Monday, 28 November 2016

A little bit of hair history

Since starting my history post grad I've become interested in so many aspects of history and have become fascinated with some of the people I've read about from royalty to average folk too - what did they wear, what did they do for a living and how did they spend their time. 

How people looked is a particular fascination and one of them is the wigs and the weird and wonderful styles but where did it all start?

Louis XIII of France set the trend for wearing wigs back in 1624. Suffering from premature baldness he had a whole variety of wigs made, such was hair a sign of  status and power, he didn't want to be seen with thinning hair. Hence the long curly wigs and these set a trend within the French court to follow suit and the wig became a familiar sight. The trend found its way over to England with King Charles II and the people followed suit as an expression of wealth.

Portrait of Louis XIII Wikipedia 

Wigs also became practical, head lice in the 17th century was an issue so having your head shaved in order to wear a wig meant that the lice inhabited your wig instead that you could remove an easily pick them out or if the problem got so bad, the wig maker would boil the wigs for a fresh start. Starch powder scented with lavender, orange and orris root (from the iris plant) was used on the wigs to keep away lice and disguise the smell of not being able to clean the wigs very easily.

Wig powder was white and this created a trend of the powdered bright white wig for men - some wigs becoming part of culture with judges and barristers today still wearing them today. 

However, in 1795 the introduction of a tax on hair powder set the trend into decline. What a shame as the variety of wigs must have certainly have been a wonderful sight.
A wig maker powdering a wig in 1775  Museum of London
Popular styles of wigs, hugely flamboyant for the men in the 1700's.

Wig styles 1700's 

From The British Museum © The Trustees of the British Museum. A beau 1700. A beau 1791.

In Tudor times Queen Elizabeth I had worn red wigs as it is said that she lost hair after contracting smallpox but whether this is true or not cannot be verified. However portraits of her certainly show that she wore a wig, probably as a fashion statement and these kept her well know red locks into old age. 
Queen Elizabeth I Wikipedia 
If we skip to Victorian times and look again at the issue of balding we see their marvellous array of hair tonics for curing baldness. Lyon's Kathairon was one such tonic sold in glass bottles and was supposed to restore hair. Other unusual ways to cure baldness Victorian style were rubbing an onion or tea onto your head. Not surprisingly these did not work.

How fortunate we are in the modern era with the latest research into hair replacement. What would Louis XIII make of looking up new techniques and the FUE hair transplant cost. Individual hair follicles are implanted into the head called Follicular Unit Extracting and this has been offered as a permanent solution to hair loss. Amazing stuff and a long way from huge flouncy wigs being the only option or the so called snake oil cures of the 19th century.

All through the centuries we care about how we look and the it's an interesting to see that ultimately people are the same, as I read through history it brings me closer to the people I am reading about because perhaps many of their thoughts would have been much the same as mine. 

*Collaborative post


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