Hey guys! I ended up having a VERY busy few days over the weekend and wasn’t able to blog much, so I’m going to try to catch up on the prompts that I missed this week! (Because guess what, I picked them because they correspond to posts I want to write! Being in charge is fun 😊). This is day 3’s prompt: a new technique that I’ve experimented with recently.
So I have in the past been known to write about my attempts to dress my hair in historical styles. More recently (back in October), I dyed my hair bright blue, for which I had to bleach my hair a lot which as you might imagine damaged it a lot, but it was worth it because it was blue, and then I had to dye it back to a natural hair color to do some museum programs in costume, at which point it was no longer a fun color so it was just sad and very over-processed. So in order to make myself feel better about my life, I decided to experiment with the hairdressing technique to end all hairdressing techniques: 18th century pomatum and hair powder.
Now I’m not going to write too much about pomatum and powder in the 18th century because there are several scholars out there who do a much better job of it, but if you, my gentle reader, are not familiar with it, I will say this: pomatum and powder, along with false hair and various pads and other understructures, are what allowed 18th century women to do their own hair in those crazy large styles that you see in portraits and think, “Damn, that couldn’t possibly be someone’s real hair, it must be a wig!” Most of the time it is natural hair because in the 18th century wigs were so tightly fitted to your head that you needed to keep your head shaved to wear them. There are lots of myths about hair and hair hygiene in the 18th century that have been busted recently, so go read about that.
I got my pomatum and powder from Heirloom Haircare, the etsy shop of Abby, the apprentice milliner at Colonial Williamsburg. She uses original 18th century recipes, including materials such as lard and powdered cuttlefish bone, and she sticks to a standard recipe that has a lovely lemon and clove scent. The other place where you can get 18th century hair products is LBCC Historical, who carries a wider variety of scents and products from different time periods as well. I put my hair powder into a powdered sugar shaker as per Abby’s suggestion. Here’s what my hair looked like when I started out:
Then I put the pomade into it. I divided my hair into six sections to apply the pomade, it probably turned into more like eight in reality.
Then I powdered the crap out of it! I have a lot of hair, so it took a LOT of powder. I also probably over-powdered the top because it took a while for me to realize I needed to flip my hair around a bit to get powder into all of the layers and underneath.
This is how it looked when it was first powdered. It’s sort of that middling grey color you see in a lot of portraits, which made me pretty happy! The powder absorbs the most of the grease in the pomade, so it doesn’t feel terribly greasy, though it is definitely a different feel. It’s a lot thicker as well! I threw it up into a random twist just to see how it would hold, and it maintained lots of nice volume and had great hold. This style is held up securely with one 3″ hairpin.
I tried out a very simple 18th century style with no padding or crazy curls or anything – my hair was very cooperative and it only took me about 10 minutes. The front pouf is pinned over just more of my own hair that I rolled up, no teasing or anything. The side curls are kind of crappy but it was like midnight when I was doing this. My point being, it was simple and it worked. It’s nice when the historical techniques work like that.
I kept the pomatum and powder in for a week. By the end of it my hair was a little bit greaser, but actually not much. It did soften a bit through the week, and returned to my natural color as the powder got combed through more and more. This is my hair before I washed the pomade and powder out:
And this is after. Look how much thinner it is.
I pomaded and powdered again for a ball in Williamsburg in March and did essentially the same hairstyle. It still looked pretty good after dancing for three hours!
So that was my experimenting with pomatum and powder. I was really glad to be able to do it because it helped me stress less about my hair while it was really damaged, and I was able to wash it less because you can leave the pomatum and powder in for a week, which probably helped me not damage my hair more. And I was able to successfully create some simple 18th century hairstyles with very little preparation, showing that the historical techniques worked, and that crazy 18th century hairdressing, while it certainly LOOKS fantastical to a modern eye, was totally actually historically feasible. Yay!