“what do you think I am going to ask for?”

Most readers will know that men and women wore wigs in the eighteenth century; children and servants wore them, too. Many were powdered. By the middle of the century women’s wigs had become incredibly elaborate and rose to enormous heights, though those in America did not reach the extreme of the one in this illustration, said to be of Marie Antoinette. Toward the end of the century, while wigs were still worn they were much simpler. Women who wore them cut their hair short or even shaved their heads. Nevertheless this letter of Eliza Southgate in 1800 to her mother was quite a surprise to me. It does account for Eliza’s reference to her wig flying off in the previous post dated 1802. Apparently her mother complied with her request.

Now Mamma, what do you think I am going to ask for?—a wig. Eleanor has got a new one just like my hair and only 5 dollars. Mrs. Mayo one just like it. I must either cut my hair or have one, I cannot dress it at all stylish. Mrs. Coffin bought Eleanor’s and says that she will write to Mrs. Sumner to get me one just like it; how much time it will save—in one year we could save it in pins and paper, besides the trouble. At the assembly I was quite ashamed of my head, for nobody has long hair. If you will consent to my having one do send me over a 5 dollar bill by the post immediately after you receive this, for I am in hopes to have it for the next assembly—do send me word immediately if you can let me have one.

Anna Green Winslow, writing to her mother in Nova Scotia, on May 23, 1773, from Boston where she was living with her aunt while attending school, describes another way to dress women’s hair—using rolls or pads over which the hair was combed to bulk it up. One hairdresser advertised that he made “Ladies toupees pads braids and cushions.” Anna was only fourteen at the time but had a great interest in fashion. She sounds remarkably like a modern teenager when she says to her mother “Dear mamma, you dont know the fation here—I beg to look like other folk.”

After making a short visit with my Aunt at Mrs. Green’s, over the way, yesterday towards evening, I took a walk with cousin Sally to see the good folks in Sudbury Street, & found them all well. I had my HEDDUS roll on, aunt Storer said it ought to be made less, Aunt Deming said it ought not to be made at all. It makes my head itch, & ach, & burn like anything Mamma. This famous roll is not made wholly of red Cow Tail, but is a mixture of that, & horsehair (very course) & a little human hair of yellow hue, that I suppose was taken out of the back part of an old wig. … When it first came home, aunt put it on, & my new cap on it, she then took up her apron & mesur’d me, & from the roots of my hair on my forehead to the top of my notions, I mesur’d an inch longer than I did downwards from the roots of my hair to the end of my chin. Nothing renders a young person more amiable than virtue & modesty without the help of fals hair. . . .

At the end, at least Anna had the good sense to poke a little fun at the styles … and herself.

Eliza Southgate’s letter is from A Girl’s Life Eighty Years Ago: Selections from the Letters of Eliza Southgate Bowne, with an introduction by Clarence Cook (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1887), page 23. Anna Winslow’s letter is from the Diary of Anna Green Winslow, A Boston School Girl of 1771, edited by Alice Morse Earle (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1894), page 71.

posted February 13th, 2014 by Janet, CATEGORIES: Bowne, Eliza Southgate, Fashion

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