 8 or 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. In some circumstances, the orders were addressed to such men as may choose to bathe indicating it wasn’t mandatory. Often the men were restricted in location where they might bathe to reduce the chance of public display.

As one account explained, “women in canoes have been insulted and discountenanced by Men bathing” in the rivers. Major General Nathan Greene addressed this issue more straightforwardly. “Complaints have been made by the inhabitants situated near the Mill Pond that some of the solders come there to go swimming in the open view of the women and that they come out of the water and run to the houses naked with a design to insult and wound the modesty of female decency”.

With that, I bid you adieu.

Sources:
Baron Friedrich Wilhelm August Heinrich Ferdinand von Steuben’s “Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States”, 1779.
“Orderly Book Kept by Captain Abraham Dodge of Ipswich”. May 1778.
Lieutenant James M. Hayden’s Journal & Orderly Books, Royal Regiment of Artillery 1776-1777.
“The Orderly Book of Anthony Wayne.”
“Orderly Book of Sir William Howe”. 1775-1776”.
“Orderly Book of Moses Little’s Mass. Regt”. April 4, 1776.
“The Writings of General George Washington”. Headquarters Moores House, Aug. 5, 1779.
“Gaglignani’s Literary Gazette”. Jan. 26, 1823.

Illustration: Common military hairstyles from “Collector’s Encyclopedia of the American Revolution” by George C. Neuman and Frank Kravic.

GATHERING BASKETS: Description and Function©

Eighteenth century farmers understood basket-making and it formed part of his occupation in winter evenings. Due to the availability of purchased materials and baskets this practice was of less importance by the 1840s although it was still recommended every gardener, forester, and woodman understand how to make a basket. Eighteenth century farmers often maintained their own osier/willow grounds for materials.

Baskets for gathering salad herbs for family use are flat, shallow, chip, or osier. Those without any handle are the most convenient, and from about ten or twelve to eighteen inches in diameter and two or three deep. For gathering peas, beans, cabbage, carrots, and other crops required in considerable quantity, there should be strong, deep, osier baskets of different dimensions, somewhat of the form of a water-pail, and from about a peck to a bushel size, with two strong side handles at top.

Baskets of osier, wicker-work, and chip baskets, different sorts are necessary in considerable kitchen gardens for gathering the produce for the kitchen or market, &c. some small, others middling and large; some flat and shallow, larger and smaller kinds, for sallad [sic] baskets, several sorts of small herbs and fruits; others, more or less hollowed concave, shallower and deeper, smaller and larger, for different occasions in gathering any common small crops for family service, in roots, herbs, sallads, pulse, and other herbaceous esculents, and different sorts of fruits; and if some of these baskets have bowed cross handles, will be more convenient; also larger round, deep half bushel and bushel baskets, for gathering larger supplies of more bulky kinds, as cabbages, cauliflowers, and other cabbage kinds; as also peas, beans, and many of the large root esculents; or for serving a family kitchen, a large basket may contain several sorts of the common esculents to carry in at once; but all principal fruits, for immediate supply of the table, should be gathered in small or moderate sized shallow neat baskets, that they may not be bruised by many lying upon one another, and that the fruit may appear to the best advantage, or the choicer eating fruits gathered each sort in separate small baskets, and placed in a larger flat one, to carry into the house.

For gathering larger quantities of standard tree fruits, and others for baking, boiling, &c. any common basket is eligible; or for gathering the keeping fruits of apples, pears, &c. to house for winter, should have either a common deepish wicker basket, with two side handles, hung by a belt, &c. round the person, in the work of hand-gathering. These are emptied into larger baskets or hampers to carry to the fruitery.

In the market grounds they have many sorts for gathering, and the gathered ware is packed in baskets of different sorts and sizes for market, denominated sieves, junks, maunds, boats, flats, &c. Mushrooms, raspberries, mulberries, cherries, strawberries &c. are carried to market in small upright narrow chip baskets, called pottles, and placed many together in a large flat boat basket.

Boats are large flat baskets two or three feet broad, and eight or ten inches deep, with two handles at the rim, used chiefly to put up such goods that cannot bear hard, or close packing.

Maunds are upright narrow baskets about two feet deep, wider at top than bottom, having two handles and usually open round the middle of the sides.

Sieves are flat-bottomed, upright-sided baskets, about a foot deep, without handles, and from about a peck to a bushel measure in dimensions, being equally as wide at bottom as the top.

Pottle baskets are most convenient for sending quantities of berries to market, or to any distance; these are very small, upright, chip baskets holding about a quart, being ten or twelve inches deep, very narrow at bottom, and not more than four or five inches wide at top, where there is a cross handle.

A large basket with two deep handles to receive a long pole, used to carry between two men or placed upon an open wheel-barrow is useful in carrying off raked-up heaps of fallen leaves or mowed grass.

COMMON BASKET MAKING MATERIALS:

Osier: a small aquatic tree. Osier and similar trees yield white wood, poles, binders, &c. for the gardener’s use. The osier is of great use to the basket-maker, gardener, fisherman, &c. It can be used as-is, or peeled, for a better appearance and it can be used whole or split (divided into two or four pieces).
Willow: is also called salix or sallie. It grows very quickly and is planted on the osier grounds. Its branches are very flexible making it good for the basket-makers.
Wicker: twigs of the osier shrub.
Rushes: a plant growing on the banks of bodies of water. Anything made of rushes is said to be rushy.
Chip: strips of tree bark. No real definition was found for this word, however, in a Gaelic/English dictionary published in 1780 is found: “slis: a chip, a lath, thin board” and a chip referred to a carpenter.

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b8b8cc31259e34bf108fe7a8fd8f7df9   A woman balancing a large basket of fruit on her head cries 'Scarlet strawberries' for sale. Date 1795.

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Main Sources: Mawe, Thomas, and Abercrombie, John. “The Universal Gardener and Botanist”. 1778.
Worlidge, John. “The Compleat System of Husbandry and Gardening”. 1716.

APRONS As a Fashion Statement©

Those of us of a “certain age” know aprons as a sometimes pretty, but basically utilitarian, item of clothing meant to keep the dress underneath clean. Aprons stood laundering better than period dresses and there were thousands of these worn in earlier centuries. There were, however, some aprons that were strictly made and worn as an accessory and served no practical purpose at all.

In the 18th century they often had a “bib” and were known as pinners because pins were used to hold the bib in place. They could be as sheer as dragonfly wings or of more substantial fabric depending on  their intended use. The dressy ones might be embroidered or done up in white work.

Such embroidery work and fine sewing were suitable for ladies to do in a social setting while actually sewing a common garment was not. The difference was that embroidery and white work were skills a lady was expected to possess and the items they produced were, in essence, works of art.

Perhaps these originals will inspire someone to recreate one of these exquisite pieces.

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EIGHTEENTH CENTURY, CRAFTS, TRADES, & EMPLOYMENTS©

I started a simple compilation of trades from the 18th century with the intention of explaining them in blog articles for the use of anyone who wants to create a first person character; however, I am such a diligent (compulsive) researcher this treatise quickly surpassed 170 pages and continues to grow.

This will be far too large a document to post on the blog, so we will entertain the idea of making it available to all who want it, for a nominal fee, of course.

We are firm believers that there is far more to historical interpretation than “dressing up”, and I hope this will give interested persons a look at what they might have actually done during the 18th century.  The eager reader will want to choose a trade and master it, while one with a mere passing interest might read enough to be able to discuss a trade in a first person exchange.  Homeschool groups may find it complements their curriculum.  Whatever your level of interest, I believe this treatise will be of invaluable assistance to you.

Only primary 18th century sources were used and are given to allow for further reading.

Interested parties may enquire at thistledewbooks @ yahoo.com or mpbrady30 @ aol.com (type without spaces.]

Copyright, Victoria Brady.  May not be reproduced without the express consent of the author. ©

The Hair-Dresser: and Modes of Wearing the Hair© By: Victoria Brady

The Englishman in Paris

(This is part of our series of articles on pre/post Rev War occupations. Men had trades before the war and they returned to them after independence was won.)

The hair-dresser cut and dressed hair for both ladies and gentlemen, made wigs and hair pieces, created braids, and in some cases was also skilled in shaving. Eighteenth century hair dressers were almost exclusively male.

To frizzle one’s hair meant, “the act of curling, tying up, or preparing hair upon pipes [hollow clay rollers], papers, etc”.

“Wigs and other ornamental decorations made of hair, are now become so common, that there are few ladies, notwithstanding they possess the most beautiful hair, who will not wear a manufactured article in preference to their own hair, under the impression that they can improve nature, and add to their charms”.

Tools of the trade included scissors, combs, rats or rolls, curling irons and pipes, powder and pomatum, razors, a strap and hone, etc.

hair pipes

Hair was cut and sold, sometimes after a woman died, for making wigs and hair pieces. “In 1720, the grey locks of an aged woman sold…after her decease…”. Animal hair from goats or horse tails, was the eighteenth century’s synthetic hair. A nag was defined as, “the name of a horse-hair perriwig”.

Wig makers usually bought hair from a Hair-Merchant who often had already picked, dressed, and curled it fit for weaving. “The Hair-Merchant buys hair of those who go up and down the Country of England to procure it, and imports some from abroad, he then sorts it into parcels, according to its colour and fineness; employs Pickers to pick the black from the white, and the dead from the live hair, and hands to mix it into proper shades of colour and curl it…They have a method of dying hair black, and bleaching other hair white.”

The cauls to which the hair was attached when being made into a wig were generally netted, “in the country by women and bought up by the Haberdasher, who furnished the Wig-Maker with them…”.

“Hair makes a very considerable article in commerce…There is no certain price for hair but it is sold from five shillings to five pounds per ounce, according to its colour.

Hair which does not curl naturally, is brought to it by boiling and by baking in the following manner: after having sorted the hair, it is rolled up, and afterwards fastened upon little cylindrical instruments, either of wood or earthenware, called pipes; in which state it is put into a vessel over the fire and boiled about two hours; it is then taken out and dried, and sent to be baked in an oven.

Hair thus prepared, is woven on strong thread which is sewed on a cawl, fitted to the head for a peruke”. (Peruke: archaic term for wig).

wig maker

The preferred length of hair to be purchased was about twenty-five inches; “the more it falls short of this, the less value it bears”.

Gray and white hair was not as readily purchased as other shades. “The scarceness of grey and white hair has put the dealers in that commodity upon the methods of reducing other colours to these. This is done by spreading the hair to bleach on the grass like linen, after first washing it out in a bleaching water: this ley, with the force of the sun and air, brings the hair to so perfect a whiteness, that the most experienced person may be deceived therein, there being scarce any way of detecting the artifice, but by boiling and drying it which leaves the hair of the colour of a dead walnut-tree leaf. Hair, like wool, may be dyed of any colour”.

Anton Raphael Mengs, artist

A Treatise on Hair, published in 1770, instructed how to wear false hair. “Though the lady’s hair may be so thin as to require an addition, yet, if her own hair be of sufficient length, there is very little trouble in fixing the other: only pin it at the top with two blanket-pins, and comb it down, and it will intermix and do up with the same ease as if it were all of natural growth.

Powdering the hair came into use in England by the 1770s (earlier in France) and fell out of favor late in the century. “In 1795, an annual tax of one guinea was laid upon all persons who should in future wear hair powder; this much injured the trade; the following year and also the year 1799, were seasons of uncommon scarcity with regard to wheat from which hair-powder is manufactured: these circumstances produced a revolution in the trade; the wearing of hair-powder was nearly abandoned…”.

White hair powder on dark hair tended to produce varying shades of gray, not stark white. White powder on light color hair heightened the blond color. Other colors of powder were available including pink. Powder was sometimes applied with a powder puff but could be sprayed on with a bellows while the client covered his or her face with a mask.

hair powder

Journeymen hair-dressers earned between fifteen shillings and a guinea per week, but those who were also skilled in wig-making earned quite a bit more.

[In 1788] “When the hair is cut, put it up into papers, and turn it smooth at the points taking care not to let the irons be too hot…let the irons be held on it till it becomes smooth, and the curl is stiff, then let the hair be taken gently out of the dressing comb without pulling it, and every night at going to bed, let it be put up in papers, and then it will not require much pressing with hot irons, for too much pressing with the irons weakens and stops the growth of the hair”.

The ridiculously high ladies’ hairstyle of the late 18th century was achieved with artificial hair pieces strategically placed to add volume and height to a lady’s own hair. The hair-dresser also wrapped her hair around a “cushion” or “roll” made of various materials. The author of the “Toilet” (1778) went on to say hair should not be dressed over silk rolls, but it was far better to use wool. Other materials over which the hair was placed included tow, hemp, cut hair, or even wire. It was all held in place with pins.

Prior to a night at cards a woman wrote, “I was not above six hours under the hands of the hair-dresser, who stuffed my head with as much black wool as would have made a quilted petticoat; and, after all, it was the smallest head in the assembly, except my aunt’s”.

Once styled, several days usually passed before such exaggerated styles were combed out. The mixture of sweat and greasy pomatum, often nothing more than clean lard infused with flower petals, sealed with powder produced a disagreeable odor and even among the gentry lice and other pests took up residence in the hair.

“When Mr. Gilchrist [the hairdresser] opened my aunt’s head…its effluvias [bad odor] affected my sense of smelling disagreeably, which stench however, did not surprise me when I observed the great variety of materials employed in raising the dirty fabric. False locks to supply the great deficiency of native hair, pomatum with profusion, greasy wool to bolster up the adopted locks, and gray powder to conceal at once age and dirt, and all these caulked together by pins of an indecent length and corresponding color. When the comb was applied to the natural hair, I observed swarms of animalculas [small insects] running about in the utmost consternation and in different directions, upon which I …asked … [Mr. Gilchrist] whether that numerous swarm did not from time to time send out colonies to other parts of the body? He assured me that they could not; for that the quantity of powder and pomatum formed a glutinous matter which… caught and clogged [them]… and prevented their migration. Here I observed my aunt to be in a good deal of confusion, and she told me that she would not detain me any longer from better company; for…the operations of the toilette were not a very agreeable spectacle to bystanders, but that they were an unavoidable evil; for, after all, if one did not dress a little like other people, one should be pointed at as one went along.”

To rid the hair of odor and pests the wigs and hair pieces could be boiled and restyled. Vermin were removed from one’s natural hair with fine-toothed combs called lice combs.

lice comb

Pinning the hair tightly was not advised because it might lead to hair loss. The wearer was encouraged to observe a medium, dressing the hair neither too high or too low and to wear it in a style befitting age and facial features. “That which will suit the young lady of fifteen, would appear ridiculous when used by her mother at forty”.

https://www.colonialwilliamsburg.com/blog/2019-blog-posts/head-over-heels .    Copy and paste this link into your browser for a first-hand look at how original wigs were made in the 18th century.  The talented wig makers at Colonial Williamsburg recreated a 200 year old wig in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society and this web page describes the process with photos.

See: “The Book of English Trades, and Library of the Useful Arts”. 1818. London.
Smollet, Tobias, M.D. “The Miscellaneous Works of Tobias Smollett, M.D.” 1806. Edinburgh.
“The New London Toilet: Or, a Compleat Collection of the Most Simple and Useful Receipts for Preserving and Improving Beauty…”. 1778. London.
Nicholson, William. “The British Encyclopedia or Dictionary of Arts and Sciences”. 1809. London.
Nicholson, William. “American Edition of the British Encyclopedia, or Dictionary of the Arts and Sciences”. 1819. Philadelphia.
Gilchrist, Peter. “A Treatise on the Hair. 1770. London.
Campbell, R., Esq. “The London Tradesman”. 1747. London.
Pardon, William. “New General English Dictionary”. 1740. London.
“London Magazine”. Aug. 1768. Quoted in Corson “Fashions in Hair: The First Five Thousand Years”. Pages 337-338.
Carlin, William. “Old Doctor Carlin’s Recipes”. 1881. Boston.