Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries

The seventeenth century saw the complete resurgence of the wig and it became the height of fashion for both men and women, with many shaving their heads beneath for both comfort and fit. Hair historian Richard Corson sees the ascendance of Louis XIV to the French throne as pivotal. The king supplemented his thinning hair with false pieces until "eventually he agreed to have his head shaved, which was done daily thereafter, and to wear a wig." (Corson, p. 215) By the eighteenth century, those who had the finances had a large wig for formal occasions and a smaller one for use in the home. The larger or more "full bottomed" the wig, the more expensive, thus they were also a mark of class and income and the target of wig snatch-ers. If one was unable to afford a wig, one made one's natural hair look as wiglike as possible. By the mid-eighteenth century, white was the favored color for wigs, and they were first greased then powdered with flour or a mixture of starch and plaster of paris in the house's wig closet using special bellows. Lucrative trades were constructed around their care and maintenance, such as hairdressing, so-called because hair was dressed rather than cut. Women's wigs were particularly high, powdered, and be-jeweled, and the subject of much caricature. To achieve the look, hair was harvested from the heads of the rural working classes. Richard Corson noted that the full wig was disappearing by about 1790, however, "when there was a good deal of natural hair in evidence" (Corson, p. 298).

Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries After this brief period of respite during the French Revolution, when a natural look and thus natural hair was fashionable, the elaborately dressed hairstyles of the Victorian and Edwardian era demanded a myriad of false pieces or fronts and transformations. As the feminine ideal in the Edwardian era required enormous hairstyles, the natural bulk of the hair was padded out. Lady Violet Harvey recalled,

Enormous hats often poised on a pyramid of hair, which if not possessed, was supplied, pads under the hair to puff it out were universal and made heads unnaturally big. This entailed innumerable hairpins. My sister and I were amazed to see how much false hair and pads were shed at 'brushing time.' (Hardy, p. 79)

The building of massive hairstyles was dependent on the use of postiche, the French word for "added hair" and styles included fringes, fronts, switches, pompadour rolls, and frizettes. All hairdressers had a workroom in which postiches were made for sale wherein the posticheur prepared hair. Hair combings were saved and then drawn through a hackle (a flat board with metal teeth sticking upward) to straighten them. Hair was sorted into bundles ready to be curled into false pieces or curled by a device called a bigoudis made of wood or hardened clay. Sections of hair were rolled up on the bigoudis and then dropped into water mixed with soda. After being boiled for several hours the dry hair was then unwound and stored—a method that dates back to the Egyptians. If too little hair was obtained from combings it came from other women. It was a commodity to be exploited and one famous source was the Hair Market at Morlans in the Pyrenees, one of a number of hiring fairs where dealers literally bought the hair from women's heads. Much hair was also imported from Asia Minor, India, China, and Japan and boiled in nitric acid to remove the color and vermin. Men wore wigs, too, but this was to hide baldness.

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