A dear friend recently declared the following to be fact–“men had SUPER weird hair in the 1840s.”
In retrospect, I suspect she was goading me…she’s a professional costumer with a keen appreciation and respect for all past styles and modes and would never outright dismiss something as weird.
But in the moment, I took the bait.
Well what on earth do you mean by “weird” I asked. I need some evidentiary proof, because I remember our hairstyles as being perfectly normal.
She responded with a series of pictures, and I said, still, I don’t understand what is so odd about these. Other than the bloke who looks like a circus clown, these are perfectly dashing and well-suited for hats.
True, she says, hadn’t thought about the hat bit. But still…and then she threw down the gauntlet–“Half of them have Twilight hair.”
Oh no she didn’t.
So, in defence of the 1840s, I’ve elected to share the series of photos she sent my way, humanising each with reference to one of my mates, matching up hairstyles to indicative personalities to give a sense of who wore what and why.
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Photos #1 & 2
These blokes remind me very much of my husband, Geoffrey–the one on the right, especially, as it was rare to find Geoff in an actual bad temper. (Unless deeply disturbed, he only participated in dramatic bad tempers, worn like a cloak in a three-minute downpour.) These men are also dressed to the height of upper-middle class fashion, whereas Geoffrey purposely had regency fashions made over to set himself aside from the herd. All that said, the hair is just about perfect. When I met Geoff in 1834, he was sporting something quite like Mr. Sulking. And over the years he let his curls run a bit more wild, resulting in something alike to Mr. Happily Pensive.
And what about these styles is weird, I ask you!? Shiny, coiffed, and obviously slicked with a light soap and extract of essential oil…probably rose or spearmint…mmmm.
This (admittedly handsome) devil reminds me of my mate Paul, with whom I had a love-hate relationship. Paul was already well ensconced in the circle of friends I inherited once associated with Geoff, and therefore there was nothing I could do about his presence in my life. How to describe the bastard…Well, his real name was Ambrose Anderson–The Honourable Ambrose Anderson–and we all called him Paul, anyway, for one of two reasons: half of us thought he was a right, cracking politician (PAUL-itician); half of us thought he cast a pall (PAUL) over the world wherever he went.
You can guess to which half I belonged…
This haughty style with painfully select clothing, diving lapels, and high hair shine achieved with the likely use of bear oil was one often sported by the aristocracy, particularly those who determined to make something of themselves, rather than coasting on name alone. Paul achieved this look until he started to go bald at the deliciously young age of 25, and then he had to wear his hair more like the bloke below in the most obvious comb-over to ever comb over.
This style is also not weird. Shave down the sides, and you have the modern hipster, for chrissake.
Aside from being the style for the balding, I also associate this style (but not the dour expression) with my dear mate Theodore, who had bone-straight hair and therefore couldn’t achieve the curled locks and pompadours of those with natural wave. Theo wore this style a bit shorter, and instead of using oil, he used soap with a hint of jasmine. The thing about soap, though, is that it doesn’t always hold straight hair, and so his fringe was always falling in his face, much to his annoyance. It didn’t help that he wore a broad-brimmed hat associated with the traditional style of his German-Jewish family, and it was forever catching the wind and throwing things into disarray.
I happened to very much like his disarray and made every effort to cause it during the brief months we were together as a couple. That’s all a terribly convoluted story, though. The point here is, although this hair might look a bit odd now, it was meant to suit hats, peaking out around the ears and collar. I find it charming on the right man, obviously.
This style, as you can likely see, was also meant for hats–curled at the ears and fluffed on top, while flattened at the temples, probably with macassar oil. It was also the quintessential style of the solidly middle class, and therefore I associate it with my mate Christopher. Chris was by far and above the most “normal” of all of us–he studied banking, wore a great deal of plaid and assertive muttonchops, played tennis and rugby and cricket and all that, and was straight as an arrow. He was, to use a modern term, a “bro.”
That said, the man had depth. He never once batted an eye at the rest of us and our collective inclinations, and he was a brilliant painter, rendering up strange pieces that I would now associate with the modernist style. What’s this, I’d say. Well it’s a bloody lake, he’d answer. Then why is it so…squared off and hazy and purple? And he’d blink at me and say some people just don’t understand art.
Aaaaand the circus clown. No, I didn’t have a mate with this hair…”style.” Who do you think I am?
However, the striped waistcoat and loud cravat do remind me of a partner Geoffrey had later in life–a chemist named Maxwell whose penchant for laboratory explosions transferred to his choices in neck ware. Probably part of why they got on so well…
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Twilight my arse…