Regency hairstyles represented a shift in aesthetics. The Georgian period conjures up the image of large, powdered wigs (although it was normally only men who wore a full wig, women were more likely to ‘add’ to their hair for a more believable look). Regency fashion dictated a return to a more natural form, with a lean towards classical styling. Women’s hairstyles often took their inspiration from the Grecian and Roman statues. The aim was to mirror the classical cultures of Antiquity.
However, fashion is about more than what took people’s fancy at the time. Yes, people wanted to follow the latest trends. However, those trends are produced in and come from the social, cultural and political concerns and norms of the time in question. Regency fashion in Britain also reflected the situation on the Continent. As news of the French Revolution, then the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, swept through European drawing rooms, powdered wigs became a symbol of something rather more gruesome than lice and dirt. They became bound up with the image of the French Royal Court, and its terrible, bloody fate.
As France moved away from its previous fashions, Britain also followed. Grecian hairstyles were part of a wider trend to move away from a stiff formality of dress, which sought to accentuate power and privilege. Dress silhouettes changed, becoming more loose and free. Fashion became a way of expressing the self, rather than (or, at least, as well as) one’s wealth. Dress also became more practical and wearable.
So, in a way, the politics of fashion, and for our purposes here, of hair, was perhaps a bit of a public relations stunt by the Regency’s middle classes and gentry. Much like our politicians strive to be ‘normal’ for us, they were maybe trying to achieve something similar. However, we should not overstate the politics of powder. It continued to remain popular and in use in Britain. Its end as the go-to cosmetic in Britain was as much financial as political (in as much as finance and politics can be separated). An increasingly heavy tax on powder brought about its final end.
Nevertheless, when we see images of Regency beauties, with their long hair swept back into loose buns, or framing their face with carefully deconstructed curls, we are not only looking at a fashion statement. We are also looking at a piece of social and cultural history, the influence of Revolution on daily life and a thus a fundamental change in the course of European history.
References and Further Links
‘Women’s Hairstyles and Cosmetics of the 18th Century: France and England, 1750-1790’, Démondé: http://demodecouture.com/hairstyles-cosmetics-18th-century/
‘The Fashion Revolution of 1795’, Austenised, http://austenised.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/fashion-revolution-of-1795.html
‘Men’s Hairstyles at the Turn onf the Nineteenth Century’, Jane Austen’s World, https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2012/08/25/mens-hair-styles-at-the-turn-of-the19th-century/
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