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i am having a significant amount of trouble finding enough information on men’s wigs/hair care in the 18th century. a lot of the same information keeps getting repeated. here’s what i want to know:

  • did hamilton wear a wig or powder his hair? at the very least it doesn’t look like he’s wearing one in the ezra ames portrait, but that would’ve been when wigs had pretty much gone out of style. i mean, after studying a bunch of portraits i’m under the impression that it’s his natural (fairly curly) hair, but i really don’t know.
  • if someone powdered their hair, how often did they do so and how often did they remove the powder? i know it was messy and greasy, it seems difficult to sleep in.
  • if a man wore a wig, did he always shave his real hair?
  • did men sleep with their hair in a queue? did they use some kind of hair net to keep their pillows clean?

honestly, if you know the answer to any of these questions (or if you just have some thoughts to add) hmu. i swear there’s a reason i’m asking, though it’s not a very good reason.

Hamilton powdered his hair. His son James remembered that his father had basically a daily hairdresser who powdered, pomatumed, combed, platted, and clubbed his hair back in a queue. That kind of hair styling had the potential to take a couple of hours. It was generally believed at this time that the hair powder is what kept the hair clean.

I can’t find info on how often they removed the powder, but to keep their pillows clean when their hair was powdered, they wore night caps,

*cracks knuckles* Finally, my time has come! *uses interest in 18th Century fashion and grooming for good and not for evil*

A typical hair care and styling regimen for women, and fashionable men who did not wear wigs, in the 18th century was:

1. Take down your hairdo at the end of the day, massage a small amount of pomatum, a mixture of mutton fat, lard, and aromatic oils such as clove and lemon, into the hair and scalp, add powder, and brush vigorously for quite some time. The effect is similar to contemporary dry shampoos. Although very rarely, if ever, washed with water and soap, this routine effectively cleans the hair and scalp without stripping natural oils and leaving it full of texture and body and enough oils to make styling easier– squeaky clean, freshly shampooed hair is notoriously hard to style, especially in elaborate updos and curls. Men and women alike wore nightcaps to protect their bedding from any powder or pomatum that might be left and probably also to help prevent long hair from getting too messed up. Unlike women, men might not undo their hair every night, and would wear hairnets to help preserve their style overnight.

2. In the morning, more powder was added before brushing. Powder was made of finely ground starch, bones, and clay, along with aromatic powders such as orris root. Women who wished to achieve towering ‘dos rolled sections of their hair over fluffy pads and added curls with curling irons. Men usually did not have the towering hairdos, but definitely would have added curls with a curling iron, if they had the luxury of a hairdresser (I read that Hamilton had a hairdresser come to his house every day, so he may have added curls sometimes). If a lighter white color was desired, the hairdresser would apply more powder to the finished style with a large puff while their client covered their face with a cone-shaped piece of paper so it didn’t also get powdered. 

3. Wigs. Contrary to popular belief, women achieved many of their towering hairstyles without wigs. Most women wore their own, natural hair with, perhaps, extensions to bulk it out a bit if necessary. However, most of the popular, everyday styles could be achieved simply with waist-length hair, pads, and curls. Men, on the other hand, routinely wore wigs. Covering baldness was a big part of wigs’ popularity among men, but also, the time involved in styling hair may have interfered with men who had business, politics, and other important matters to attend to. Wigs could be sent off to a professional for regular maintenance and simply plopped on the head in the morning, like a hat. Men who wore wigs usually kept their natural hair cut very short, or even shaved, as in this picture from Hogarth’s “A Rake’s Progress”, where the main character has let his wig fall to the floor:


And this handsome gentleman, lounging at home in informal leisure wear– a banyan and nightcap:


Because wigs were expensive, they marked social class, with the most elaborate styles that required the most upkeep for the wealthy and the fops, and simpler styles that varied according to occupation and income. 

By the late 1700s, however, wigs were already on their way out. Men of all social classes preferred styles that were fairly simple, and by the 1780s, natural, lightly powdered hair was preferred. In most of the portraits of the Founding Fathers and others who fought in the American Revolution, for example, you see that they are wearing their natural hair, not wigs. 

Hamilton, ca. 1780– this is his own hair (I’m assuming, because the hairline is consistent with other portraits and he was probably too poor to even own a wig at this point), but it has been styled to look very much like the popular wig styles of the 1770s-early 80s: brushed back from the forehead, rolled over a pad or simply bulked up with enough pomatum and powder to make a nice roll near the ears, and tied in either a queue or bag in the back:


Which is, incidentally, how George Washington wore his hair, and since Hamilton was his Aide de Camp at the time this portrait was painted, it’s not surprising he wears the same style as his commander.

By 1800, he was wearing his hair like this:


It looks to me like the sides have been curled or rolled vertically to frame his face, while the back is combed flat and tied in a low queue.


This is another view of the same general style. You see the lightly powdered hair brushed up and fluffed a bit with the help of pomatum and powder for volume and hold over his head and around his face. You can see that by the late 1700s-early 1800s, men’s hair was fairly natural-looking, and required a minimal amount of styling and maintenance. 

In England, in the 1790s only older men and women being presented at court wore wigs, and in 1795, the British government levied a tax on hair powder that basically ended powdered hair and fashions that relied upon it. However, powdered hair was already mostly over in the US, France and with political progressives in England because of the revolutions: elaborate, powdered hairstyles were associated with aristocracy. 

Further reading:

Great post thanks

Is this the historical hair side of tumblr? Or does it just count as the history side of tumblr, with an emphasis on hairstyles?