Posts Tagged ‘The Gentlemans Magazine’

Blowing soap bubbles, a common pastime on washing day!

While flicking through the pages of my newly acquired Gentleman’s Magazine, Volume 31 (1761), I discovered a recipe for making soap!

Recipe to make Soap without boiling.

Set your leaches with hot water, put 20lb. of grease into a kettle with two pails full of strong lye, set it over the fire until the grease is well melted; then take a barrel placing it in the yard, or any other open place, where the sun may come to it, and fill it two thirds full of strong lye, and put the melted grease and lye into it, boiling hot, stirring it well together with a stick, and put in a pail full of weak lye every day, continuing the stirring of it until the barrel is full, and in about a week’s time you will have excellent soap.

[Editor’s postscript:] The above method has been tried in this town, Boston, New England, and found to exceed any common soap hitherto made by boiling, and will not be subject to any disagreeable smell by keeping; besides it will ease many worthy families from the confusion and vexation which usually attends the making of soap in the old way.

Soap is made when a fatty substance (plant oils, animal fat or “grease”) and an alkaline substance (such as lye) are combined and cause a chemical reaction, called saponification. Lye was historically obtained by running water through the ashes of burnt wood or plant matter and leaching out a solution of potassium hydroxide. The reaction that occurs when the fats and alkaline substance are mixed causes the surfactant qualities of soap, and heating helps to speed up the reaction.

The end result was a jelly-like substance, somewhat similar to liquid soap. It would be stored in a barrel and ladled out in the quantity needed. In order to get hard soap, common salt could be added to the mixture at the end, but this was not commonly done. Hard soap was not routinely made until the discovery of the process to make the alkaline sodium hydroxide, or caustic soda, by LeBlanc in 1790. Making soap with this alkaline caused the resulting mixture to go hard without the addition of salt.

Until the early 1800’s, soap making was largely a household chore, and was commonly held to be a difficult task. As eighteenth century pre-industrial people did not know about the chemical reaction that was occurring in their barrels of grease and lye, it was sometimes difficult to get a consistent result. One of the reasons for this was because it was difficult to know the strength of the lye (or alkaline solution). To much unreacted lye in the soap caused it to be caustic, but too little meant the soap was too greasy.

The Editor’s postscript, where he refers to the disagreeable smell of keeping soap, may refer to the smell of the rancid animal fat left over from cooking, which was saved for soap making. In addition, the process of cleaning the grease (rendering), by melting it in water and then letting it cool, was also not a pleasant smelling process!

I am not sure that soap-making is my cup of tea!

Relevant Posts

What would You want in a Wife? From The Gentleman’s Magazine

Sources and Relevant Links

The Gentleman’s Magazine, Vol 31, 1761. Unfortunately I can not find an online version of this volume.

History of Soap Making

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The Stinging Nettle, which has been used as a medicine and can even be eaten.

The Gentleman’s Magazine was an extremely popular periodical publication in the eighteenth century, having a large readership and a commenting on a wide variety of topics.

I found this poem published by The Gentleman’s Magazine in the February edition, 1765, with the authorship attributed to an E. Pennington. This author, as far as I have been able to find, was not a famous poet and was probably a subscriber to the periodical who sent the poem to the editor for consideration.

The Boy and the Nettle. A Fable.

A Little boy, one summer’s day,
Devoid of care, went out to play;
He roves the mead, the pleasing dies
Of various flow’rs engage his eyes.
From this to that with joy he turns,
For all in quick succession burns:
The blossom’d nettle now he gains,
Which sorely stings him for his pains.
Homeward in tears he runs with speed,
And sobs complaints against the weed:
“My touch, says he, was soft and light,
Who then could think that it would bite?”
His boy the father fondly ey’d,
He kiss’d him first, and then reply’d,
“My Child, the lightness of your touch
Was that which made it bite so much;
Had but your grip been close and rude,
Its mischief had been all subdued;
A fact from which I’d now deduce
A precept for your future use.
You’ll find the world, that ample field,
A plenteous crop of nettles yield;
Men who may justly pass for such,
Whom you must gripe, or never touch;
Avoid, or treat them with disdain,
My precept in your mind retain.”

London, Feb 22, 1765.  E.Pennington.

This poem has been adapted from one of Aesop’s Fables about a boy and a nettle, where a boy was stung and went home to tell his mother.

In this poem, a boy, playing in a field, touched a nettle ever so gently and it stung him. Running home with tears in his eyes, he tells his father that he tried to be gentle. His father says that being gentle was what had caused the problem, and that if he had grabbed the nettle firmly, it would not have stung him. This is because the stinging “hairs” of the plant are squashed and can not penetrate the skin in the same manner.

From this the father deduces a moral for the future use of his son. The world is like a field, and you are bound to come across nettles in life. The trick is to either avoid them or grab them, thereby avoiding the painful sting.

In Aesop’s Fable, the moral of the story was proclaimed to be:

Whatever you do, do it with all your might.

Do you like stories or poems that have a moral? They are my cup of tea!

Related Posts

A Recipe to Soften the Hardest Female Heart – more poetry from The Gentleman’s Magazine

On Love, Shakespeare and Marianne Dashwood – a sonnet of Shakespeare’s

Sources and Relevant Links

The Gentleman’s Magazine, Vol 35 , 1765, p. 92.

Aesop’s Fables – online

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The title page for the May edition of The Gentleman's Magazine, 1759. "Containing More in Quantity and Greater Variety, than any Book of the Kind or Price."

The Gentleman’s Magazine was one of the longest running periodical papers in England, publishing monthly editions for 191 years, across three centuries! From its beginning, in 1731, the magazine was intended to address any issue of public concern, and this may have been the key to its success. It was widely read throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth century by both male and female audiences (despite its name), and it was not until the twentieth century that reading numbers began to decline. The publication finally stopped in 1922.

The articles addressed all manner of things, from the current issues of politics to the importance of Latin! It discussed the latest advancements of an extensive variety of disciplines, such as medicine, agriculture, astronomy, botany, religion, literature, fashion, manners, crime, and war. It also printed letters, sent to the editor from the concerned public, on a variety of issues of social importance. It even published poems!

I was reading the January 1765 edition of The Gentleman’s Magazine the other day when I came across this gem of a poem! The editor published poems from famous and unknown poets, but this poem had no authorship noted.

Recipe to soften the hardest female heart.

Take a youth that’s genteel, no matter for face,
And season him well with an air and a grace;
One grain of sincerity you may bestow,
But enough of assurance you needs must allow,
With flatteries, and sighs, assiduities, fears,
Insignificant smiles, significant leers,
With passion, and raptures to give it a zest,
A sprinkling of folly according to taste;
Some pieces of songs, and some spoutings of plays,
And fashion, and frolicks, and whimisical ways;
All mix’d well together with art and deceit,
And with nicety dress’d to make it compleat.
This med’cine the patient should take ev’ry day,
And the flint in her heart will soon melt away.
Sometimes a few days the complaint may remove,
Sometimes a few weeks ineffectual prove.
But seldom an instance can any produce
Where this choice panacea has fail’d of its use
The heart that’s obdurate when this has been try’d,
Has surely discernment and sense within side.
With the seeds of contempt, which next will appear,
When these symptoms are seen (which are wonderous rare)
This med’cine is useless, ’twill ne’er reach that heart
Which, harden’d by Virtue, will baffle all art.

The Gentleman’s Magazine, Vol 35, 1765, p.92.

The author is referring to the arts that gentlemen use to woo a lady. Most of the “arts” that are mentioned here involve the external trappings that society offers – like wealth, gentility, fashionable clothes, and airs and graces that flatter and deceive. The only “ingredient” of real substance is “a grain of sincerity”, and that could not be considered a generous amount!

The writer goes on to say that this “recipe”, if given to the lady in question everyday, has a remarkable way of softening a ladies heart towards a man. However, if the unthinkable should occur and the “recipe” does not work, then the problem will be that the woman has been hardened by Virtue, and so is not easily decieved by appearances or flattery.

The one thing that worries me about this poem, is the author’s belief that this type of woman – hardened by Virtue and able to see through the fluff to the substance of a man – is rare! I had hoped that, even in eighteenth century fashionable society, there might be a few women with sense and discernment!

Is poetry your cup of tea?

Related Posts

What if?: The Road Not Taken – a poem of Robert Frost’s

On Love, Shakespeare and Marianne Dashwood – a sonnet of Shakespeare’s

The Boy and the Nettle – another poem in The Gentleman’s Magazine

Sources and Relevant Links

The Gentleman’s Magazine, Vol 35, 1765 – read online

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The poke bonnet was fashionable at the beginning of the 19th century, and consisted of a small crown and wide brim to shade the face. From 1830 through to the 1840s, the shape of the brim became more tubular in shape and increased in size until the wearers face was only visible from directly in front.

A French satire print on the poke bonnet in the 1810's; "Les Invisibles en Tete-a-Tete". The bonnets were called "invisibles" in France because the face of the wearer was virtually concealed except from the front.

The Gentleman’s Magazine proposed (tongue-in-cheek) the formation of a Female Convocation or Parliament in order “to regulate dress in all its changes and varieties” (1807). The author drew several comparisons between the all-male Parliament and its female counterpart, with particular mention of the poke-bonnet.

Men may act very perversely in questions of peace or war, but there would be little room for animosity in discussing the height of a turban, or the colour of a shawl; men may be warm on extending the militia, or increasing the army, but there would be more liberality in puckering a handkerchief, or gathering up a petticoat; in enacting a poke-bonnet, or proposing an amendment in the straw-hat bill; I have no doubt, indeed, that all the members would be so duly impressed with a sense of the importance of their office, as to discuss with most becoming temper, the dimensions of the square bust, the curvature of ringlets, the necessity of indispensibles, the side over which the veil is to fall, and the manner in which the dress should be broached on the shoulder, with every other circumstance of equal importance to captivate and conquer.

The Gentleman’s Magazine, Volume 100, January, 1807.

My Poke Bonnet

The materials you will need are: 

  • A straw hat (from a craft shop or second-hand shop)
  • Material for the crown
  • Material for the lining (chiffon, fine netting, silk or lace)
  • Ribbon or bias binding, to bind the edges of the hat
  • A small amount of cheap, thin craft ribbon
  • Ribbon, lace, or feathers, to trim or decorate bonnet
  • Thread, scissors, needle, pins, safety pin, sewing machine.

Step One

Begin by bending the straw hat in half to decide on the shape you want for your bonnet, and then cut the hat in half. My straw hat was quite small, only 25 cms in diameter.

Step Two

Bind the edges of the hat with bias binding or ribbon, using a needle and thread.

Step Three

Gather the lining material about 1cm from the selvedge edge. I used a thin voile, similar to chiffon, with a selvedge edge that was 1 metre long. Measure the width of the brim, from the brim edge to the base of the crown, and do a second line of gathering stitch that same distance from your first line of gathering stitch. You can see from the photo below that my two lines of gathering are approximately the width of the brim.

Step Four

Hand stitch the first line of gathering stitch to the binding on the inner edge of the brim, using a simple running stitch.

The second line of gathering stitching should rest along the base of the crown of the hat. Pull the gathering threads tighter to fit. You can attach this line of gathering to the base of the crown with a hot glue gun or some hand stitches, but I left it loose.

Step Five

The lining will now have a lot of fullness inside the hat. Trim it level with the bottom edge of the straw hat, and then bind the raw edge by hand sewing another piece of bias binding or ribbon along it to prevent fraying.

Step Six

For the crown of the hat, fold your piece of material (mine measured 45 cms x 60cms) lengthwise to form a rectangle. If you would like a more gathered crown, make your rectangle longer; alternatively, make it shorter if you would like an ungathered crown. In order to have a decently gathered crown, the length of your folded rectangle would need to be at least 2 times the circumference of the base of the crown of the hat.

Sew the short ends of the rectangle together to form a tube, leaving a small section (0.5 cms) unstitched closest to the folded edge. This will enable it to be gathered with ribbon in the next step.

Step Seven

Using a safety pin, thread a thin piece of craft ribbon inside the folded edges of the seam, so it comes out the other side. (It’s kind of like threading elastic in a waistband, except there is no casing for the ribbon. Not having a casing enables you to tightly close the crown.)

Then you can pull it tight and knot it so it forms the top of the bonnet.

Step Eight

If your crown is very loose on the straw hat, it will need to be gathered to fit. In order to hide the raw edge, you can either turn it under and sew it (as I did), or bind the edges with bias binding, ribbon or a long strip of fabric.

Step Nine

Sew two lines of gathering stitches and adjust the gathers to fit the base of the crown.

Pull it down over the base of the brim (where the nape of the neck would be) so it holds the hat in a bonnet shape. (Try it on at this stage, just to make sure it will fit your head!) Then, using a basic running stitch to attach the crown, hand sew through all layers.

Step Ten

Decorate the bonnet with ribbon, lace, feathers or other trims as you wish.

I used a craft straw hat that was 25 cms in diameter (designed for a doll, I imagine), so it was not large enough for me! The Intended Recipient, my youngest daughter, was duly impressed!

A poke bonnet, with pleated green taffeta


  • Buy a thimble!! I bled all over my bonnet several times!
  • Use a foam head, as it will help you decide how best to shape your bonnet.
  • Melt the ends of any ribbon with a match or cigarette lighter, which will stop them fraying everywhere. (Don’t set your bonnet alight though!)
  • The more “invisible” your hand stitching, the better the result.
  • Have fun creating!

    Bonnet detail, with a ribbon flower

I made these bonnets by following a tutorial given by The Oregon Regency Society. The author also gives alternative ways to construct a bonnet for those who are not sewers, and has another tutorial on making a Regency stovepipe bonnet.

I love historical fashions! They are my cup of tea!

Related Posts

How to use Ribbon to make Decorative Trim

An 18th Century Reproduction of a Sacque-back dress

Dress-ups for a Baby

Sources and Relevant Links

How to make a Regency Poke Bonnet, by The Oregon Regency Society

From the Neck Up: An Illustrated Guide to Hatmaking, By Denise Dreher – This is a great book on the different techniques required for successful millinery, and also includes a basic pattern guide to the various fashions in hats through history.

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How would you pick between a score of damsels, that one who make a Good Wife? What qualities would you find important? What faults of character would make the choice unwise?

From The Gentleman's Magazine, Vol 20.

The Gentleman’s Magazine (August, 1750), published a letter that was sent from an uncle to his nephew, a young tradesman, advising him on how to choose a wife.

The suggestions are as follows:

  1. Fortune: “Let not your principal concern be the lady’s portion, but her family and alliances; I do not mean with respect to magnificence and splendor, but an extensive trade and correspondence, from which greater advantages may be derived to a man of business, than from a very considerable fortune, which, if put into trade without such advantages, will gradually diminish…”
  2. Beliefs: “Let your wife be religious, but not a bigot; otherwise her time and her thoughts will be wholly employ’d in devotional exercises, and her family affairs totally neglected: besides, if her opinion be different from yours, she will accuse you of superstition or infidelity, and harrass you with controversy, ‘till you will fly from home, as an office of inquisition, in which your wife is not only judge, but executioner.”
  3. Interests: “Avoid her, in whom the love of pleasure appears to be a predominant passion, however enticing her wit, or however alluring her beauty. Domestick affairs will be deem’d unworthy of her notice, and the expences which attend the indulgence of such a disposition will never affect her, ‘till the fund be exhausted; nor will she be convinced that her desires are unreasonable, ‘till the gratification of them is become impossible; for the love of pleasure acquired in youth, is so deeply rooted, and the opportunities of gratifying it so many, that a reformation cannot be hoped…”
  4. Intellect: “Plain natural good-sense is an essential qualification, … This, join’d with that economy which it naturally produces, is the very basis of matrimonial felicity…”
  5. Disposition: “But there is no single quality of so much importance as sweetness of temper, to be easy and cheerful, to meet you with smiles, when the business of the day is over, to sooth the anguish and anxiety that are produced by hurry and disappointments; to be so perfectly yours as to enter into your different passion and affections so deeply, as to feel them with you and for you, is to alleviate every sorrow, and double all the felicities of life.”
  6. Beauty: “With regard to person, rather chuse one in whom there is nothing that disgusts you, than a celebrated beauty; for Time and Fruition will certainly make you indifferent.”

Some further advice on the sustenance of marriage:

I cannot quit this subject without adding one maxim, which, tho’ generally neglected, is of very great service: be constantly diligent to keep alive desire, and preserve that delicacy of affection which is so justly celebrated, and so seldom felt. … It should be remembered that the same means which were used to gain affection, are absolutely necessary to preserve it…

And some interesting advice on the marriage settlement:

Neither grant a settlement large enough to make her independent, lest you put into her hand a rod, which it will be well for you, if you are not frequently obliged to kiss.

And, in a lovely sentimental conclusion:

In one word, endeavour to make her happy, and you will find you own happiness will follow, as a necessary consequence.

My point in sharing excerpts of this letter is not to exclaim how awful the lot of women in this era was (as true as that may be), but rather to appreciate the manner in which life was conducted in the mid-eighteenth century.

"The Wedding of Stephen Beckingham and Mary Cox" William Hogarth (1729)

This letter reveals some of those practicalities facing a young man in making that difficult decision of choosing a wife, when divorce – especially between couples of lower classes – was virtually impossible.

The issue of fortune was important because it enabled a couple to begin with a sum which could be invested and then provide for the wife and any children in the event of the husband’s death. In the emerging middle class, and in the case of The Nephew, good business connections are seen as more valuable because these can assist him in building his wealth through trade.

Religion was relatively important in the eighteenth century, but even though everyone was required to observe Sunday, there were different degrees of belief between people. Some merely attended church and religion had little other impact on their lives, whereas some (like John and Charles Wesley) preached on the street or devoted time to the poor. However, in any marriage, even today, it does seem to make sense to have a similar belief system in order to reduce conflict.

From the literature of this period, it appears that idleness and the love of pleasure was a common pursuit in those individuals that could afford to do so. As The Uncle remarks, there were many opportunities to indulge this fancy; gambling, balls, theatres, masquerades, and shopping. Unfortunately, this popular pastime had the power to cripple even the richest of persons. In addition, the love of pleasure is almost surely synonymous with irresponsibility, which must be a negative quality in any spouse!

Overlooking beauty as an important quality in a wife is a significant element of a good marriage. I am not suggesting that beauty in any way harms a marriage, but beauty does seem to blind the beholder to the presence of other admirable (or un-admirable) traits in a person. Of course, no one is suggesting wives should be ugly, but beauty is different to attraction, and a man can be attracted to a woman regardless of her measure of “celebrated beauty”.

Throughout the letter, The Uncle makes frequent reference to The Nephew’s own behaviour within a marriage, stating that his own behaviour will determine the course of the relationship. He urges his nephew to keep desire and affection alive, which leads directly to his conclusion, where by making his wife happy he will invariably increase his own happiness. What a fantastic precept to begin any relationship!

Overwhelmingly, I found the letter made exceptional sense, even from today’s standards. Do you agree? What would You want in a Wife?

Related Posts

Do Women REALLY Talk Too Much?

Sources and Relevant Links

The Gentleman’s Magazine, Volume 20, 1750.

Article: How to choose a wife (See how things have changed!)

More useful “tips” for choosing a wife in the modern age

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During the 18th century, gentlemen would often “take snuff” as a form of recreation. The definition of “snuffing” was given, in 1839, as “the custom or habit of nasally inhaling such powder, which, by agreeably titillating the olfactory nerves, excites, in the mind of the recipient a pleasing consciousness of existence.”

Snuff box from around 1770, with image of John Wilkes on cover (From British Museum)

Snuff is a powdered form of tobacco, often flavoured, and a pinch of snuff would be held to the nose and inhaled. It became so popular, and costly, that exceedingly ornate snuff boxes were produced to house this expensive powder.

This fashion was largely practised by the higher classes, and was contrasted to the vulgar habit of the working class of smoking or chewing tobacco.

During the 19th century, the fashion shifted a little to the smoking of cigars for the upper classes of men.

"Snuff medicinally considered," An article concerning snuff in The Gentleman's Magazine, 1775.

One reader of The Gentleman’s Magazine, suitably concerned about this popular practice, wrote a request to the publication to seek out information concerning the dangers of taking snuff. The reader was particularly interested to learn:

Whether, though snuff is a present gratification, the habitual use of it is not materially injurious to health and longevity? Or more particularly,

Whether, by operating as a constant purge and drain to the head, it may not rack off too much of the animal juices required as a due provision for vigorous health; and tend to abate those natural propensities which tho’ they ought to be regulated by reason, ought not to be suppressed by violent means?

Whether, if it has any such tendency, it does not in result accelerate the decay, not only of the corporeal, but of the mental faculties, and precipitate the infirmities of old age?

These circumstances I think must obviously present themselves to diligent observers in the medical branch; they must, in the course of their practice, have opportunities to remark, whether snuff-takers in general have large or small families; whether their children are observably weaker or more sickly than others; and whether old persons who take souls afford any peculiar signs of infirmity, by a paralytic state of their nerves, or by the decay of their understanding.

The Gentleman’s Magazine, Volume 45, 1775

Obviously unknown to this individual, some years before a medical doctor had investigated some of the effects of snuff taking. In 1761, Dr. John Hill published “Cautions against the Immoderate Use of Snuff. Founded on the Known Qualities of the Tobacco Plant: and the effects it must produce when this way taken into the body: and enforced by instances of persons who have perished miserably of diseases, occasioned, or rendered incurable, by its use.” (One wonders when the term Title ends and the term Theses begins!) His paper contained reports of two cases where the use of snuff had led to growths inside the nose, which he believed to be cancer.

Almost 80 years later, Joseph Fume (a pseudonym of William Andrew Chatto) published a paper about the various types of tobacco, dismissing Dr. John Hill’s findings completely. The author believed that, “The Doctor’s tract is more creditable to his imagination than to his judgement”, stating that the Hill’s attribution of cause and effect was “exceedingly obscure”. It is important to note, however, that this paper was written to “outline the real pleasures and advantages of the custom” of tobacco, and for the “entertainment of smokers”, and not to outline any health warnings. In fact, Chatto takes advantage of the evidence to support tobacco use, noting the number of “diplomatists and cardinals” that are, despite consuming large quantities of snuff, uniformly healthy.

Interestingly, in the modern day snuff has become popular again, though it is often placed on the gums in the mouth rather than being inhaled. This new predilection for snuff is largely because of a lower perceived risk when compared to smoking tobacco, as well as the widespread bans on smoking in public places. However, modern sources suggest that snuff still leads to nicotine addiction, and cancers of the mouth, pharynx, and nose. As present day usage has been limited, there is not much information on the extent of the health dangers of taking snuff. History might have just repeated itself! I feel much like the reader of The Gentleman’s Magazine in 1775!

Whilst taking snuff is not really my cup of tea, I do love looking through old journals and reading about the things that interested people in the past. It’s as if you can almost hear their voice.

Sources and Relevant Links

A paper: – of tobacco; treating of the rise, progress, pleasures, and advantages of smoking. With anecdotes of distinguished smokers, mems. on pipes and tobacco-boxes, and a tritical essay on snuff, by William Chatto, 1839.

Cautions against the Immoderate Use of Snuff, by John Hill – buy at Amazon.com

The Gentleman’s Magazine, Volume 45, 1775.

The Dangers of Snuff

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The Rococo period (from about 1730 – 1790) was a time of fashion excess, emanating from France around Europe. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, once the size of the hooped petticoat had reduced a fraction, the focus turned to hair.

From 1760, hair was piled on top of the head, near the forehead. Initially dark hair was fashionable, with various dyes being used to produce it (such as homemade dyes made from elder berries and wine, or lead combs). Then it became fashionable to powder hair with starch in order to make it appear lighter. The hair was initially smeared with pomade (a kind of hair gel for the 1770’s), and then powdered with a white, grey or pastel shade of powder, which stuck to the pomade.  A secondary function of the pomade was probably to hold the hair in an increasingly vertical position, enabling the wearer to have the hairstyle unchanged for a considerable length of time. Indeed, one hair-dresser reported that one lady customer had not “opened” her hair for nine weeks!

As the height of the hair increased, it became necessary to affix a pad of horsehair or sometimes a wire structure on top of the head, with the subject’s hair being swept up over the top of this. Sometimes extra “hair” (or hair-like material) was added to cover the structure adequately. Once the fashion had reached these extremes, the offices of hairdressers became increasingly sought after, and their purses became extremely heavy! In France, the popular court hairdressers worked for days on end prior to a ball.

“A Hint to the Ladies to take Care of their Heads” Copyright The Museum of London

The Duchess of Devonshire was reputed to have, in some way, contributed to the excesses of this fashion in the mid-1770’s, beginning the fashion with her hair arranged in a three feet tall tower. In addition to this, in 1775 the Duchess begun a fashion for wearing ostrich feathers in the hair. Coupled with the already tall nature of the hairstyle, adding ostrich feathers that were four feet long would have made the height of the head-dressing an amazing seven feet! This may give some credit to the assertion that lady’s coiffures were so tall that they had caught alight on the candelabras in the ballroom, though it might be more believable to think that the offending candle might have been on a wall sconce in a drawing room.

The creations grew in size and were also often adorned with other decorations, such as pastoral scenes, ships in full-sail, or a windmill that turned. Whist they may not have been strictly a common occurrence, the hairstyles seem to be well known enough to have their own particular names.

In Germany, it was reported that there was “a new kind of headdress of this kind known as English Garden, and this is indeed an apt description. Not satisfied with wearing a garden in their hair, the ladies go further and entire landscapes are now built on top of the head. Here one may see a lady wearing a village, there one with an entire wood, then again one with a large meadow, or with a great bridge, or with windmills. One must conclude that these edifices are very roomy because the artist has taken the opportunity to increase their value by adding some mechanical contraption; he has, where suitable, installed hidden organs, which from time to time play by themselves, or canaries which sing. What further limits such unnatural headgear may reach only time can tell.” (Haude-Spenersche Zeitung, 1775, a German journal)

A lady with her coiffure propped up by an Indian servant (maybe to help her neck pain?)

By the mid 1770’s, coiffures had become extreme, creating great strain on the neck, and were the topic of many satires of the day. There were reports that the mouth was the midway point from the floor to the top of the head, though perhaps this included the height of the feathers or other adornments.

Whilst some have suggested that there is little truth to the satire prints of the eighteenth century, surely the exaggeration begins from the truth, but probably extends itself beyond the truth in a similar way to Chinese whispers. It is also possible that these extremes in fashion were seen only once, maybe by the illustrator, and then promptly portrayed in print, so that the print represents the exception, rather than the norm. Either way, satire was created to exaggerate the idiosyncrasies of the subject, and did not have to represent the actual truth.

A lady with an enormous coiffure. It is so large, that she managed to steal items of value by hiding them inside it!

In 1776, the Gentleman’s Magazine published an article (maybe more of an advertisement) for a hair-dresser, which gives some insight into the common practices that occurred in this period.

There is lately arrived in this city, it is said, a very extraordinary person from Siberia, whose name, we learn, is Iwan Peter Alexis Knoutschoffschlerwitz, and a native of that country, who offers his service to the ladies in the important business of hair dressing, which, by his advertisement, he says, he executes in a manner peculiar to himself, rejecting the use of black pins, hair-cushions, and the like cumbersome materials, so dangerous in their effect, by communicating disorders to the brain, from the effluvia proceeding from the head, when heated by those cushions, and large bundles of false hair, that have been cut from the heads of persons who have died of fevers, palsies, apoplexies, scrophulous disorder, or under salivations, or even, though less hazardous, of those who have ended their days at Tyburn. He assures the ladies that he makes no use of human fat, or of any grease whatever, as he fills the hollow of the hair with soft aromatic herbs, which prevents the disagreeable effect of that perspiration now so generally complained of. He dresses hair in every mode, and engages to make any lady’s head appear like the head of a lion, a wolf, a tiger, a bear, fox, or any exotic beast which she would chuse to resemble; but he does not confine himself to beasts; for to any lady who would prefer the form of a peacock, a swan, a goose, a Friezland hen, or any other bird, he will engage to give a perfect likeness. He will likewise give any colour to the hair that a lady may judge most suitable to her complexion; for as every single hair is an hollow tube, though imperceptible to the naked eye; he, by injecting a certain liquid, communicates the finest shades, and renders the use of powder unnecessary, which will, besides, be a great saving of bread-corn. Ladies whose hair begins to indicate a time of life which they would wish to conceal, may be secretly and safely accommodated. He will charge their locks into a fine chestnut, blue, crimson, or green, according to the mode that may most generally prevail.

His wife is a milliner, and she hopes that her own merit, added to that of her being a foreigner, will engage the favour of the ladies. She makes caps of any size, from 20 inches to 3 feet high, which, being composed of certain elastic springs, will give way when a lady goes into her coach or chair, without discomposing the form, rising immediately to their original height when the lady get out of her coach. She has likewise substituted, in the place of those modem ornaments of radishes, and other garden-stuff, aromatic spices, which, independent of the decoration, have an admirable effect in keeping the head clear of those little vermin which the compound of grease and powder is so apt to produce.

As fashions fluctuate, Mrs Knoutschoffschlerwitz is prepared for any change, having already made some pattern caps, of a low moderate size, which do not take the head out of its proportion, but preserve its due equality to the rest of the human form. To those caps she has given an air of softness that adds a delicacy to the features of the fair, freeing them from that boldness and ferocity, which, in the present mode, the other sex so much complain of. She has had already the honour of dressing a few ladies in that taste, who, she has the pleasure to find, have been particularly admired by the men; but as she does not presume to attempt stemming the torrent of fashion, she is ready to supply all those ladies who are still desirous of carrying their heads high, with caps, as she has already mentioned, of any dimensions.

She has brought over a number of live ostriches, peacocks, &c. that ladies who mean to persist in the use of feathers, (though the fashion is now exploded in Siberia, and throughout all Russia,) may be accommodated to their taste, and she will engage to ingraft them with the natural hair, without rendering the operation the least painful. In like manner, gentlemen, whose sculls are, from age, become rather a little too bare, and yet cannot submit to the Gothic taste of covering them with wigs, may have natural hair inserted, in as sure and easy a manner as they are supplied with teeth, and which will hold many months without renewal. Any gentleman or lady, under this predicament, may be served by the year, on very moderate terms.

The Gentleman’s Magazine, Vol 46, p.360, 1776

One wonders just how new hair was inserted into the scalps of bald men…

What is your favourite fashion extreme? The disposable underwear of the 1970’s? The flapper fringe dresses of the 1920’s? The big bustle of the 1880’s? The 18-inch waist of the 1860’s – in Gone with the Wind?

Does it compare with the excesses of the Rococo period?

Related Posts

The Rococo: The Extremities of Hoops in the 1740’s

Sources and Relevant Links

Dr Johnson’s London: Everyday life in London 1740-1770, by Liza Picard – buy on Amazon

Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire, by Amanda Foreman – buy on Amazon

The Gentleman’s Magazine, Google Online Resources

Pictures of satires were found at American Revolution.org

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The Rococo period (from around 1730 – 1790) was one characterised by excesses in fashion. One of the excesses of eighteenth century fashion was “false hips”, or panniers as they were later called.

"False hips" - one over each hip

They consisted of a material structure, braced by whalebone or cane, tied to the waist by strings. The false hips could be enclosed in one petticoat, or alternatively each hip could have a separate structure tied over it.

As the width of skirts grew, a metal structure was invented to hold the ever-increasing weight of brocade and silk. Three different sized U-shaped metal rods were hinged together at the front and back so they extended out over the hips and folded upwards.

False hips: The folding version

Reports of the sizes of hooped petticoats defy modern day imagination, reaching from 10.5 feet wide (a lady in 1742) to 5 yards wide! A lady dressed in such a gown would occupy the entire side of a coach or park bench, and would have to turn sideways to fit through a double door! Fashion (sometimes luckily) is always changing, and this particular fashion reached its peak from 1740 to 1750.

The tide eventually began to turn against the excesses of the false hips. By 1750, even The Gentleman’s Magazine had something to say about it!

Having been within the hearing of some debates in a society of ladies, concerning the proposal for subscribing the four per cents, relates some of their eloquent speeches; and it being moved by Corinna, in case reduction of interest took place, that they must reduce their equipages, apparel, and diversions; Reformata proposed that the hoop-petticoat should be reduced one ell in the circumference. Upon this a loud squall ensued, but silence being imposed by the chair, she proceeded to support her proposition as follows:

“This reformation will be attended with the like in our upper garments: the quilt-coat, the fly, and the gown, which, as I compute, may, in one moderate suit, save about 8 l. The hoop is but an uncouth addition to us, as it is now modelled, in the eyes of men, who make no scruple to assert, not only that it was the invention of some shoplifter for facilitating the conveyance of stolen goods, but that we look as if we carried a hamper on either side under our coats, and gives us such an enormous croup, as renders us quite out of proportion. We pass along, as it were, balancing between two icales. Every person we meet, every post we pass, and every corner we turn, incumber our way, and obstruct our progress. We fit in a chair hid up to our very ears on either side, like a swan with her head between her lifted wings. The whole side of a coach is hardly capacious enough for one of us. We go up a pair of stairs, as if we were pushing some great burden before us, and with our lifted hoops in our hands, expose such a hollow in coming down as surprises all below us. In short, every convenience attends on our reducing this awkward circumference within a reasonable compass, save only that, as we employ our hands so much in the conduct of it, we may be at a loss how to dispose of them, when it no longer requires their assistance. But…”

1750's court dress

Here a general murmur occurred that gave Fantasia an opportunity to put the previous question, which passes unanimously, and prevent Reformata’s project of reducing the hoop to the original standard in good queen Anne’s days, when women looked so lovely in the eyes of men. It was then proposed and carried, that a committee be appointed to enquire what persons were chiefly concerning in promoting the pernicious reduction of public property, and prostitution of public faith; and the pretensions of men to engross public offices among their own sex, in exclusion to so many women of abilities, more capable of serving the public, for ought that has appeared for some years in the past, in the government of Goat’am; with power to the committee to extend their enquiry, as occasion shall offer, for the good of the public weal, and of woman’s pretensions to place and power.

Gen. Advertiser, March 15.

The Gentleman’s Magazine, 1750.

This fashion for large hips continued in accepted court dress for another 20 years after that, but the size of hoops for everyday wear began to gradually reduce, and at least resumed a manageable and decorous size.

Caricatures of women’s fashion (and other things, like politics) were beginning to become popular in the later half of the eighteenth century. The one below did not appear until the skirts of women had fallen completely, near the turn of the century.

A Section of The Petticoat and The Venus of '42 and '94

Once the skirts had fallen to the place where gravity intended, the next thing to rise to excess was the hair! And RISE it DID! In my next post, we will look at the hair styles during the Rococo period.

What is your favourite fashion excess? Is it from the rococo period or some other time?

Sources and Relevant Links

Dr Johnson’s London: Everyday life in London 1740 – 1770, by Liza Picard

Fashion fundamentals during the Rococo period

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