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.
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.
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