Out of the thousands of fashion plates held by the department, the ones from the 1870s and 1880s never fail to astonish with their depictions of lustrous and abundant hairstyles. We’ve often marveled at their complexity and more than once wondered, ‘how’d she get that hair?!’
Shedding some light on the mystery is the trade publication Revue de la coiffure, which was produced for hairdressers between the years 1865 and 1885. The text is in English, French and German and interspersed between the ads for tools of the trade and engraved plates of the latest styles are directions for how to achieve them. The two styles seen here described as “simple things” are sure to humble anyone on their best of hair days.
Directions for the style seen middle left read as follows:“Make a crossdivding on the back of the head down to the neck. Let the back hair fall and when not sufficiant join some postic. Then take the fronthair and comb it ‘à la chinoise’, form a little attach to serve as arret and foundation to the hairdressing figure n°1. Place a small ribbon over the mass and make the person, whose hair your dressing, keep the two ends of it in her hand; then lift the whole to the top of the head and fix it there by means of a little comb with 5-6 teeth and you form like this the catogan Louis VX shown in figure n°2. Place then a natural fringed front piece on the forehead make two coques on each side, with the half to the right and the other to the left side figure n°3. Take then the first two cues with curled ends, fold them in the middle, in order to form a turned coque ‘la point monture’ around and you form a bow; divide the end into two, place a ringcurl in the cavety of the two coques and a little corkscrewcurl beneath it figure n°4. A postic cue of 60 gramm, a natural curled frontpiece and 2 curls of 25-30 gramm each. People cannot say that the sale of hair is impossible.”
Far from impossible, the sale of human hair for ‘falsies’ such as these was a booming industry. In her book, Facing Beauty: Painted Women and Cosmetic Art, Aileen Ribiero notes that during the nineteenth century “Hair was big business, the trade monopolized by the French, with Paris ‘Hair Merchants’ who ‘harvested’ hair mainly from France, Germany and Spain, which was then treated and sold in the major capitals of Europe and New York.” At this time, 150,000 to 200,000 pounds of hair imported into the United States could fetch almost one million dollars!
These complicated hairstyles of the period were hence status symbols, requiring not only the paid talents of the hairdresser and the expense of the additional hair, but also the woman’s position as a lady of leisure with both time and money to spend.An example of a ‘fringed frontpiece’ as recommended for the style in middle center is seen here above; figure no. 3 in the center image shows the false bangs now added.