The 1700s was a time of big hair, elaborate fabrics and heavy makeup for both men and women. You might have heard “the higher the hair, the closer to God,” referring to Nashville, but the saying applies equally to the aristocracy of the late 18th century. Just as in modern times, hair and makeup styles changed over the course of the century, going from big and bold to low and simple — and back to bigger and more extreme than ever before. The middle classes mimicked the styles of the wealthy on a more modest scale, as did those in colonial areas including the Americas.
During the first decades of the 1700s, women wore a hairstyle called the fontange. The hair at the front of the head was curled, waved, frizzed or teased to produce a very high and round style, particularly surrounding the face. The hair at the back of the head was styled simply and close to the head, often with a few curled tendrils of hair down the back. Middle-class women with the time and resources could mimic these styles with relative ease, either in Europe or Colonial America. Women did not typically powder their hair during this period. Aristocratic men wore wigs, typically heavily powdered. The allonge style wig was long, flowing and powdered. Men who could not afford wigs might wear their hair long, and those in the lower classes were likely to wear practical headwear, in the form of hats and caps. Both the fontange and allonge were decidedly out of fashion by 1720.
The next 40 years were a time of relatively low, simple and modest hairstyles for both women and men. Men favored powdered wigs that were not too long, with a few curls at the side, and a low ponytail gathered into a velvet pouch. Men who could not afford wigs wore the hair rather long and gathered into a low ponytail. It could be powdered or worn naturally. Caps and hats were still common for men. Women wore their hair curled around the face, without a great deal of height. The tete de mouton style even imitated sheep’s wool. The back of the hair was braided or coiled and pinned close to the scalp. The style was relatively modest and easily copied by those of lower social standing or in Colonial America. Women of all social classes wore bonnets outside the home. On the Continent, women began to powder their hair; however, powder was not fashionable for women in England or Colonial America.
After 1760, women’s hairstyles increased in height. First, they were simply teased, creating a high-volume style, often in an egg shape. By 1770, they frequently required wire armatures or supports and fake hair. They were ornamented with different things, even full scenes in miniature. The overall shape looked a little like an inverted pyramid or even a balloon. The goal was to achieve hair the height of the head, or even 1 1/2 times the head height. For middle-class women, as well as those of colonial regions, this tall shape was favored, with teasing or hair rats made of sheep’s wool providing height on a smaller scale. After 1780, women’s hairstyles became shorter, wider and rounder in Europe. The hair was powdered. American women’s hairstyles became significantly simpler after the American Revolution, with curls surrounding the face and simple, neatly pinned hair in the back. Some women in America adopted the wider and fuller styles favored in Europe. Men’s wigs and hairstyles did not change during this period, either in Europe or America.
Cosmetics were widely used by both aristocratic men and women during the 18th century. Cosmetic use built up during the course of the century, peaking in the 1770s, and then fading into a more natural or less artificial look by the 1780s. Britain consistently favored a less made-up look, but cosmetics were still widely used. The wealthy painted their skin with a very white base makeup made from lead. They applied rouge or blush in strong, red patches on the cheeks, often in an inverted triangle shape. The same rouge was used to paint lips. The middle classes also began to use cosmetics in the 18th century, but chose a more natural style, with well-blended, pink-toned rouge and lip color rather than harsh reds. Rouge could be made at home using red flowers simmered in oil. Beeswax was added to produce a waxy pomade.