The Eighteenth century is often referred to as a century of women, when manners and ediquette were at their peak. Women of most classes were taught about fashion and culture, a new movement was arriving and they were delighted.
Along with this movement came some very unique hairstyles, and they varied with those of artistocratic families as well as periods of history throughout the century.
Today, researchers and historians rely on the paintings and bookplates that were made and depicted women in the 18th century. From these we gain a visual idea of what women looked like, how they wore their hair and dressed.
Thomas Gainsborough, "Chalk Study of a Lady"
Most of the paintings by Boucher, Gautier and Patera show women with hair styles with endearing names like secret, butterfly and sentimental. Most of these hair styles and cuts were swept back and off of their faces. Many women wanted curly hair, as per the style of Marie Antionette. Darker colors, such as Marie’s, were preferred as well.
Height was also in! The bigger the better (odd how the number eight of the 18th century somewhat relates to the eight of the 1980‘s!) The trends of royalty, and women in royal families, spread quickly. A little forecasting on today’s society?
Nicolas de Largilliere, "Portrait of a Lady, Half length, Wearing a White Dress..."
Stylists & Their Tools
Women curled their hair with bone combs and curling irons consisting of hot rods of metal warmed by fire. They also used handmade iron pins to keep hair in place. Women of the court, or those who were affluent, had personal hairdressers (coiffeurs) who would work for hours to prepare hair, and sometimes head dress, for the women.
Elisabeth Louise Vigee-Lebrun, "Madame Vigee-Lebrun and Her Daughter Jeanne-Lucie Louise"
The Birth of the Pouf
If women wanted more height in their hair they would use pieces of wool, hemp or even wire to create “bigger” effects. In the late 18th century, the style called “pouf” became even more popular and pieces of cork and fabric were bent into the base of the hair to allow piles of waves and curls to the top. At times, the height of the “pouf” and hair was 1.5-2 times the length of the face of the woman!
Thomas Gainsborough, "Portrait of Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire"
Powdered Hair Colors
Powder was used by men and women in hair, but mostly for color and cleanliness. King Henry had noticed it had helped his greying hairs and soon it too caught on as a trend to enhance color and keep hair less “greasy.” Powders were not only white but they were also found to be violet, brown, orange and blue.
Joshua Reynolds, "Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire and her Daughter Lady Georgiana Cavendish,1784"
Wigs were mostly worn by men. However, some women who wanted longer hair, more body or curl had partial pieces of hair woven into their own. The hair was usually from another women’s hair and heavily powdered in starch and wheat flour.
Maurice Quentin de La Tour, "Francois Marie Arouet de Voltaire"
Women of the 18th century embraced LOTS of texture in their time. They made for some of the most unique hairstyles of any period in history. Their paintings and sculptures also leave us with a sense of knowing how they embraced and acknowledged beauty.
Antonio Canova, "Cupid and Psyche" detail