The fashion for grey

CbklegolasHi, here's Jo, talking about grey hair. No, not the stuff on my head which I do or don't colour according to my mood, but the odd fashion for powdering hair grey and other colours in the 18th century. The picture is the best I can do from the Cabbage Patch Kids, and that's supposed to be flaxen Legolas.

The Question Arises.

Sometimes my characters just chat to each other. Talking is an important part of courtship after all, and not everything they say needs to be meaningful to the plot. So, in A Scandalous Countess, which will be out in February, we have this exchange.

"I wonder why white hair is so valued. After all, it’s a sign of age.”

Georgia was happy to switch to a triviality. “A question I’ve never asked! Now I think on it, I don’Scandsmt know when the fashion started. I don’t believe they powdered back in the Restoration.”

“They wore those long, curly wigs. Too much hair to powder, perhaps?”

“Where fashion commands, nothing is impossible." 

They moved on, but I was left wondering. When did the fashion for hair powder begin, and why? In the 17th century, the fashionable elite didn't powder their hair though some armies did. By the mid-eighteenth century it was in style, and essential for court. When did the court fashion begin and end?

When Mary Jo and I were sharing a hotel room in Florida during the Ninc conference I tossed the question at her and we began a search on our laptops. We found a few things, but rather more questions than answers. So I'll lay out what we discovered and more, and hope someone here has bits to add.

I looked in Googlebooks for a first mention of hair powder. This is from 1685, but ambiguous.

An excellent perfuming Powder for the Hair.
Take Iris roots in fine powder one ounce and a half, Benjamin, Steraxt Cloves, Musk of each two drachms: being all in fine powder, mix them for a Perfume for hair Powder.Take of this Perfume one drachm, Riceflower impalpable one pound,mix them for a powder for the hair. Note, some use white starch, flower of French Beans and the like.

This could have been like a dry shampoo that also perfumed the hair, but it sounds like hair powder to me. The "flower" above would be flour, I assume.

As an aside, I came upon this.

 To make Powder of Ox dung.

Take red Ox dung in the month of May and dry ir well, make it into an impalpable Powder by grinding: it is an excellent Perfume without any other addition yet if you add to one pound of the former, Musk,and Ambergrise of each one drachm, it will be beyond comparison.

Anyone care to try that???

A Firmer Date.

By 1708. " the brewer, the distiller, the maker of starch and hair-powder, "

1708 Died at Putney, Jean Baptista Muller a native of Prussia. The singularity of his character may in some measure be collected from the following directions respecting his interment.—" I desire to be buried within the walls of the church, and.interred in my buff embroidered waistcoat, my blue coat with a black collar, a pair of clean nankeen breeches, white silk stockings, my Prussian books, my hair neatly dreAnnessed and powdered, and I particularly request, that my coffin may be made long enough to admit of my hussar cap being placed on my head.—So dressed and accoutred, let me rest in peace." 

1709 "They must be in the Fashion of the World, 'else they are not in esteem else they shall not be respected, if they have not Gold or Silver upon their Backs, or if his Hair be not powdered."

On the other hand, I could find no evidence that Queen Anne, monarch at the time, powdered her hair, nor her husband. When did it become de rigeur at court, then? I did see a fashion for blond wigs, but not powder165px-William_Cavendish,_4th_Duke_of_Devonshireed.

In 1727 I find a portrait of George II with what looks like a powdered wig. Note, it's quite reduced from the full periwig.

The 4th Duke of Devonshire (Left) is clearly powdered, and the picture is probably from the mid century.

 I found an intelligent overview on line. The whole article is worth reading.

"Powder appears to have been used sparingly by ladies at first, but with increasing frequency after 1750. No suprise if you consider that hairdos mostly consisted of natural hair, the length, fineness and shininess of which they wanted to show off. When hair-pieces entered the picture, powder was a good way of covering up the differences in colour. Those that preserved a hairdo for some time (there may have been people who did) would have profited from the oil-absorbing qualities of powder."

Let's all be grey together, young and old!

Here's a picture of some glorious periwigs. I must say that I've always liked to see men in long hair, the more and longer the better! PeriwigWe see blond and brown, but no powder.

It could be that powder came in to cover up the flaws from blending false hair in with real, or even using cheap hair, even animal hair, for men's wigs, but then wouldn't it be seen as a sign of poverty or low status rather than fashion and high?

In the army, and with servants such as footmen, natural hair was often powdered. When powdering hair or wig, grease was applied to make the powder stick. Otherwise the powder would dust down onto the clothes.

It is such an odd fashion especially as the fashion was mostly for grey powder. What's so glamorous about grey? Here's a powdered girl at her lessons.

GraygirlDoes anyone know more? Can anyone dig up any other references? I'll give a prize of a book to one provider of truly new information on the subject.

By the way, to celebrate Halloween I put up a Halloween Regency romance novella as an e-book — perhaps more Gothic than Regency. It was published in 1992 in a hardcover collection and only 1,000 copies were printed, so it's always been hard to get. It's quite short, being only 10,000 words, but also only 99c

For Kindle, it's here.





For other formats, it's at Smashwords, here.