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

This soap wash could be followed with an acidic rinse of diluted vinegar or lemon juice. 

Another popular method, one embraced by Empress Elisabeth of Austria, a great beauty renowned for her thick, long locks was an egg yolk wash. The Empress mixed her egg yolks with fine cognac, although a simple preparation of two egg yolks beaten is also suggested in manuals of the time. 

“…the yolks of a couple of eggs, beat till they form a cream, to be rubbed into the hair, and then washed out with tepid water, well brushed and wiped, as bestowing the most silky and beautiful appearance.” -- Mrs. Walker, 1840

Yet another suggestion for a hair wash comes from Isabella Beeton's in 1861:“one pennyworth” of borax, a half pint of olive oil, and one pint of boiling water."

These washes could also be supplemented with vinegar rinses, tea rinses, and spirit rinses, according to the lady's preference and hair type. 

To keep the hair and scalp clean, it was considered just as important, if not more so, to comb and brush it daily and it is from this era that the old maxim of 100 strokes per day derives. Combs could be made from wood, bone, antler, horn, ivory, and, during the latest part of the era, celluloid. Boar bristle brushes were the gold standard for hair care and cushioned brushes were introduced during this period as well.

“Cleanliness here, as in all other cases, is of the first importance. With the hair, it is to be attained, first by the comb, — one with very fine teeth; and next, by the brush, — each of which should be used at least once a day.” -- Hints for Health, 1852

“The hair should be brushed for at least twenty minutes in the morning, for ten minutes when it is dressed in the middle of the day, and for a like period at night.” -- Decorum, 1879

Pomades and hair growth oils seem to be a bit of a debated topic at the time, at least for women. Some manuals and articles insist that they are unnecessary, others advise that a small amount may be applied to the roots and then brushed down. I would imagine that if you are only washing your hair every couple of weeks, added oil would only be necessary for the very driest of scalps and unless you possessed such a scalp, it would be difficult to imagine needing oils to supplement your own sebum. Olive oil, bear grease, and lard were all popular for use in the hair, depending on your needs and what you could afford. Plenty of patented brands show up during this period as well. Rowland's Macassar Oil and the Sutherland Sister's Hair Growth Tonic being just two examples.

Men, on the other hand, made extremely common use of oils and pomades for styling and it is from pomade that we see that "patent leather hair" look. They also made use of beard oils and waxes to achieve some of the more extreme facial hair styles of the period.

As to styling, Victoria had a famously long reign, and the popular modes changed throughout it rapidly enough that I think I will let a few pictures do the talking. To generalize, young girls generally wore their hair loose, or half up, or in braids whilst women wore their hair up. Curling irons, crimping tongs, and rag curler could all be employed to texture the hair. Hair pieces and rats made of one's own hair kept from their brush or purchased could bulk out the styles. Pins, elaborate combs, ribbons, flowers, strands of pearls, and just about anything else could decorate the styles on special occasions.

Men kept theirs short and styled, often using facial hair as their real fashion statement. 

Keep in mind these are just generalization and exceptions do apply.  


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