Of mice and men (and buggs?)

Of mice and men (and buggs?)

Forgive my plagiarism of the title of Mr. Steinbeck’s literary masterpiece but, in my defense, it seemed a decent fit for my January post. A poor reason, but I’ll take it.

The subject occurred to me because of Cinnamon Worth’s December post regarding women’s hair styles in Georgian England. This set me to thinking: what did men in the Regency period, from before the era began to after its conclusion, do to care for their hair?

Well, surprisingly (or not, actually), truly little or, based upon your perception, too much, when compared with hair care today.

Until the mid to late 18th century, men and women wore wigs when out in public. The wigs themselves were not anything like you can purchase today; the hair was human, not artificial. Not only were they rarely washed but various coatings were slathered generously on to keep the hair in place and under control.

Pomades, as they were then and are still known today, were concocted to keep the wig stylish.

I was able to find a recipe, consisting of rendered hog’s lard, mutton suet, beef marrow, virgin wax, and alkanet root all melted together. To this they added thyme, bergamot, and oil of cloves.

The end result was a product that stank to high heaven, and gave the hair a sheen that attracted various critters, such as flies, lice, and, my favorite, maggots.

To combat this problem the wig was powdered. The powder was made from sifted wheat powder, powdered chalk, or even white clay, and was blown onto the wig by the use of a bellows. The poor fellow being subjected to this indignity had to sit with his face covered while the coating was applied.

The powder would, of course, cover everything, and waft its way inside the clothes of the victim, or fashion-conscious individual, if you prefer, which would explain why this was done before the person dressed for the evening.

The poor servants would be tasked with cleaning the room after the dirty deed was done, which must have been a favorite assignment. From my own experience sanding drywall mud, the detritus infiltrates everything, from your clothes, to your boots, to your lunch box if you are foolish enough to bring it into the work area. For that reason, most everyone wears a protective suit, complete with vented mask, when performing this task. Of course, this was the late Georgian and early Regency periods, so hazmat suits were still a century or three in the future.

The well-to-do(rich) had rooms specifically for this purpose, which is where the term powder room originated. Learned something new today, didn’t you? I’m a font of information, just ask me.

For comfort, it was common for both sexes to keep their heads shaved. This allowed for a more comfortable fit, as well as a more natural look (don’t ask, I’m not sure I understand the “more natural” part of that sentence either). That did not mean that the pests were content to remain in their hairy home, however.

Lice are a friendly bug, and they love their human hosts. Once they infested a wig they would attach themselves to any hair growing, or re-growing, on their hosts head, and go to town, laying eggs at the hair’s root and feasting on the blood of their host. Cures for an infestation ranged from rubbing the bedposts with cucumber and putting broken cucumbers in your bed, to closing the windows, doors, and chimney flue and smoking the room for seven days with Indian pepper. If that did not work, you were encouraged to rub your face with lemon juice and wear a wormwood necklace to bed with you. To be honest, I think I’ve gone as far down this rabbit hole as I want to. Everything my research digs up about cause and treatment for pests such as these seems worse than the last bit. Believe it or not, what I’ve presented are some of the more palatable treatments available at the time!

On to things of a more pleasant nature. I was both surprised and gratified with your responses to my December post. I appreciate the many encouraging comments and have begun work on a plot that I hope will do justice to my excerpt. Unfortunately, health issues (again with the health! Enough, already!) have slowed my progress. In my hubris, I expected a rapid rebound post-chemo, but this has been anything but.

I am happy to say that my outline is progressing and I have, following a suggestion from my brother Jann, been in contact with one of our own prolific and talented authors, whose name shall remain unvoiced until she gives me permission to reveal it. She has agreed to help with the composition of this story, from critiquing the outline to editing my writing, in whatever form that may in her wisdom and according to her desire, take.

I want everyone to know that I am beyond grateful to her for agreeing to accept my request. We have agreed on remuneration, which is very reasonable. I look forward to shepherding this project through to publication. I feel that at this point, even though the process has only begun, this story will far surpass my previous two in terms of quality of plot, prose, and dialogue.

Finally, in answer to all the questions regarding details of the circumstances I outlined in my December post, patience, for all will eventually be revealed!

 

19 Responses to Of mice and men (and buggs?)

  1. That is so disgusting to read. I, like Jeanne, am very happy to have been born in modern times. Especially due to medical issues…I am in remission from leukemia…enough said.

    • I agree with you. I have just completed chemo for lymphoma, something that would have led to an early death as recent as fifty years ago.

  2. Oh, my. The horror tales about those wigs and the varmints who infested them. Creepy Crawlies. I had guessed about the powder rooms, but someone wrote about Mr. Bennet in his powder gown which I gather was what the men wore as they were being powdered before changing into their go-to-meeting or ballroom clothing, etc. Yes, some of the styles this past century haven’t been the best. (Men in knitted shorts, etc) However, I don’t think they encouraged the wearer to carry a colony of insects with them. As to permission, I’ll leave that to your discretion. Take care of you, Colin.

    • The need, or desire if you will, to be fashionable can make people do the dumbest things. All of my research suggest that pest infestations, especially lice, were common and one of the things these “fashionistas” put up with. I suspect the infestation issue was part of the reason for the trend toward shorter, natural hair styles that followed.

  3. I wasn’t long after my dinner when I read this Colin and it started to churn in my stomach!! Yeuck!!! I’d rather have been bald. It sounds truly hideous and you said that was the nicer side of what you found. Right. I’m not going any farther with that thought.
    Best of luck with the book and your health.

    • I am always amazed at the things I find when researching ideas or looking for answers to questions regarding Regency England. The things they did to be stylish would, as you stay, have turned my stomach as well. Although I love cucumbers in salads and sandwiches, I can’t imagine rubbing them on my head or sleeping with them.
      The pomade recipe was a doozy. I can’t imagine putting that on my head, wig or no. To think that this was also used in the heat of summer, when it would start to melt and run down your face, is a bit revolting.

  4. Interesting article, even if it did make me squirm a little. (Lice – ick!) We have standards today regarding personal protective equipment to help try to protect our health, and these servants had to just live with it and likely thank the heavens that they even had a job. Hope you continue your path to improved health, and we look forward to reading your finished product.

    • We know that a lot of chronic health problems were caused by the very things people used to look fashionable. Servants, unfortunately, were not given much consideration or thought as to protection from harm. If you got sick, most times you were fired.

  5. Your post and the one that Cinnamon Worth posted regarding hair care during the Regency/ Victorian periods were quite entertaining! It is scary to think of the possibility of fire, but I think the bugs and other critters terrify me! Glad that things are much simpler today.

    • By the time the Regency began the use of wigs, by men at least, had ceased, although I thought I read that wigs became popular again in the second half of the nineteenth century, Don’t quote me, though, I might be wrong.

  6. I thank the Lord every day that I was born in the century I was. I don’t think I would have liked any of what you found in that rabbit hole you fell in. Once we get you out of there… how about we plug that sucker up so no one falls in again. LOL! I love reading the research you authors post for us. It is always so interesting and I learn something new each time. Blessings on your health progress.

    • I enjoy the research, although I will admit I don’t always enjoy the results of my research. It is fun when I’m able to incorporate my findings into a story.

  7. I don’t think I would have wanted to be a man in that era! All that powder and wigs!lol Hope you get your health where you want to be soon, hang in there!

    • The men had it easy. Women would prepare their hair with wire baskets underneath to hold everything in place. The resulting “do” was worn for weeks at a time. Lice was more common in women’s hairdos than in men’s, and it was not uncommon for a woman to carry a long semi-sharpened stick just so she could scratch her head!

  8. I had no idea about the origin of the term “powder room.” That makes so much sense now. I love learning these little details.
    Yes, the things we do for fashion! The wigs and the corsets and the padding and the make-up – they can all seem so ridiculous, but I have to wonder what our great-great-grandchildren will think of the things we wear these days. My daughter and I often watch period movies and TV shows from all eras and just talk about the clothing. Which styles were actually attractive, which really weren’t (1980s shoulder pads, anyone?), and which just should never have existed. I’ll have to ask her opinion on powdered wigs.

    Hope you feel back to 100% soon, and good luck with your project.

    • If our great-great-grandchildren have any sense, they’ll look at pictures of popular styles and laugh themselves silly. There are some styles(okay, most) that I will never understand. How can it be comfortable to walk around with your waist down around your knees? And why is it considered fashionable to pay extra for jeans with shredded legs?
      I guess I’m just too old.

      • Hahahahahaha! I’m in total agreement with you Colin. I do wonder how many trip when their jeans drop around their ankles. 🙂

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