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 conquer 1790s hair, sans switches or additions, once and for all. Today, after all the tries of the past months, Fortune's wheel turned in my favor and it all came together. After the Jane Austen Festival, natch-and-wouldn't-you-know, but still, it's conquered and the effects are as hoped. Hip, hip hooray!
|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.
1790s Hair Effects, Effected
The very long locks of the portraits I so admire turned out to be more than I could manage, even with a hair switch. Alas, a shorter 'do was in order, but I didn't want to skip forwards to the end of the 1790s. So, I turned to a handsome portrait miniature of a lady in a gray dress, by Richard Cosway, and offered at Bonhams some time ago.
Our 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. Cooler is key in this climate.
In under an hour I had copied 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. The lankier curls caused few worries, for some miniatures show tresses looser and snakier, some more tightly curled, some even rather smoothly, barely waved.
|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.|
Then it was up into the headdress (how-tos below), rush into the ensemble, and take some pictures with the boys! Here we are:
|Mama and her protecting pirate.|
The third image shows the back of the headdress. Note that the back hair is lightly looped. 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.
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!"|
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 hid 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.
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.
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.
Next up, the Jane Austen festival...