Wednesday, 25 April 2012

A plea for powdered hair

To change the colour of the hair with the help of powder wasn’t something invented inthe 18th century, but it was then it reached heights never seen before. The shiny fancy dress white wigs that many connect with the 18th century is an invention of the 19th century and when the silent movie came along, they adopted it. White wigs looks so much better in black and white than a real powdered hair would. Because a powdered hair doesn’t really look stark white. White powder on coloured hair gets various shades of grey.

Of course, it varies depending on the natural hair colour underneath; a very fair person would get a much lighter hair than a dark one. You can see portraits of the time where people wear their hair un-powdered, but until the end of the end of the 18th century those informal occasions or fancy dress.

If you belonged to the upper classes you powdered your hair. Though white was the classic choice, there were really a multitude of shades for your hair. Abdeker: Or, the Art of Preserving Beauty have a rather charming little list over the options:


And not to mention the various perfumes it could have, orange-flowers, jonquil, tuberose, violets and orris. I must confess to wondering what flesh was. Beige or pinkish?

This lady just seems to have powdered the hair around her face.

Source: via Elisa on Pinterest

So why then do we see so little of it when it came to re-enactment? Of course, if you don’t portray an upper class person, then you wouldn’t wear your hair powdered, but my society, for example, has a lot of upper class parties. In general people dress really well and the hairstyles reflects the clothes- most people have great hair. But almost everyone wears it un-powdered.

I guess there are more than one reasons for it. An expensive wig that one might be afraid if ruining. The messiness of powdering your hair. That’s one I’m guilty of, I know that. It takes a little extra time and effort and I opt out of it. And then one might think that the look is so far way from our modern taste buds that one really don’t like the look of it. Personally I love it and I really think that we should be a bit better in getting our 18th century hair a bit more accurate.

An easy way out is to use white hairspray. Not messy, stays put and wash out easily. However, I find the look much too stiff and at least my hair gets a bluish cast that I don’t particularly like. If you want a lightly powdered look though, you can spray your hair, let it dry and then brush it.

White hairspray in action.

There are people, who swears by dry shampoo, which I think ought to work quite well though I haven’t tried it. There is also powder in spray cans, I know Bumble & Bumble sells one is several colours. It’s rather expensive, though. There is also talcum powder, something I have tried, but I must say that I don’t like it much. The powder is so fine that it slips through the hair and nestles on your scalp, so you have to use lots and lots of it. Also, my scalp absolutely hates talcum powder and despite washing I go around and itch for days after.

Talcum powder

What I use is the powder from Ageless Artifice and I’m very happy with it. The starch is a bit bigger in texture which makes it easier to apply and it stays put better. It also have a light oatmeal colour instead of stark white, which gives a much nicer effect, IMO. And, I can use it and my scalp don’t say a peep.

By far the most superior look, I think.

I have found that the best way to apply hair powder is to do it before I put on makeup and clothes. In the 18th century various pomades where used to keep the powder in place, but I use liberal amount of hair wax. When my hair is up I “paint” my hair with a big makeup brush that I dip in the powder. When I’m done I finish with a little hairspray. Just a little, if the hair gets to wet the powdered effect disappears. This is not an 18th century method of course, but I like to keep the powder put. Apparently it was a big faux pas for a woman to have powdered scattered on her shoulders. Not for a man though, there are quite a few portraits where you can see powdered shoulders, like this portrait of Carl von Linné by Alexander Roslin.

What do you say, should we go for a more powdered look? I’m determined to better myself- especially as I’m dying to try out more colours.

Read a little more
Demode on 18thc beauty
Hair in the 18th century


Anonymous said...

Ska vi vara mest historiskt korrekta, då borde vi falla på knä inför hårpudret. Men, som sagt, de moderna skönhetsidialen gör sig påminda.

Jag tycker att det är svårt att veta (inte för att jag ännu provat någonting) vad man ska använda till puder. Men nu har jag ju fått några olika tips av dig, tack så mycket! (Men vad ska du använda när din produkt från AA tar slut? Du skrev ju att frakten blivit så dyr...)

Svårast (och detta har jag gnällt om förut) är att veta vad man ska göra med håret. Men jag får väl öva, öva och öva lite mer.

Isis said...

Susanne: övning ger färdighet, du vet. ;) Hår är alltid lite knepigt tycker jag. Jag tänkte nog försöka göa mitt puder själv. :)

Rhissanna said...

I can understand not wanting to wear powder in case it spoils the beautiful gown that has taken weeks of work and yards of silk. There a new trend now, of colouring hair with artist's pastels, called 'chalking'. What's old is new again.

ZipZip said...

Dear Isis,
A very cool post. Have wondered a lot about powdering versus not powdering. If you look at formal portraits in England and America, there are numbers of occasions when women are wearing their own unpowdered hair -- it's glossy -- but usually the men are powdered. I am wondering if the practice varied by country as well as by occasion, and whether powdering in England and America might be saved for important visits and events. I am purely speculating, of course, but curious.

Your experiments in the beauty line are really cool and I am so much enjoying this series!

Very best,


Isis said...

Rhissanna: I can understand that, but with the way I do it, I never had any problems with powder falling down. :) I hadn't heard about "chalking" before- how funny!

Natalie: I am sure there were difference between countries! France was much more formal than England for example. In England the "natural" look emerged earlier, so I'm not surprised that more portraits there are wihout powder. By the end of the century powder was falling out of fashion more and more and I think men kept to it much more than women.

Kendra said...

I think the difficulty a lot of people have is, once they get past the white hair Hollywood look, that grey hair = old and therefore unattractive in western culture. My personal issue is that I look terrible in grey! I recently bought a blond wig and am going to try powdering that to see if I can get a warmer, more flattering shade of white/grey -- we'll see!

Isis said...

Kendra: I suspect modern views on beauty has a lot to do with it- it can be very hard to see past it as one tends to see those things as natural and unchanging. Personally I think it is one of the charms with recreating another period to (try) to immerse oneself in the concept of beauty as it was seen then. I used to feel very self-concious without eye makeup when I did 18th century, but now I think it look strange with. :)

Hair of different colours do look very different when powdered. My hair is light brown and I feel it looks all right powdered. I'm very keen on tryiing different colours, though, to see what difference it makes. I have a little project going on in trying out as many beauty recipes I can from the time and The Toilet of Flora provides recipes for white, grey and blond powder and I look forward to see the difference!

Talia Felix said...

I was in a really low budget movie that was set in the future but the 'future' was all retro rococo with a few technological touches added. White wigs or even tinted hair spray would have been too expensive, so we used either cheap talc or cornstarch to powder our hair. I personally found the genuine talc to be better, because it kept a stronger white color. (Oddly, this was illegal in England: )

I am told the room we'd used to film the technoco scenes was full of powder the next day, after everyone went home...

Isis said...

Min Self: I can imagine it was a lot of powder around! I predfer cornstarch, but then talc irritate my skin and I quite like the softer colour- but that is ore of a personal preference. Talc is known to irritate the breathing system though, which I think is something to be aware when you use it. :)

Talia Felix said...

I have used both talcum powder and cornstarch for my hair for costumes. I prefer the talcum powder since it stays whiter, but understand the starch is more accurate.

I personally found I had to grease up my hair before starting to set it into curls or whatever, and got best results if I began powdering it over before the hairdo was completely finished (this allowed powder to get over more of the scalp.)

Isis said...

Min self: I use was on my hands from when I start fixing my hair, but I haven't tried powdering before I'm, done. I shall try that.

I found a really delightful picture a few days ago painted 1730. The girl is clearly in a fancy dress and is wearing her hair i loose curls, but you can clearly see that she has a little powder in her hair, just at the front and on the upper side of the curls. :)

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