The Georgian era ran from 1714-1837 and was named after the four King George’s that reigned over this time. During the early Georgian period women’s hair was either pinned up, worn with a cloth cap, or left down, hanging naturally. But as the 1700’s progressed, the hair gradually got bigger and bigger until 1795, when the Prime Minister put a tax on hair powder, making it unaffordable for many and so, the trend died out (www.mentalfloss.com). In this post, we will be looking at the latter part of the 18th century, from 1770 onwards, which is also known as the Rococo period.
Figures 1-4 show examples of women’s hair in paintings that were actually painted during the Rococo period, so these all count as sources of primary research. The first thing that stands out from these examples is height. The hairstyles themselves are very high, but the height has been accentuated by hats, headdresses and enormous feathers. In figure 1, the curls of the hair have actually been shaped to fit the hat. Some of the styles are shorter, but very wide (fig. 2 and 4), this may have been to accommodate extravagant headdresses. Figure 3 shows the detail of the back of the head, and the intricate way the rolls are placed vertically in a herringbone pattern. Although they are all very different from each other, all of these styles incorporate some kind of curl.
Figures 5-9 are examples of some really elaborate designs. Figure 8 is a drawing of the style seen in figure 3, but with the added potential side view included. There are so many different possible designs of wigs from this time, the only real limit was the budget, and the imagination of the person styling the hair. These wigs would have involved some extra hair pieces, along with a framework for the more adventurous shapes. They would have had adornments of feathers, flowers, ribbons or something even more specific to each woman “Those piles of decorated, perfumed, reeking mess, by which a lady could show her fancy for the navy by balancing a straw ship on her head; for sport, by showing a coach, for gardening, by a regular garden on flowers.” explains one observer from the time (www.justhistoryposts.com). The majority of the examples in the figure 5-9 incorporate barrel rolls in some form.
Figures 10 and 11 show more examples, including a woman with a huge cloth cap covering her entire wig, with just some curls hanging onto her shoulders (fig. 11). A lady in figure 10 appears to have strips of fabric wrapped around her head and hanging down behind her. One common aspect of these hair styles is that there is never any hair around the face, it is always all pulled away from the face
Georgian Women on Film
Figure 12 shows examples of Georgian wigs from the 2020 show Bridgerton. This show is not historically accurate, but it does not claim to be either, so they have used that extra freedom to create some really amazing wigs throughout the whole show. The examples in this image all have aspects of accurate Georgian wigs, they have rolls, curls and a range of adornments. Figure 13 shows comparison images from the 2017 show Harlots, in which you can see day-to-day styles, and then some slightly more dressier styles. It is clear to see which one of the women has money, as she has the pristine, white wig with the cotton wool texture. The Duchess from 2008 is a superb example of a historically accurate Georgian powdered wig (fig. 14). It has barrel rolls around the bottom, with waves going up the front and ending in twists, curls and feathers. The makeup here is beautiful as well.
Recreating the Look- Human Hair
The plan for this look was for it to be very traditional and authentic. A dome shaped wig frame was made and attached to the centre of the wig, it was then secured with a layer of hair (fig. 15). The rest of the hair was set on small rollers which had been rolled upwards towards the centre of the wig frame. Extra hair was used, in the form of a cluster which was set in no particular pattern, as it was just needed for curls and extra coverage at the top of the wig frame. See figures 15-18 for the completed set. As this was drying in the wig oven, the spare time was used to make some adornments for the final style, in this case some bows! (fig. 19)
Once the hair was dry, it was unravelled from the rollers (fig. 20) and the curls were brushed out and pinned at the top of the wig frame, with the cluster pinned on first. The hair at one side was formed into barrel rolls (fig. 23) and the hair at the back was twisted before it was pinned, to add texture and interest (fig. 25). The hair was brought up to create curls and to hide the base of the cluster. Once the hair was all pinned in place, the wig was sprayed with white hair spray and had some loose powder added to it for the dry and dusty look. The adornments were then added on the opposite side to the rolls. This helped balance the appearance of the wig, and added a much needed pop of colour. See figures 21-26 for the final images of the style.
Reflection, part one.
I chose to do a style that did not involve too many barrel rolls, as they are known to be a weakness of mine. The pastel colour scheme was chosen as it worked with the colour of the wig. The colour of the bows would ideally have been a darker brown, or a pastel green as they blend into the hair colour too much. The making of the wig frame went well as it was the second time one had been made, and it was a good size for the wig. The cluster was not an exact colour match but when the wig had been sprayed, it is not overly noticeable and, looking back at history, they would not have had exact colour matches then either. The actual set itself was not a complicated one, it was the dressing out that took the time. These barrel rolls are not the worst examples I have ever created, but they could still be better, and in future a piece of dowel will be used for all barrel rolls. Once the hair had been pinned up, there was a slight gap on one side of the hair, so this help decide on the placement for the adornments, but it also balances the look of the wig. If the barrel curls could be re-done, this look would be suitable for a crowd actor, portraying someone of a lower class.
Recreating the Look- Synthetic Hair
For a second example of a more avant-garde Rococo-inspired style, the idea came from the human hair example. That one was dry, dusty and quite static and so the avant-garde style was going to be the exact opposite. The green wig that was chosen was very thin, so hair extensions were added in different shades of green. This conveyed visions of lush trees blowing in the breeze, filled with wildlife and other plants.
Constructing the wig frame for this design was a lot more complicated than previous frames, as it had wires coming off it at right angles. It was also an odd shape, and so covering it took some working out. The wires that were sticking out were wrapped in masking tape and then had kanekalon hair hot-glued to it to cover the masking take, but also to give the effect of gnarled branches. The ends of the kanekalon hair were left loose, and then set around perm rods to create small, tight curls (fig. 27). The wig frame was then attached to the wig and covered in a thin layer of hair to secure the frame. The hair that was going to be covering the area around the wire branches was set onto the geisha pins, in a rik-rak set (fig. 27).
The hair at the front of the frame was set on medium rollers (fig. 31), while the back of the hair was set on smaller rollers which were placed on the bias (fig. 33). This would ensure the hair was set in the right direction to go across with the direction of the frame. The finished set could then be steamed. See figures 30-33 for completed set.
Dressing out this set was fun, there was no set places for the hair to be pinned, as long as the hair was going in the right direction. The hair was pinned as the top of the wig frame, with the loose hair being left in the curls. The hair was not brushed through as it added to the windswept look, and the hair was not pulled tight when pinning as the waves and curls added movement some lovely texture. Some of the loose ends were wrapped around the curls and ringlets left from the perm rods, which gave the look of vines, but was also a subtle nod to the ringlets that the women had in their wigs in the Georgian period. Once all the hair was pinned up, flowers, feathers, foliage and small (fake) birds were added and this just brought the wig to life. See figures 34-38 for the completed style.
The makeup for this wig was very minimalistic, but with a nod to Georgian makeup trends. The face was paled down, and a beauty spot was added. But the eyebrows and eyelashes were covered in a light pomade so they were still visible but do not draw the eye. Green lipstick was used as a pop of colour, and to tie in with the colour of the wig. The wig is so bold and eye-catching, the makeup does not overpower it, it just compliments it. Looking back at the pictures, there needed to be some blush, or contour, on the face as it looks very round and flat.
Reflection, part two
Honestly, I love everything about this completed wig. There were so many different challenges during the process, but they were each worked out and came together to create one of the best things I have produced. The one thing that stands out is that it was a very cheap wig, the hairline and the thickness of the hair reflect this. As the wig was ordered from an online source, it was too late to get a replacement by the time it arrived. But if the wig had been of a better quality, the extensions might not have been added and it definitely would have lost something. There was one moment when it looked like adding more flowers was going to ruin the overall effect, I did not want to take any attention away from the lovely curls. After consulting with peers, the rest of the flowers were added, and it was undoubtedly the right decision. This wig would really benefit from being worn by a professional model for a photoshoot, and it could be adapted to fit many different themes.
An Introduction to Georgian England (no date) [internet] Available from An Introduction to Georgian England | English Heritage (english-heritage.org.uk) [accessed 9th January 2021]
Historical Fashion: Georgian Women’s Hairstyles (September 2017) [internet] Available from Historical Fashion: Georgian Women’s Hairstyles – Just History Posts [accessed 10th January 2021]
Reilly, L. (June 2012) Why Did People Wear Powdered Wigs? [internet] Available from Why Did People Wear Powdered Wigs? | Mental Floss [accessed 10th January 2021]
Figure 1- Laver, J. (1988) Costume and Fashion: A Concise History. London, Thames & Hudson Ltd. (p.147)
Figure 2- Laver, J. (1988) Costume and Fashion: A Concise History. London, Thames & Hudson Ltd. (p.146)
Figure 3- Laver, J. (1988) Costume and Fashion: A Concise History. London, Thames & Hudson Ltd. (p.145)
Figure 4- Laver, J. (1988) Costume and Fashion: A Concise History. London, Thames & Hudson Ltd. (p.142)
Figure 5- Corson, R. & Glavan, J. (2001) Stage Makeup. Custom ed. Boston, Pearson Custom Publishing (p.351)
Figure 6- Corson, R. & Glavan, J. (2001) Stage Makeup. Custom ed. Boston, Pearson Custom Publishing (p.351)
Figure 7- Corson, R. & Glavan, J. (2001) Stage Makeup. Custom ed. Boston, Pearson Custom Publishing (p.350)
Figure 8- Corson, R. & Glavan, J. (2001) Stage Makeup. Custom ed. Boston, Pearson Custom Publishing (p.350)
Figure 9- Corson, R. & Glavan, J. (2001) Stage Makeup. Custom ed. Boston, Pearson Custom Publishing (p.350)
Figure 10- Laver, J. (1988) Costume and Fashion: A Concise History. London, Thames & Hudson Ltd. (p.141)
Figure 11- Laver, J. (1988) Costume and Fashion: A Concise History. London, Thames & Hudson Ltd. (p.140)
Figure 12- Blatz, M. (January 2021) ‘Bridgerton’s Beauty Looks Come With Hidden Details You Might’ve Missed [internet] Available from ‘Bridgerton’s Beauty Looks Come With Hidden Details You Might’ve Missed (elitedaily.com) [accessed 9th January 2021]
Figure 13- Is BBC drama Harlots based on a true story? (August 2020)[internet] Available from Is BBC drama Harlots based on a true story? – Heart [accessed 9th January 2021]
Figure 14- Screen Style: The Duchess (2011) [internet] Available Screen Style: The Duchess – Anya Georgijevic [accessed 9th January 2021]
Figure 15-39- Entwistle, L. (2020) York College