Early Georgian Hairstyles

Early Georgian Hairstyles

Like many of you, as the year has progressed, I have started to feel a little cooped up. Since I can’t currently travel, I have spent a good chunk of time this month fantasying about traveling, especially after I read about an organization called Regency Encounters. If you haven’t heard of this organization, they put on a Pride and Prejudice ball each year and are currently planning to host the next one in Victoria, B.C. Canada. Victoria is simply beautiful, and the event sounds like so much fun. Attendees are expected to try to dress in something reminiscent of the Regency era, so I have been reading about historical patterns, hairstyles, and all sorts of other beauty regiments used during the Georgian Era. I have also been watching the tutorials on the various dances that were popular during the period.

It’s quite interesting how much fashion changed during this period. It is easy with all the film adaptations, to imagine the Bennet sisters attending a ball, but I started to think about Elizabeth’s parents attending such an event in their youth. In her younger years, Mrs. Bennet, being very vain and interested in fashion, might have dressed more like Marie Antoinette who was 20 years older than Jane Austen herself.


In my opinion, this ornate over the top style is nearly the opposite fashion of the fashion that followed. It is the hairstyles, however, that are of particular interest to me. Some of those designs took a team of stylists hours to construct. Wire, batting, and various other materials provided the scaffolding under the hair while horse hair extensions were used to help hide some of this infrastructure. These mountainous designs also required countless pins. After the style was achieved, color would be added by powdering the hair. But how did they get the powder to stick? First they would coat it in pomatum. Here is a recipe from 1840 for how to make this stuff:

Combine beef marrow, hog’s lard, spermaceti, and oil of ben. Melt together, along with bergamot, rose oil, and nutmeg oil.

You might be wondering what spermaceti is. It is a waxy substance found inside the head of sperm whales. As a bonus, you will find another recipe* below that uses this ingredient—you know, so you can create a lovely gift basket of authentic Regency beauty products for gifting your friends and relations.

Once the pomatum was applied, they would use a bellow to create a cloud of powder. The powder would then stick to the pomatum, providing a nice coat of color. This was a messy process, so they created small spaces called “powder rooms” where people would go to complete this process, hence the origin of the term. There are a few recipes for these hair powders. People could use something as simple as flour or corn starch, but there were also more complex combinations—some of which included lead.

Because of all the effort it took to achieve these updos, women would keep their styles in place for up to three weeks. To deal with the lice, long sticks were invented that could slip through the hairstyles and be used to scratch the scalp. To cover up the stench, the hair was perfumed regularly. But some problems were not as easily solved. Because of the heights, many women couldn’t really tell where their hair ended. It was not uncommon for women to catch on fire because their hair came in contact with the candle flames used for lighting. There is even an account of a woman who was caught in a storm. Her tall hair which was held in place by a metal pin, resulted in her becoming a living lighting rod. All said and done, remind me not to sign up for any early Georgian recreation balls. I think the simpler styles worn during the regency period suit me better.


*Bonus skin cream recipe. Apply before bed and wear overnight to help with sunburns or addressing acne. Leave over heat until combined: Honey, almond oil, and spermaceti. Once cooled apply or store.

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January 8, 2021 4:21 PM

I cannot imagine living during this time and spending so much time and effort on my hair. Thanks for sharing!

Gianna Thomas
December 29, 2020 11:30 PM

Interesting post, Cinnamon. What people won’t do for ‘Beauty.’ And it truly is in the eye of the beholder…or is it? I’m delighted that natural beauty is a little less complicated. 🙂

Robin G.
Robin G.
December 29, 2020 4:34 PM

What a mess, and I imagine, what a smell! I never really thought about the origin of powder rooms, but this makes perfect sense. I wonder if the name of the room then became the basis of the euphemism: “I’m going to go powder my nose.” Thanks for the article.

December 29, 2020 1:01 PM


Riana Everly
December 29, 2020 12:51 PM

Wow, the things people did for fashion! Of course, people still do the strangest things to “look good,” whatever that might mean at the moment. I have to admit, one of the unexpected boons from chemo has been my unplanned new short hairdo. No fuss, no muss. And no spermaceti!

J. W. Garrett
J. W. Garrett
December 29, 2020 9:51 AM

And I dread the time it takes to get a perm. Well… I haven’t seen my beautician in months and my hair shows it. The day I was supposed to get a perm, they closed the beauty shops in my state. Once they reopened [with limitations] I scheduled a trim to at least shape my hair. I was afraid to get a perm as I would need another within a few months [I had short hair]. It has now grown to where I can at least sport a ponytail or pin it up. I’m just letting it grow as long as it will. I am a full-time caregiver and can’t worry about my hair. It has been funny watching our TV celebrates deal with hair issues. We are so vane. LOL! This was a fantastic post. Thanks for sharing with us. The odor associated with a ball back then must have been horrid. From all the hair treatments, people who didn’t bath often, dental issues, and over application of perfumes and such to cover [mask] odors would have given me a headache or turned my stomach for sure. Happy New Year.

Mirta Ines Trupp
December 29, 2020 8:51 AM

Oh my! How did they sleep with all that? Anyone else remember the T.V. commercial that said, “Curlers in your hair, shame on you?”

J. W. Garrett
J. W. Garrett
December 29, 2020 1:43 PM
Reply to  Cinnamon

I actually thought about that movie when I read your post. I remember that scene about how they had to sleep. I think I read somewhere that many Geishas actually lost hair due to using wax or paraffin to hold their coiffure in place. Again…we are so vane.

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
December 29, 2020 7:55 AM

Seems hairstyles were complicated at that time!lol I’d love to have seen them blowing powder,I bet that caused coughing fits!lol

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