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18th century wigs

1775 maja, 18th century, 18th century wigs, balls, Bella Donna, events, projects

Vampire Ball!

Last night was the annual PEERS Vampire Ball, which is one the few balls I still get excited about!  It’s in a great venue (an Elks lodge that has a beautiful look) that’s about 3 blocks from my house, plus people really go all out with the costumes — over the top historical, vampire/goth, scifi, fantasy, and hybrids of all of these.  There’s so much eye candy, and that’s the best part!  Plus there’s not only historical dancing but also a goth club with a DJ, so you can get the best of both worlds.  Okay, and 2 bars.

For the past three years, Bella Donna has performed two 30 min. song sets at the ball, which is always lots of fun.  We’ve rewritten all of our English songs so that they’re vampire focused (so, for example, “Sweet nymph come to thy lover” becomes “Sweet prey come to thy vampire”), and it’s fun to get to do something different than our usual Renaissance show… and we get to wear whatever costume we’re in the mood to wear!

This year I was thinking about wearing the Marie Antoinette dress, but it’s so huge that it would be hard to get into singing formation with the group and I certainly couldn’t do any historical dancing. So I decided to wear the Maja fancy dress costume, but I wanted to do something different with it. I came up with the idea of doing a Pierrot makeup, in line with the whole black and white theme.

To do the makeup, I used Kryolan Supracolor again, and made my illustrator husband do the black/detail work. Everything went swimmingly until I went to power the makeup, which you need to do to set it — I was using a brush and all the black smeared!  So I had to do a bunch of repair work, which was super annoying… I’m not positive what the best way would be to powder when you’ve got more than one color going on, does anyone know?  I ended up using a power puff and just pressing it, but it still smeared a bit.

Makeup pre-smearing

I wanted to do a new wig, and decided to try a 1760s tete-de-mouton just to do something different — something along the lines of this. I used a pretty ratty wig that I’d cut to be a hedgehog, so the hair in front/top/sides wasn’t quite as long as it should be to do full justice to the curls across the top of the head… and I ended up doing things a bit backwards, in styling the front before the back, so had to do some curls at the side/back top to pull things together. But it was interesting to try something new, and now I know what to do differently next time!

The clearest shot of the wig I've got, which isn't very clear; or, yes, aquanet is period!

I ended up recovering a mini-tricorn form and trimming it the vintage b&w ribbon I bought at Hyman Hendler in NYC.

Pierrot Maja

The ball was fun and I had a great time seeing new and old friends, although I didn’t do ANY historic dancing — bad me!  Instead after our singing sets were over, I pretended to be goth with some of my Bella Donna friends in the club room and had fun doing swoopy dances and “catch the bat, release the bat.”

Pierrot Maja

Bella Donna performing at the Vampire Ball

18th century, 18th century wigs

A Happy Wig Customer & A Gorgeously Gothy Costume

I keep meaning to post more pictures of wigs that I’ve custom made for clients, but I’ve had a hard time remembering to get nice photos out of people. (If you’re reading this and you’ve got nice pics of you in your wig, I’d love to feature them!).  Luckily my friend Tara was on the ball and sent me photos right away!

Tara went to New Orleans for Halloween, and put together a fabulous costume.  Jenn of Ruby Raven made the gown and tricorn, and then Tara hired me to make her a wig.  She ended up deciding on a medium-tall pouf with lots of ringlets, in black with one white streak.  The whole costume turned out glorious — so much so that Tara won first prize in the costume contest at the Witches Ball!

I would love to take a costume trip to New Orleans sometime, but in the meantime, let’s all admire how fabulous Tara looks:

Tara and Paul in New Orleans | Costume by | Wig by

Tara in New Orleans | Costume by | Wig by

Tara in New Orleans | Costume by | Wig by

18th century, 18th Century Hairdressing Book, 18th century wigs, publications

18th C. Hairstyling Book – Houston we are GO!

Thanks SO much to everyone who gave me your feedback on the idea of an 18th century hair/wig-styling book!  I got a TON of positive, useful feedback and I really think it’s viable, so I am going to go for it!

I’m still crunching the data I gathered on the survey, and exploring options for images.  I’ve ordered myself a practice mannequin so I can work out the specific styles I want to do.
And there are some things I want to do a bit more research on, like caps — how ubiquitous were they?  Etc.

I even appreciate those who said they WOULDN’T buy the book, because that’s helpful to know!  It seems like those few are more interested in a book on 18th century techniques, which I agree are interesting, but I just don’t see myself (or the bulk of costumers/theater people) wanting to make pomade out of beef tallow and setting curls by baking hair on clay curlers in ovens.  It just doesn’t sound viable.  I’ll certainly be researching how they did it, and including information about that in the book.


My goal is to have the book ready to go for Costume College 2013!

And — what I’m going to do is use Kickstarter, which is a site that allows people to fund a project.  You can donate $1 or $500, depending on the various levels that I set it at.  Obviously I will have the basic “donation” be a discounted price on the book, and you’ll get a copy of the book at this discounted rate for pre-funding the project.  This way I can figure out the cost of the book and essentially pre-sell it… And the way Kickstarter works is that you figure out what your funding goal is, and if you don’t make that goal, nobody’s credit cards get charged — so basically you’d be buying the book, but if for any reason I can’t get enough people to buy a copy and the project falls through, you wouldn’t be out a cent.

So my plan is do more research and figure out hairstyles over the next couple of months, and hopefully do the real work with photography and writing over winter/spring.  I won’t start the Kickstarter pre-sale until I have things pretty firmly lined up with a finish date — so when a lot of the writing is done and I’m starting to work with models, and have a firm end date in site.  So, watch this space for lots more updates!

18th century, 18th Century Hairdressing Book, 18th century wigs, books, publications, research

18th Century Hairstyling Book?

So, a potentially crazy idea… A conversation at Costume College got me thinking about the possibility of writing a book on 18th century hairstyling (and makeup?) — using modern techniques to achieve a historically accurate look, working with your own hair, adding false hair, and wigs.  Now, this could be a lot of work, so it wouldn’t really be worth the time unless people would buy it.

Here’s what I picture:

  • Something along the line of Lauren Rennells’ fabulous book on vintage hairstyling
  • Start with some history, include lots of pictures and source material (if possible?  gotta look into that whole public domain images thing)
  • Go over some basic your-hair styling techniques, like ways to curl your hair, tease, etc.
  • Go over some semi-advanced wig/false hair styling techniques, like different ways to curl/straighten synthetic hair, ways to create volume, ways to create rolls, how to attach wigs/false hair to your head, how to match colors, how to not look like you’re wearing a Wig, how to adapt a wig for different hairlines, etc.
  • Step by step instructions that walk you through hairstyle for different eras — I picture 1-2 styles for each decade, with some info on variations
  • Hairstyles would be those worn in France and England (there’s some differences b/t the two, and lots of similarities) — the English stuff could be extrapolated to those doing American
  • Possibly 1-2 styles that are appropriate for lower/middle classes, but most would be upper class styles — I would talk about ways to tone things down if you’re doing middle class
  • Mostly I’m picturing this focusing on women, but it could also talk about men’s styles
  • Possibly including some brief info on creating an 18th c. makeup look using modern products
So, crazy idea or good one?  I’ve created a survey that I’d love if you would fill out so I can try to figure out 1) if there’s a market for such a thing, and 2) what specifics people would want.  Please feel free to share any thoughts in the survey or by commenting here — I wonder if people are concerned about geography, class, etc…. And my forte is NOT “here’s how this recipe from this 1764 beauty manual makes up,” so again, we’d be talking modern/theatrical techniques — would that work for you?
Please feel free to forward this survey around!  The more input I get, the clearer an idea I’ll have as to whether or not this is a viable idea.

Here’s the survey:

And, in case you aren’t a regular reader of this blog, here’s some examples of hairstyles and wigs that I’ve done:

18th century, 18th century wigs, 1938 Marie Antoinette, Costume College, events

Yay! Costume College + Secret Gala Project

I had an absolute blast at Costume College this year, which has totally reinspired me to want to blog! It was so much fun to reconnect with everyone and get to spend quality time with friends, and to play dress up and talk shop!

The down side was the tickle in my throat on the day I packed developed into a full-blown cold, which meant I wasn’t sleeping much (from coughing) and progressively lost my voice so much that I couldn’t really talk at the gala!

On Friday, I taught one class — 18th century dress variations.  I made my OWN eyes cross multiple times putting together the presentation, and the class did an admirable job keeping up with the numerous styles we discussed.  I decided to focus it somehow by including only the dress styles that appear to have been popular — there are just so many, we would all need a lie down to talk about them all.  I think I talked about at least 15 different styles…  I was inspired and so wore my Pre-Raphaelite/Gothic Fitted Dress, and it felt fun to dress up for classes — in something that didn’t require a corset!

Friday night, we had our usual Pretty Pretty Princess Party, which was tons of fun! Lots of people in silly Pink Drink Commando uniforms, plus some people still in costume from the Ice Cream Social.  I skipped the Social this year — last year it was so crowded that I just got overwhelmed and stressed out.  I’m kind of bummed I missed seeing all the pretty costumes, but given that I was sick and my roomies were tired, it was probably good we conserved our energy for the party!

Saturday I taught two classes. The first, on 17th/18th c. beauty patches, had massive technical failures and I ended up not having a projector.  Luckily I’d put lots of images in my handout, but they were cropped and black & white, so it just wasn’t the same.  Thankfully it was a short class!  I know they’d never fit all the classes in, but it would be so great to have a decent chunk of time between classes to set up.  The instructor before me went over time, and then had a lot of stuff so it took her a while to pack up; meanwhile we’re tripping over each other as I’m trying to set up.

I had 30 min. before my next class so went out in the hall to try to get my projector to work, but no dice — I think it was a cord issue.  Luckily Francis saved the day by bringing down his laptop and (importantly) projector cable, and I was able to have images for my Social History of Hair (18th c. – Regency) class — yay!  I was pretty stressed out nonetheless, so didn’t enjoy teaching as much as I could have, although there were a lot of interesting questions and I enjoyed the discussion part.

Saturday afternoon I hung with the Bitchy Romans for a while — I didn’t have time OR anything in my stash to make anything, so I just admired them, then I was off for a nap (see again about not sleeping well) before it was time to start prepping for the gala.

I have been sewing up a storm, but like I’ve mentioned, had zero desire to blog about any of it, so that meant my cool Gala costume idea ended up being a secret project.  A while ago Sarah, Trystan, and I were talking about doing something different than straight historical for the gala.  They tried to sell me on 18th c. sea creatures, but I couldn’t get excited about it.  I remembered someone I’d seen post on the LJ Vintage Hair community a while back who had done a 1920s black & white starlet costume for Halloween, where she’d done greyscale makeup as though you were watching her on screen.  I thought it was a cool idea, and as I was fishing for something other than sea creatures for the gala, hit on the idea of doing a costume from the 1938 Marie Antoinette with Norma Shearer in greyscale.  S&T liked the idea, even more so when I suggested that we didn’t all have to do the same movie, and plans were made!  I enlisted Leia to help me shop for fabric in NYC, and she got excited about joining in, but doing a current 1930s starlet look.  Sadly, life intervened for everyone, and they weren’t able to join me, which was a little sad because it’s always fun to do things like this with other people, but I’m glad they didn’t stress themselves out or wear something they weren’t excited about.

I’ve posted a write-up about the project here, but I’ll expand on it:

Being an 18th c. nut, I love the costumes in this movie — but it took me a while to like them!  I only first saw the movie about two years ago, and while the wigs jumped up and hit me in the head with their fabulousness, all I saw with the costumes was the lack of historical accuracy.  When I hit on this idea to do 18th c. thru the 1930s lens, suddenly I saw just how fab all the costumes were, and I had a hard time choosing.  I almost went with a dress of the Duchess of Polignac’s that is covered in a gazillion ruches, but that seemed too similar to a real 18th c. dress, so I decided to go with something even LESS historically accurate:  the piece de resistance from this movie, the so-called Rocket Dress!

The original dress is made in gold lame, but I really don’t think our modern crappy lame is the same thing — I think vintage lame must have had some silk or real metal in it.  I just couldn’t see making this dress out of crappy materials — sure, it would be cheap, but it would look it, plus I hate wearing synthetics and didn’t want to sweat to death all night.

When I went shopping in NYC, I came across some silver silk duchesse satin for a really good price (can’t remember what it was, but it was seriously affordable), PLUS the same shop had embroidered silver tulle yardage also for a good price!  Obviously duchesse satin is a totally different weight and look than the sheer, metallic look of the original fabric, so I immediately gave myself permission to make a dress that was very-heavily-inspired-by, but not a strict recreation.  Also, I am no Norma Shearer figure-wise, and trying to look exactly like here was never going to happen.

Now that I’d found fab materials and a vision, I decided to make this as fast as I could while keeping it as nice as I could.  That meant I ended up with a mixture of 18th century, Victorian, and modern techniques.

Again, I’m no Norma Shearer, so I’m wearing a Victorian corset underneath. The bodice is patterned in a Victorian style, with bust darts, and I tried to follow the lines of the original movie gown as much as possible. The back closure is an 18th century court approach, with the lacing built into the lining, and the silk layer separate and laid on top — but there are metal grommets and a placket in there!  I tried to bag line the bodice for speed, but of course things didn’t line up perfectly, and I ended up having to set in the lining by hand.  All the lace appliques are cut from the yardage and hand applied.

The skirt was draped using a ginormous rectangle and Katherine’s 18th c. court skirt tutorial, with some modifications for a different hoop shape. It’s all mounted to an underskirt of grey cotton, with two layers of silk satin on top.

I was originally going to try to stick to the swag drapery in the original dress, but apparently I have Teh Dumb when it comes to swags, because they refused to happen (the dress almost went to boarding school because of this). Luckily, I draped the lace yardage over the dress on my form when I went to bed, and I realized in the morning that the lace was beautiful enough on its own, so went for swags of lace instead. Also, I misread (visually) the top swags to think they were a separate layer, only to later realize they were yet more applied swags, but oh well, it all ended up fine!

Everything was covered in silver sequin star appliques, as in the original costume.

For makeup, initially I tried using Kryolan’s Aquacolor, of which I’d heard good things, but it seriously looked like calamine lotion when applied. I ended up using Supracolor, which is an oil-based makeup and SO much easier to apply. I used white mixed with a little bit of black for grey, covered with setting powder and finishing spray. The rest of my makeup I did with grey and black eyeshadows and eyeliners.  Leia helped a lot with figuring out the makeup approach, and it was really good to have someone hold my hand!  I didn’t get to 100% desaturated color on my skin, but I’m pleased enough with what I achieved, esp. given this was my first try at any stage makeup.

For the wig, I started with a long silver wig, to which I added wefts where needed to (mostly) cover my hairline. I always have problems having wigs fit, and this time I figured out that where I’m missing is along the hairline — the hairline itself just isn’t long enough to cover me from temple to temple. Since I’d had a hard time matching extra hair to the wig (you’d be surprised how many variations there are, even when you’re working with the same color #), and since I was too lazy to head back to the wig store for wefted hair, I worked with the loose hair I had and hauled out my hair weaving frame that they gave us when we took the 18th c. wig class at Colonial Williamsburg and hand-wove extra wefts.  It actually went pretty quickly, since I only needed about 3′ of weft.  I built out the wig base in front with netting, sewed the wefts to that, and then styled the wig itself over a wire frame with separate, glue-set rolls.

And now, back to the CoCo writeup!  I was definitely dragging Saturday afternoon, but rallied and managed (with Leia’s help) to get makeup’ed, wigged, and dressed.  And despite basically having lost my voice at that point, I had So Much Fun!  We’d skipped the dinner, which we did last year, and which has actually worked out great because it means we show up during dinner and have no line in the photo room.

Once the gala opened up to us non-ticketed losers, we went in and got to see everyone’s costumes.  I didn’t have a camera last year as my husband killed our’s with a water bottle, so I have only a few crappy iPhone photos to prove just how amazing everyone looked.  There were tons of gorgeous 1930s bias gowns straight out of Anything Goes, tons of 18th c. fabulosity (including a few 18th c. Disney princesses!), Victorian fancy dress, bustle gowns, lots of 1910s evening elegance, and more more more.  It was tons of fun to wander around the room checking everyone out, and then I joined my peeps for some cocktails and a lot of dancing!

Of course, being sick, I hit the wall around midnight and while some of my roomies were off socializing until 2am or so, I attempted to sleep… I didn’t have anything scheduled Sunday, but was planning to A) sleep, B) hit the dealer’s room, C) maybe attend some classes, and D) socialize… but when I woke up Sunday morning (after a semi-decent sleep-in), I realized I wasn’t good for any of that.  I could barely talk, and I was so tired, that all I was honestly going to do was lounge/sleep in my room.  My husband threw out the idea that I could fly home early, which suddenly sounded enticing, given how useless I was and the fact that my roomie had to leave that day and so I had to pay for the room on my own.  When I mentioned this to Sarah & Francis, who I was supposed to drive home with, they realized that they’d had a blast and while staying would be nice, they also wouldn’t mind leaving that day — so we hustled, packed in 1 hour, and were off, texting goodbye to our friends.  I always love the mellow hangout fun of Sunday night, but I was really not up for it, so leaving was the better option, altho I wish I could have said real goodbyes.

So, now I’m home, and inspired, even if I’ve spent the past 2 days on the couch blowing my nose and sleeping!  I have lots of costumes to catch you up on, so I’ll be doing a lot of posting over the next few days.

Hopefully I’ll get some nice photos out of the official photographers, plus many friends still haven’t posted their pics, but for now, here are some shots of my Marie Antoinette costume:

Norma Shearer as Marie Antoinette (1938)

(C) American Duchess - posed with Marilee as Theda Bara

(C) Aimee Major

(C) Aimee Major

(C) DA Sandoval

18th century, 18th century wigs, 19th century, research, teaching

JASNA NorCal Lecture by Me, Plus Champagne!

I’m vaguely organized enough to tell you that I’m giving a lecture on hairstyles of the Georgian & Regency eras on Dec. 10 in San Francisco, for the Northern California chapter of JASNA (Jane Austen Society of North America).

My talk will be:

“As Fashionable and Deceiving as Ever”: English Hairstyles in the Late Georgian and Regency Eras

The changes in fashion from the Georgian to the Regency will be traced, focusing on a changing hairstyles worn in England, and their social, cultural, and political context. From women’s gigantic “poufs” and men’s wigs of the late 18th century, through the “natural” and classical styles of the Regency, hairstyles underwent significant stylistic changes. These styles both represented the changes in politics and society and served as a locus for debate around issues of gender, class, and politics. This talk will trace the fashions in hairstyles from the late 18th century through the Regency Era, and analyze their perceived meaning and the debates around them.

There will also be other lectures, readings, brunch and high tea!  If you’re interested in attending, the deadline to register is this Friday. Read more about it, and download the registration flyer.

18th century, 18th century wigs, research

New Research Article: 18th Century Hair & Makeup

So, I do tons of research.  All the time.  And I realized that I don’t tend to post too much of it anymore!  In an effort to rectify that, I’m going to take some of my teaching materials and put them together into articles & get them online.

My first effort:  Women’s Hairstyles & Cosmetics of the 18th Century:  France & England, 1750-1790.  This discusses both what they did in the period, and the general looks of the era to aim for in reproduction.  I’m contemplating adding an image gallery with more examples of hair &  makeup looks from the period — let me know if anyone is interested.

Edited to add:  I found it particularly fascinating to find that women in the 18th century DIDN’T usually wear full wigs, as that’s what I’d always assumed, and in fact been told by Those Who Should Know.  Which explains why you don’t see obvious wig line in portraiture.  And will make me stop feeling non-period when I incorporate my own hair into my wigs!  I’m not giving up on the convenience of wigs, tho — they make getting ready for an event SO much easier.

If this seems useful, let me know and I’ll put up more!  Other things I could pull together easily are:  Venetian Renaissance (probably not needed, given the fabulous Realm of Venus site), and an overview of 1830s fashions.  I’d also like to do more research on 17th & 18th c. beauty patches and 18th c. court dress.  There’s lots more percolating in my brain/on my hard drive, but it’ll take a bit more time to pull those off!