Wednesday, July 24, 2013

I Conquered 1796-ish Hair...After the Jane Austen Festival. Plus a Tutorial

Good evening there, everyone! The cicadas are busy outside, sounding like an ambient orchestra of power saws winding down, but there's something odd about it. Namely that our windows are wide open, so that the insect noise is very loud, and there are cool zephyrs whispering in, trying to raise goosebumps. You read that aright. Cool, as in almost long-sleeve weather, in midsummer Bluegrass Kentucky. It's sheer delight.

Meanwhile, in our upstairs hall, next to the settee from the early 19th century, my boys and I have been playing with the camera and tripod. They've been pirates and I've donned the half dress combination of spencer and matching petticoat, with the muslin wrap-front dress. You see, today at lunch I decided to work on 1790s hair once again, this time sans switches or additions. Today, after all the tries of the past months, Fortune's wheel turned in my favor and it came together fairly well. After the Jane Austen Festival, natch-and-wouldn't-you-know, but still, the effects are rather as hoped.

1790s Hair Effects, Pretty Well Effected
The blog title says "conquered". Well, not entirely. Let's say, pretty well effected, given constraints.

The very long locks of the portraits I so admire turned out to be more than I could manage these days. In 2011, I built a fuller look via a very long, very heavy hair switch plus a few pinned-in curled wefts. Now that this head is plagued with migraines, that's just not smart.

The 2011 hair-do. There's a chignon behind
that's built of a 22-24" switch. Heavy.
A shorter 'do was in order, and I ended up during the afternoon with the below. What were the sources, and what happened to it as it was worn? Let's see.

Day version, curlier: this was before the hair was
squished into a bun for the afternoon.
More of the side curls should have been lifted
and wound into the bandeau.

For hairdressing models I turned to a handsome portrait miniature of an English lady in a gray dress, by Richard Cosway, and offered at Bonhams some time ago, along with a series of other plates (see below), for help.

Our first model sports hair she has dressed above shoulder length. It's softly curled but not intensely curly or frizzy, and dressed fairly close to her head, parted in the middle, and finished with a narrow, thin, bandeau (with bow) and ostrich plume. I am fairly sure it's mostly her natural hair, and there is no visible evidence of a long chignon turned up and caught with a comb, in back, though there likely may be a short one. Usually, when present such chignons show at least a bit.

Whatever the actual date of the miniature, the slightly shorter hair reminds me of the trend in 1796 towards shorter hair that was to lead to the upswept styles of the 1800s.

Note: many miniatures and paintings of the period show women with the hair left loose, but most seem quite young. I would hazard that a married woman would sport a chignon, and usually an older woman covered her head with a larger turban or a cap.

Note the chignon loop to the bottom right of
her hair. Lady Hester Bellingham, Bonham's

Anyhow, this headdress, methought, was more doable, and would require no extra lockage, and thus be cooler and lighter. If it didn't fully take, no matter. Some fashion plates show tresses looser and snakier, some more tightly curled, some even rather smoothly, barely waved. Witness the below!

British Museum, No. C,4.1-468, detail.
British Museum, No. C,4.1-468, detail.

A Lady, by Alexandre Rocher. Dated 1796. French. Bonham's.

Models in hand, it was testing time. During lunch hour I created the curls and tested the headdress. The tools? A regular, small-barreled curling iron and heavy-duty hair goo, pins, silk gauze, and hair comb.

Lunch break over, I stuffed the poor hair back up in a bun, and went back to work. After dinner and cleanup, while the boys played some game with their stuffed animals that involved a party, I unpinned it, and the curls had held decently, if not as tightly as before they were unceremoniously pulled back and squished. Good hair goo, to have held at all.

Then it was dash together the headdress (how-tos below), rush into the ensemble, and take some pictures with the boys, before their bedtime arrived.

Here we are. Goofball smiles? Sure, it was a goofy, fun evening, playtime for all three of us.

Mama and her protecting pirate.

The third image shows the back of the headdress. Note that the back hair is lightly, barely looped at the bottom. That's the chignon. Had I longer hair, the loop would be longer, and the ends would be left a bit longer too, to wave and curl downwards.

Noah and his piggy. She is wearing a coat with a velvet collar: Noah gets concerned
his animals will take a chill, so I've made a few clothes.

I'd like to try this headdress again, with curls made on curlers. Why? Because then I can get smoother curls that will create larger ringlets, and that can poof and frizz a little for a softer effect.

What fun this was! The boys took the pictures, and did they like working the camera. Operating a real camera was almost a first for them, and it was heady, heady stuff. On a tripod, too. Noah insisted on holding the tripod aiming handle, or whatever you call it, while operating the camera with his other hand, his stuffed piggy sitting underneath, offering advice. Christopher put on his pirate hat and his weskit, and protected his mama with his wooden sword.

The twinkle in the twins' eyes means "Okay, our turn with that camera!"
After the photo taking, we ran into the guest room and uploaded them, critiqued the results, and then wandered to another folder on the computer to look at live-action shots of them jumping into the Spindletop pool yesterday: the pencil leap, the cannonball, all the jump-in-the-pool tricks. I have the distinct feeling that now they know how to press a shutter button, we've opened a Pandora's box :}

1790s Shorter Locks: A Tutorial

Those of you who have 1790s outfits and don't want to don a wig or wiglet to get the curls of a latter-day follower of Bacchus, here's how I did it. I have hair just about shoulder length, but bobbed hair at chin length, I suspect, will also work. Much shorter and you'll have a late 1790s or 1800s cropped look.

Curl Hair into Ringlets

First, curl your entire head into ringlets. How you do this is up to you: pin curls, papillote curls, curlers-and-setting-lotion, or curling iron. The key is to curl your hair as close to your head around your face as possible, but start the ringlets a little lower down the hair shaft on the rest of your head. Since I wasn't able to get really tight curls at my face, I employed a trick, which I'll show you.

Tools used to create the curls. What's missing: the big
curved bridal comb to hold the chignon.

I used a small-barreled curling iron. I curled the hair dry. I separated the hair into sections, holding the rest out of the way with hair-dresser's clips while I worked with each section. I'd take a small hank of hair, enough to heat all the way through on a small iron, rub a wee bit of hair goo in it, and use the iron. I'd unwind it carefully and move to the next one.

Create High, Curly Crown

After all the hair was curled, I parted the hair, and then gathered a sizeable hank off the top back, plus some from the sides, into a group. I tucked a hair rat under it, right at the back of the crown of the head, to lift the curls I was going to put on top, so they'd look more abundant. Note that there was still plenty of back hair left hanging down.

Individual hanks of hair off the top and sides curled over a hair rat at the back of the crown of the head.
Each curl gets a pin. You can see one in front. It will be covered by a bandeau.

Note the ringlets: they are all one length, because my hair is. The curls start about halfway
down the hair shafts. You will wrap the bandeau around your head just in front of the crown.

Then I split out a hank from this group, looped it to the back of the head and then forward again, creating a fold with curly ends facing forward. I bobby pinned it in place. I did this over and over with the rest, placing each bit so that it built out a bit of a crown. I took a few extra pieces from the sides, pulled them up and wrapped them around the base to hide any rat that might be showing, and to add some top-side curls. Each hank got one pin.

Next I shifted the front hair forwards. I took a yard or so of silk gauze, laid it flat, and rolled it corner to corner to create a long bandeau shape, which I twisted to give some texture. I pinned one end to the side of my head in front of the crown, tucking the end underneath, and wrapped the rest around the back of my head, underneath the back hair, up over the top of my head again, and then wrapped the free end under what was already there, and tried to pin that without the pin showing. I wove the side hair in and out and let some ringlets hang as love locks, more so in the evening's version of the hairdo than the day version, which lets more locks hang.

The bandeau, added. This was at lunchtime. The curls were fuller and rounder, and I had not
fluffed them out at all.
Ta-da: narrow bandeau. It worked out to two trips around my head: if you like, you can divide it into two wraps, one set behind the other, for a very Classical look. If you had longer fabric, you could go for three wraps. In any case, notice the bandeau, or turban, is narrow, and rather scant. Most portrait miniatures seem to show this, perhaps because it was easy to wind and didn't look over-big on the head. As you will see in the Festival pictures below, my original turban was quite large, and, having no super-big hair, it overwhelmed my head and face in what is to my mind a less attractive way.

Now, to deal with the long curls of front hair. Take a ringlet, and a few inches out from the scalp, run it between the tines of a bobby pin. Then pull the curl back under the bandeau and pin it to the hair under there. Arrange the curly hair at the hairline. Still too long? Loop it back a second time with another bobby pin. Use the loops of hair as extra curls at the hairline, but make sure the ends hang and can be seen. Do this with all of the front hair.

Last step: take the back hair and hold it in a ponytail, but kind of flattened, very low on the head, and leaving a bit of a loop of hair beneath. Plaster the tail up against the top of the ponytail, against your head, leaving some curly tips in your hand hanging downwards. This is your small chignon, the traditional finish at the back of women's heads since the 1770s or perhaps even the late 1760s.

Here's an example of a short chignon, from 1796.

Detail from an album of largely
fashion prints. Fashion headdresses,
1796. British Museum, No. C, 4.1-468.

Now take a large hair comb (I have a large metal curved one for bridal use), and plunge it down into where the ponytail and the loop are held together. This holds the loop in place and allows the ends to fall over the top. This loop is what The Gallery of Fashion terms "the chignon turned up plain". Surprisingly, the hair holds well this way.

The chignon at the low back, held by a large, wide, bridal comb. Note that the chignon is supposed to be wide and flattened, nota narrow tube like a ponytail. Also note the curls at the back of the crown, dangling. This was at lunchtime, and in that
test I was able to create a fuller effect there than later that evening, after the curls had been squashed in a bun for hours.
Pull a few ringlets from the side back of the head down, as love locks, and you are done. You have a shortish 1790s hairdo.

To follow the picture a bit more exactly, take a curled ostrich plume (a doubled-and-sewn plume looks better), and spear it straight into the mass of hair at the side of your head, and underneath the bandeau. Pin it with a lightweight brooch to the bandeau. Lacking the brooch, pin the plume to the bandeau with a bobby pin, then add two wide-ended pins, one sunk horizontally into the hair pointing to the front of the head, and the other sunk horizontally into the hair but pointing towards the back of the head. The rounded end of each pin should encase the plume.

To be really en point, you should lightly powder your hair. In England, anyhow, this was common among a certain gentle set. I was going to, but realized it was 7:30 and I was out of time...the boys needed to get to bed!

About the Ensemble

The ensemble is half dress, for afternoon. I am wearing the "muslin" (Indian cotton voile) cross-front dress, to which I added a gathered and whipped neckline frill a few weeks ago to soften the neckline. The sleeves are also gathered in four places with thread to create a group of narrow puffs. This is seen occasionally around 1794-1796. I should have used doubled buttonhole twist for the gathering. Plain thread cannot take the strain and broke in a few spots. The sleeve ends were supposed to be lightly tied with yellow ribbon to leave small cuffs, but I cannot tie them myself, so I left them plain this time.

Under the dress is the lilac silk petticoat: it tints the dress skirt lightly.

Above the dress is the embroidered and spangled sleeveless spencer, which matches the petticoat. The two could be worn as a pair by themselves, if sleeves are added to the spencer.

Jewelry: a partial coral parure: necklace with yellow ties and coral hoop earrings.

The shawl is a matching red silk antique obi. Gloves are vintage tan kid and are the requisite elbow length.

The mix of lilac, red, and yellow accents would have been seen at that period: a coordinating mix of colors was appreciated.

The ensemble is fun to wear: it's full of life and color and sparkle. Worth the two-three years needed to bring it all together.


MrsC (Maryanne) said...

Natalie it looks amazing! What a lot of work, but it does get quicker. Have you tried putting your hair in rags? It is THE most holding and natural way of making ringlets. no products needed, or damaging heat.
The downside is you need a co-conspirator. They don't need to do anything much but hold strips for you while you wind (my job as a nipper was to be the one holding while Mum did the winding!) but it works really well! xoxo

Kleidung um 1800 said...

Thank you very much for the detailed description!
Creating a decent hairdo is still a struggle here, with hair that's never really cooperative.
Your ringlets are beautiful - I do LOVE the reference miniature!

The whole photoshoot looks like such fun...and now I'm waiting impatiently for your blogpost about the festival :)


Natalie Ferguson said...

Dear Mrs. C. and Sabine,
Good morning! Thank you both. Last evening was great fun indeed for all three of us.

I've yet to try rag curls, but want to. Sadly, no co-conspirator here. The boys can't wind and Curte's too busy. Unless I figure out how to do it myself. Surely there must be a way!

Very best,


Sarah Jane said...

Natalie, you are exquisite. I love the photos of your gown. The colors, the silhouette, everything. You look just like a fashion plate. I want to be like you someday!

Thank you for this tutorial. I have often struggled with knowing how to do my hair since it is an awkward length (not really long, but longer than shoulder length) and I have issues as well with my curls hanging down instead of springing from my head so that I achieve curls around the face. This tutorial gave me a lot of ideas to try and I can't wait to test it on myself for an event we are going to next month. I think I will try pin curls, since for me the curl from a curling iron doesn't hold well and I don't know how to do rag curls (and would likely lack a companion to aid me, as well). I love the bandeau! This small style is one I think I would feel much more comfortable with than some of the larger versions I have seen.

Natalie Ferguson said...

Dear Sarah Jane,

You are so sweet, and of course those words are sweetest balm and balsam. All the pricked fingers are so worth it. Coming from a master of cutting and fitting, it means a *lot*. You see, we emulate each other!

Cool that the hair tips might help. Really, piling and curling the hair on top of a rat make such a difference, and shortening the curls around the face by pulling back and hiding the excess with pins...when I figured that out it was Eureka!

Hugs and hugs,


Natalie Ferguson said...

Dear Sarah Jane,

You are so sweet, and of course those words are sweetest balm and balsam. All the pricked fingers are so worth it. Coming from a master of cutting and fitting, it means a *lot*. You see, we emulate each other!

Cool that the hair tips might help. Really, piling and curling the hair on top of a rat make such a difference, and shortening the curls around the face by pulling back and hiding the excess with pins...when I figured that out it was Eureka!

Hugs and hugs,


Isis said...

Your hair looks great, and thank you for the tutorial!

Natalie Ferguson said...

Dear Isis,

Thank you! One more round of experimentation, this time with small curlers left in for hours, and then partially brushed out. We'll see if they produce softer curls but nothing stringy.

Very best,


Rosa said...

My goodness, you look completely amazing! Very, very graceful:-)

When it comes to the rag curls, may I humbly recommend these two tutorials?

It's totally possible to do it by yourself, though it is a little trying for one's patience - simply clip the beginning of the rag you are wraping the curl aroung to your scalp with an alligator hair clip. I'm rather clumsy with hairstyling and I made it on the first try, so please do not feel discouraged by a lack of helpers:-)))



Natalie Ferguson said...

Dear Rosa,

Thank you! Hmm, several other folks have suggested rag curls, too. Okay, I must try them. Maybe they'll come out softer than these curls did. Of course, these were mangled by an afternoon squished into a bun.

Best thoughts your way, especially for your health. I'm ill again, after some weeks of feeling okay. Sigh :} We soldier on!


Time Traveling in Costume said...

Very nicely put together. I like wrapping the bandeau around my head and tucking feathers in, and looks quite nice w/ my very short hair. Last time I wore Regency, I made a turban. So much easier than messing with hair but I think it looks so much softer and prettier with the lovely curls.

Natalie Ferguson said...

Dear Val,
Thank you so much! An experienced reenactor at the Jane Austen festival said that the Original Cast had tucked the feathers into their hair as deeply as possible, and then fixed them there by pinning them to the turban/wrap/bandeau with a brooch/pin. That way the feathers wouldn't swivel around, the way mine used to do so much. :} Think you've experienced the swiveling feather phenomenon too, if I remember aright :}

Very best,


Time Traveling in Costume said...

The SFP (Swiveling Feather Phenomenom)? Indeed I have. Next time I'll try wiring mine to make them stay upright.

Natalie Ferguson said...

Dear Val,
[giggling]: SFP stopped by guy wires! Do let us know how that fares. Lynn MacMasters shows how in a tutorial on her site...

Very best,