Monday, April 24, 2017

Rennaissance Beanies?... The Monmouth Cap

 While I was looking at Youtube videos the other day, I stumbled across a scene from AMC's Turn, Washington's spies. In it, the main character, Abraham Woodhull, played by Jamie Bell, wears what looks like a gray beanie.

While researching for my historical fiction novels, I have learned never to assume something is an anachronism. So many styles, inventions, etc. predate our assumptions. So, curious, I decided to find out what I could about knit caps in the eighteenth century.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Historical Hair Care, Part Six, The Experiment

"Have we met before? I recognize your hair."

It's a question I have been asked more than once in my life and it probably sounds a bit odd to you. I have a massive amount of extremely curly hair which, until about eight months ago, was hip length. My hair has always been a bit of a mystery on how best to handle. Nobody else in my family has it. Coarse, dry, and bushy, it made me the subject of relentless taunts in school. It regularly ate hair brushes, snagged on any object within a two-foot radius, and consumed family-sized amounts of No-More-Tangles.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Historical Hair Care, Part Five, The Victorian Era

As we move into the Victorian Era and the Industrial Revolution, we get a much better understanding
of hygiene, and hair care in particular. Ladies periodicals of the time as well as recipe books and manuals give detailed advice and some information even pops up in novels and advertising campaigns. As always, a woman's hair was her crowning glory and, in an era which largely shunned makeup, it was given a great deal of attention by ladies seeking to maintain their good looks. The general idea seems to have been the longer and thicker the better. At right is Miss Aline Vallandri, an opera singer so famous for her hair that some people attended her concerts simply to see it.

It seems that most commonly in this era, the hair was washed with a gentle vegetable soap, no oftener than once a week and sometimes as seldom as once per month.

“To cleanse the hair, there is nothing better than soap and water . . . the soap, of course, should be mild, and well and plentifully rubbed in, and afterwards thoroughly removed with an abundance of water”-- Hints on Health, 1852

“Many heads of hair require nothing more in the way of wash than soap and water” -- Decorum  1879

“Supple moist oily hair may be washed every eight days with lukewarm water. Light hair, which is seldom oily, and the fineness and softness of which obviates the use of pomades, rarely requires washing. But a little honey dissolved in a very small quantity of spirit, scented with rosemary, &c. is an excellent substitute.”-- Mrs. Walker, 1840





Friday, February 3, 2017

Historical Hair Care, Part Four, The Renaissance

After the great catastrophe of the black plague a school of thought came into being that bathing was dangerous because it “allowed the venomous airs to enter and destroyeth the lively spirits in man and enfeebleth the body” (Thurley).

So, it would seem that both the body and hair were washed less frequently during this period than before. We know, for example, that King Henry the XIII in his later life stank, though on medical advice he would take "medicinal, herbal baths" in "a large square lead cistern full of water in which he bathed; the water comes from Rosamund spring, is cold in summer and warm in winter.” (Thurley) His daughter, Queen Elizabeth the I was known to bathe twice per year, a practice which does not appear to be frowned upon.

Scented soaps, the best of which were the Castille Soaps made purely with olive oil, were available to the rich whilst the poor made due with coarser animal fat soaps. It is likely this is what the hair was washed with, however infrequently. Scents came in a wide variety of type and cost, from light florals to fresh mints and heady musks.

Lice and fleas were rampant and vinegar was used to combat them. Interestingly, when one washes their hair with soap the scales along the shaft are raised due to the alkaline nature of the lye. This can lead to a rough, tangly feeling. If, however, this is followed up by an acidic vinegar rinse, the scales are closed and the hair feels conditioned. If this did not work, some of the higher class took to shaving their heads and donning wigs.

Fine-toothed combs were still in common and daily use. The Young Children's Book (c. 1500) advises, "Arise betimes from your bed, cross your breast and your forehead, wash your hands and face, comb your hair..."The picture at right is a collection of double-sided combs found in the remains of the ship Mary Rose which sunk in 1545.

Following the late Medieval period, women's hair continues to come out from under its coverings and up into more and more elaborate styles. During the earlier part of the period ornate wimples, beaded snoods, and decorated cauls somewhat covered the hair of the wealthy, whilst the poor stuck with simpler cauls and scarves. Later, braids and coils begin to take on the softening benefit of curls worn loose at the back and sides. Long hair worn loose became a sign of purity and virginity and as such was often seen worn by brides on their wedding day.

Meanwhile, the men took to shaping their beards in various styles whilst the hair was generally worn short. In 1619 The School of Virtue admonished men:  "Thy head, let that be combed and trimmed,Let not thy hair be long; It is unseemly to the eye, Rebuked by the tongue."


As in previous centuries, blonde hair was highly prized. Both simple sun-bleaching in crownless hats and a variety of home-brewed concoctions were used to achieve golden and red-gold locks. These could include everything from alum to human urine. Likewise, homemade tonics and pomades were concocted to aid in the condition and styling of the hair.

I chose, in So Many Secrets, which is set in the very early Renaissance to include a conversation between the women on whether or not the hair ought to be covered during a Masquerade ball. The conclusion? Maybe, but only as little as possible.

Historical Hair Care, Part One, Introduction
Historical Hair Care, Part Two, The Vikings
Historical Hair Care, Part Three, The Medieval Era
Historical Hair Care, Part Five, The Victorian Era
Historical Hair Care, Part Six, The Experiment



Thursday, February 2, 2017

Historical Hair Care, Part Three, The Medieval Era

It is not known for sure how often people bathed in the Middle ages, though it seems to have been more frequent than the common stereotype: never. Certainly, washing was done with more regularity before the terrible outbreak of the plague and rumors that cleansing the body opened it up to illness. Nor is it known particularly how often men or women would have washed their hair.

As to how they did it, they did leave some indications, the Trotula, a series of texts composed in 12th Century Italy instructs thus:

“After leaving the bath, let her adorn her hair, and first of all let her wash it with a cleanser such as this. Take ashes of burnt vine, the chaff of barley nodes, and licorice wood (so that it may the more brightly shine), and sowbread… with this cleanser let the woman wash her head. After the washing, let her leave it to dry by itself, and her hair will be golden and shimmering…"

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Historical Hair Care, Part Two, The Vikings

Depending on your sources, you can formulate two very different pictures of Viking hygiene. The two most famous written sources state as follows:

"(The Danes) …caused much trouble to the natives of the land; for they were wont, after the fashion of their country, to comb their hair every day, to bathe every Saturday, to change their garments often, and set off their persons by many frivolous devices. In this matter they laid siege to the virtue of the married woman, and persuaded the daughters even of the noble to be their concubines”.
-- John of Wallingford 

John of Wallingford was an English monk and chronicler who recorded the above in 1002, just after the massacre of St. Brice's Day.


Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Historical Hair Care, Part One, Introduction

Hygiene, in any given period of history can seem almost shrouded in mystery. It is one of those things we do every day and think little about. A modern person keeping a diary is hardly likely to record that they showered that morning with a commercial shampoo containing sodium lauryl sulfate and coco betaine followed by a conditioner containing mineral oil and ceteraral alcohol, for both of which they paid $2.99 at Rite Aid. Nor, I suspect, is any person throughout history likely to record the mundane and exacting details of such a necessity. So, it is really not until the big branding and marketing campaigns of the Victorian Era that we really get a clear picture of exactly what was used, how often, by whom, and how it was made. Though, of course, each person then, as now, was a unique individual with their own routine and preferences.



Our hair is something that, even with all of our modern conveniences like running water, hundreds of varieties of products, heat styling tools, and cheap, disposable combs, brushes, and accessories can sometimes feel like an impossible burden. There is that running joke that God gave us hair to teach us that we cannot control everything. Yet, throughout history, it has mostly been worn much longer than is currently fashionable and seems almost have always been a sign of wealth, luxury, and beauty. So, how did they manage it?

That is going to be the subject of this series, which I hope will be of interest to my readers and even put to good use by my fellow novelists. I will be focusing mainly on the periods I have studied for my books and even have a couple of experiments planned. So, please stay tuned for Part Two: The Vikings


Historical Hair Care, Part Two, The Vikings
Historical Hair Care, Part Three, The Medieval Era
Historical Hair Care, Part Four, The Renaissance
Historical Hair Care, Part Five, The Victorian Era
Historical Hair Care, Part Five, The Experiment