Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Everlasting Ringlets

Earlier this month I attended the Battle of New Orleans bicentennial event. I spent two days in costume wandering about the battlefield as well as the French Quarter, including a lovely ball I attended the second evening. I made quite a few new pieces, which I'll get to soon, but first I wanted to talk about hair! It's constantly a problem to keep those beautiful curls bouncing for an entire day through all of the abuse. Usually I use a modern setting lotion, wet set pin curls, and a good shellacking of hairspray to keep them from sagging. But this time around I left the modern methods at home and took the opportunity to experiment with the method women of the time were using.

My friend, Abby, has been studying haircare of the 18th century, particular the use of pomatum and powder in both styling and cleanliness. So, I brought with me a bit of both to put them through a trial by fire.

I wet my hair the evening before, worked the pomatum through, and put my whole head up in pin curls. That morning I took out the curls and found they were so well ensconced I couldn't get them to do the spiral fall I was looking for on the sides. I think the problem is in my short hair and the lack of weight needed. So, I pulled out a small barrel curling iron (something they would have had, but I don't think the hotel would have appreciated a brasier being lit in the bathroom) and encouraged some of the curls into the proper shape. The curls on top I left alone as they seemed to lay well. I also decided to forgo the powder since the finish already looked very similar to portraits of the time.

This was soon after arriving to the site, with brisk winds that actually gave my face windburn that day. Despite all of the tousling, the curls were perfect.

A few hours of walking about the site later, still no loss of curls!

The next day I used the same technique, only rinsing my hair and adding a bit of pomade to achieve the wet set pin curls. However, my other hat sat much further down on my head (something I need to fix), so it spent almost all day squashing the poor curls I had so tediously set!

But all was not lost! I reset the curls for a couple of hours before the evening event and fixed up a bit with the curling iron again. Mind you, the most squashed part (the top), I never used the iron on and it still bounced back with just a bit of pinning while dry. So, after at least 15 hours my very straight hair was still very willing to curl just perfectly!

Prior to the event I tried a few small curls set for three hours that I then brushed and ran my fingers through and this is what resulted after all of the abuse. Needless to say, taking my hair down after the event I looked like orphan Annie. 1780s hedgehogs anyone?

I've still got a number of tests I'm planning to put this system of haircare through, but I hope you will too! Check out Abby's Etsy shop here!


Isis said...

Oh, thanks for the link to Abby's shop! I have managed to miss that one.

I Think your hair experiment is very interesting and I Think yourhair looked great!

Lily said...

Fascinating! I really need help with getting curls to hold- I'll be trying this method next time! :-)

Hetty said...

Wow, that's amazing! What kind of pomade did you use?

Abby said...

Thank you for the shout out Nicole!

Hetty she used my products that you can find here:

Cassidy said...

That is a fantastic set of curls!

Lizzybel said...

Very interesting. Could you please contact me at I am looking for information on a Regency outfit and would prefer to discuss the details offline. Hope to hear from you soon.

Eleonora Amalia said...

Your curls are perfection! Just wondering, how long is the front section of your hair when straight?

ColeV said...

My hair is layered between by chin and shoulder at the moment. I'm finding more and more that the 1940s middy cut is perfect for many other historical hairstyles as well.

Lisa M. said...

Perhaps my hair is just amenable to being curled, even though it's naturally almost straight. My grandmother, who was born between 1900 and 1910 (1908, maybe?) taught me how to use rags to make corkscrew and sausage curls. Basically, you use long strips of cloth about 2" wide. You wrap your wet hair, starting at the top, in spiral fashion around the rag, leaving a smallish end sticking out the top. Then, with the rest of the strip of cloth, you wrap it up spirally over the hair until it's back up near your scalp, tie with the first end, and do the same thing with each strip until you have made all the curls you want to make. It goes faster with two people, one to wrap and the other to hold. I never used any pomatum or styling aids with this method, but maybe my hair is particularly amenable to being curled. As long as I let the hair and rags dry completely before unwrapping, the curls would stay intact (I could brush them a little to smooth them after unwrapping) as long as they didn't get wet. If they got wet, well, it was back to the rags. While the rags and hair dried, my head looked like it was covered in broken, bandaged fingers! Charming, huh? In order to have sausage curls, I had to put my hair up this way the night prior to a mid-morning (or later) event. My hair doesn't dry quickly, and it dries even more slowly when wrapped in muslin bandages.