Monday, December 2, 2013
18th Century Hair Fashion & A Story of Changing Portraits
The Huntington Library in San Marino, CA, has a wealth of artwork dating from the 1700's. From this collection, a recent article discussed how these paintings depict women's hairstyles from the 1700's, and that these silhouettes are known for becoming more fanciful and extreme as the years progressed. Starting with a close fitting hair silhouette at mid-century, hairstyles gained height over the years, becoming the topic of conversation, jokes and public outrage. Feathers, ornaments and hats topped these towering structures.
A unique viewpoint on this topic is brought up in the recent article "Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow" by Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, "Huntington Frontiers", Fall/Winter 2013. In this study, the author shows how hairstyles changed during this time, mentioning the influences of both British and French trendsetters of that era. She notes how hair fashion was transforming more quickly than apparel fashion. Of most importance was that the trending hair silhouettes became a problem when it came to portraits. While the artist may have painted the subject in the height of fashion, these portraits were usually out-dated only a few years later by the inclusion of an extreme hair style.
The out-dated paintings were brought up to date with more current hairstyles when possible. Ideally, the original artist painted over the earlier hairstyle, transforming it into a more acceptable silhouette. The range of success in this technique varied. Today these alterations can be seen using modern technology that allows us to rediscover the original layers.
"Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow" is fascinating reading for both the costumer as well as the general fashion buff. It sheds light on past styles and how fashion trends moved quickly, even in the late 1700's.