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Costumes - The Man Of Fashion: His Wigs And Hats

( Originally Published 1902 )

THERE is a general impression that people on this side of the water scorned dress and fashion in Colonial times, and that the beau was a type entirely unknown. It is erroneous. The people who frequented the balls and assemblies, routs, tea-gardens and coffee-houses of New York closely followed London fashions.

We shall presently see that men had every opportunity to procure fashionable clothes and to have them cut in the latest European styles. Even more convincing it is to find contemporary evidence of the existence of gallant and smart dress. Although the author of the following contribution to the New York Mercury, under date of Jan. 31, 1757, complains of the tyranny of fashion, his protests merely prove how universal was the fop and how unattractive the man who was "out of the mode." Incidentally, he gives us quite a correct idea of the fashions of the time and of what the woman of fashion demanded in the opposite sex. The writer did all he could to please her, even to the adoption of the "fierce Cave Nullo cock," which, of course, is the Kevenhuller hat described on page 178, and resigned himself to the care of a fashionable hairdresser. He writes as follows :

"I am a bachelor turned of thirty, in easy circumstances, and want nothing but a wife to make me as happy as my neighbours.

" I have long admired a young lady who, I can with great propriety, call Miss Modish ; though for her unreasonable con-duct to me she deserves to have her real name exposed in capitals. She has a mind capable of every improvement and graces of her sex ; and were it not for an excessive fondness for gaiety and the reigning amusements of the town, would be unexceptionably lovely.

" To this fair one I have most obsequiously paid my ad-dresses for these last four years; and had I been a Beau, or she less a Belle, I should undoubtedly long since have succeeded; for fashions, cards and assemblies were the only things in which we did not perfectly agree. But whenever, these were the subject of conversation, we were as certainly ruffled and out of temper. On these occasions she would tell me, 'She was astonished I would dispute with her, when every genteel person was of her opinion. That one might be as well out of the world as out of the mode. For her part, she could never think of managing a man who was so obstinately awkward and impolite, let his other accomplishments be ever so refined. I dressed like a clown, and hardly ever waited on her to a public diversion; and indeed when I did, she was in pain for me, I behaved so queer. She had no notion at her age, of sacrificing all the dear pleasures of routs, hops and quadrille for a philosophical husband. No, if I expected to make myself agreeable to her I must learn to dress gallant and be smart.' Now, truth is, I can't dance, and have an unconquerable aversion to foppery. In order to form me to her taste, Miss Modish has always most obstinately insisted on my complying with every idle fashion that has been introduced since my acquaintance with her, under the severe penalty of never hoping for her love, if I did not implicitly obey. This, with infinite reluctance and mortification, I have been under the hard necessity of doing. I remember, when high brimmed hats were in the mode, she insisted on an elevation of my beaver of near half an inch with a fierce Cave Nullo cock. The taste changed, and she would hardly allow me enough to protect my phiz from the inclemency of the weather. My coat, when coatees flourished, was reduced to the size of a dwarf's, and then again in-creased to the longitude of a surtout. The cuffs in the win-ter were made open, for the benefit of taking in the cool north weather; in the summer again they were close, to prevent the advantage of the refreshing breeze. In the summer, I was smothered with a double cravat: in the winter, relieved again with a single cambric neckcloth. It would be tedious to repeat the many surprising and ridiculous changes I underwent in the outward man; let it suffice to observe that my wigs, ruffles, shoes, and every little particular, not excepting my breeches, have shared the same unaccountable metamorphosis, all which grievous foppery, my excessive fondness for her made me suffer with Christian resignation ; but at last she has fairly exhausted my patience, and we are now come to an open rupture, the occasion of which was this : We unhappily fell into the old topic of my want of taste and breeding. `You will always,' says she, ' be an old-fashioned creature.' (I had unluckily called her My dear). 'Lord, can't you take pattern after Mr. Foppington ? How happy must a lady be in such an admirer! He's always easy and good-humoured, and pays the finest compliments of any gentleman in the universe ! How elegantly he dresses ! And then he sings like an angel and dances to perfection ; and as for his hair, I never saw any-thing so exquisitely fine. Surely the hair is the most valuable part of a man!'

" From this teasing introduction, she took occasion to insist on my wearing my hair; observing that I could not refuse it, since I saw how pleasing it would be to her. I used all the arguments I could to divert her from this unreasonable request; but she peremptorily declared she would never speak to me again if I denied her so small a favour ; it was an insult on the prerogative of her sex and a convincing proof that I neither loved her, nor merited her esteem. I remonstrated, in vain, that even if I was inclined to play the fool, and put my head, which as it happened I could not well spare, into the hands of Monsieur Piermont, I was well assured that all the skill and industry of that eminent artist would never change it from its native red, or form a single curl, for that ever since I was six years old, it had been condemned to be close shorn, as incapable of affording a creditable covering to my pericranium. In a passion she desired never to see me more: she would not put up with such contradictions in any gentleman who pretended to be her admirer."

The dressing-table of the gentleman of the period was equipped with every article of the toilet known today, and with a vast array of cosmetics, essences, oils, butters, pomatums and powders, with which the most fashionable man of the present day is unfamiliar. The latter, however, would not scorn " the complete set of shaving utensils in shagreen cases," " the shagreen two and four-hole razor cases completely filled," that could be bought from James Wilmot at the Golden Fleece, Hanover Square, nor the " complete shaving equipages, holding razors, scissors, hones, pen-knives, combs, oil-bottle, brush and soap box, with places for paper, pens and ink." These were made of japanned ware, straw, red, or blue Morocco, or shagreen. "Fish-skin razor cases" were also to be had, as well as " nail nippers," " neat Morocco tweese cases," and boxes for wigs, wig-ribbons, cravats, hats, etc.

Dressing was as serious an occupation for men as for women. The man of fashion spent a great deal of time upon his toilet and then upon his self-adornment, and what was true of the beau, was, to a great extent, true of every man of affluence and position. The arrangement of the . wig alone consumed a great amount of time ; for the gentlemen, unlike the ladies, had their hair dressed every day. Some of them put their curls up in papers at night and used curling-tongs the next day. The barber, of course, was required, for what man could have arranged upon his own head any one of the varieties in fashion in 1753, such as the pigeon's wing, the comet, the cauliflower, the royal bird, the staircase, the ladder, the brush, the wild boar's back, the temple, the rhinoceros, the corded wolf's paw, Count Saxe's mode, the she-dragon, the rose, the crutch, the negligent, the chancellor, the cut-bob, the long bob, the half natural, the chain-buckle, the corded buckle, the detached buckle, the Jansenist bob, the drop wig, the snail back, the spinach seed, and the artichoke?

On Oct. 22, 1753, John Bury, at the Crown and Shears, in Beaver Street, announced that he had imported " a neat assortment of hairs of all sorts for perukes," and in 1754, we read :

" This is to inform all Gentlemen and Ladies who have honoured Mr. David Cox with their custom that the same business is now carried on at the same shop next door to the Kings Arms Tavern and opposite the Royal Exchange, by Timothy Powell, hair-curler and peruke-maker from London, who has just imported 'an assortment of English hairs; where all Gentlemen who are pleased to favour me with their orders, may have all sorts of perukes, viz. Tyes, bags, drest or cut bobs at the most reasonable rates and made in the genteelest and newest fashion. . . .

" N. B. Ladies Tates and towers made in the genteelest and newest manner."

Previous to this date, the wigs had been the full-bottomed, the tie, or Ramilies, the bag and the bob wigs, major and minor. The full-bottomed is that of the flowing curls familiar since the days of William and Mary and Queen Anne, and which is worn by Col. Lewis Morris on page 173. This was out of fashion by 1739.

The Ramilies, invented by some enterprising barber after the Battle of Ramilies (May 23, 1706), consisted of a bushy head, well powdered, arranged at the back in a braided pig-tail or queue, and tied at the top with a large bow of ribbon and at the bottom with a smaller one. The bag-wig is thought to have had its origin with the French servants who tied up their hair when they were doing their work.

Gentlemen's bags were always of silk or satin. This style was much affected by doctors and lawyers.

About 1774 it was said that a small man's shoulders were " perfectly covered with black satin." The bob wig was less ornate, being an imitation of the real head of hair, and it was worn by the common people ; the major bob had several rows of curls.

During the reigns of George II. and George III., the bag and the Ramalies were, perhaps, the favourite wigs, but there was still another," the pigeon winged toupee," mentioned in 1753, which developed into the extraordinary Macaroni toupee, that was brushed erect about a foot above the forehead and plastered with pomatum. It was ornamented with large curls at either side and gathered at the back into a large club-shaped knot that rested on the back of the neck.

We may be certain that all of these styles were worn in New York, by glancing at a few advertisements. In 1750, we find the following :

" This is to acquaint the Publick, that there is lately arrived from London, the Wonder of the World, an honest Barber and Peruke-Maker, who might have worked for the King if his Majesty would have employ'd him: It was not for the Want of Money that he came here, for he had enough of that at Home; nor for the Want of Business, that he advertises him-self. But to acquaint the Gentlemen and Ladies That. such a Person is now in town living near Rosemary Lane, where Gentlemen and Ladies may be supplied with the Goods as follows, viz., Tyes, Full Bottoms, Majors, Spencers, Fox Tails, Ramalies, Tucks, Cuts and Bob Perukes; also Ladies Tatematongues and Towers, after the Manner that is now worn at Court. By their humble and obedient Servant, John Still."

Passing by many other eminent " artists " in the hair-dressing line, we may note the styles of 1761 :

"To be sold at Duthie's London Peruke Warehouse all sorts of Perukes ready made of the newest Fashions, at the lowest prices that can be afforded by any one of the Business that does Justice to his Customers, and warranted to be of as good Hairs and as good Work as any in America. Also Ladies' Teatts, Bandoas for the Hair, and Bags of the newest Fashion, Roapeats, Ramelleas, and hard and soft Pomatum, false Ques and many other Articles necessary in that Way."

We cannot take leave of the wig without describing the cocked hat, which remained in fashion until 1789. There were many varieties : indeed, a man was always known by the cock of his hat. The most fashionable was the one trimmed with gold lace and feathers ; but hardly less so was the hat worn with the Ramilies wig and known as the " Ramilies cock." A plainer one accorded with the bag-wig, while the " Kevenhuller, extremely large and aggressive and decorated with a cockade, was worn by officers and gentlemen swaggerers :

" When Anna ruled and Kevenhuller fought, The hat its title from the hero caught."

It long continued popular. The Nivernols was small, as was that affected by the Macaroni, and it had a small crown, to which small flaps were attached. In addition to these varieties, there was also a folding theatre hat. Hats were round in 1770, and in 1772 are described as " rising behind and falling before."

New Yorkers were just as fastidious about their head-gear as Londoners. Castor and felt hats, fine castor hats and gold laced hats were imported in great numbers, and in 1762 there was a special invoice of " gentlemen's superfine laced and plain hats dressed and cock'd by the most fashionable hatter in England." In addition to these, we find men's velvet caps, single and double striped worsted caps, flowered and plain scarlet caps, men and boys' castor and felt hats, men's velvet morning caps, and velvet hunting caps constantly among the importations.

After the gentleman's hair was dressed and thoroughly sprinkled with grey or blue powder, heavily scented, there were other difficult tasks to perform.

One of these was the tying of his Barcelona or India muslin cravat, the adjusting of his stock and stock buckle, or the arrangement of his " solitaire,"a loose black ribbon fastened to the bag-wig and brought around the neck in front. After scenting his plain or flowered silk handkerchief with some strong perfume, preferably musk, filling his snuff-box, fastening his sword to his side and taking his walking-stick or cane in his hand, he would tuck his beaver under his arm and sally forth to Ranelagh or Vauxhall Gardens, to a public vendue, to pay a social call, to meet his friends at one of the coffee-houses, to look after his business affairs, or to make some purchases, if he had read some such tempting notice as :

" Rivington and Brown, in Hanover Square, have this day imported from London in the ships Manchester and Edward, Gentlemens laced and plain hats, dress'd and cock'd by the most fashionable hatter in England ; genteel boots, spur leathers, and doe-skin boot straps with handsome buckles. The most beautiful double gilt pinchbeck buckles for shoes and knees; paper snuff-boxes finely painted and gilt ; best Strasburg snuff and rappee; fine high dried snuff, commonly called Black Guard; shaving equipage containing razors, scissars, penknives, combs, hones, oil bottle, brush and soap box, with places for paper, pens and ink ; elegant tooth-pick cases with best Lisbon tooth picks. . . . A choice assortment of jewelry, paste buckles, earrings, solitairs, necklaces, stay-hooks, gold rings, seals, broaches, gold buttons, ettwees, etc."

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