Of Mice and Men (and buggs?) by Colin Rowland

Of Mice and Men (and buggs?) by Colin Rowland

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!

 

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19 COMMENTS
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darcybennett
January 18, 2021 12:29 PM

It’s amazing to me what people were willing to go through for fashion. Thanks for sharing.

carylkane
carylkane
January 15, 2021 7:43 PM

OH!MY! Beauty sure came at a high price!

sheilalmajczan
January 14, 2021 10:04 PM

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.

Gianna Thomas
AuAu
January 14, 2021 5:17 AM

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.

Teresa Broderick
Teresa Broderick
January 13, 2021 3:24 PM

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.

Robin G.
Robin G.
January 13, 2021 11:57 AM

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.

Jean Stillman
Jean Stillman
January 12, 2021 9:27 PM

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.

J. W. Garrett
J. W. Garrett
January 12, 2021 6:17 PM

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.

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
January 12, 2021 9:37 AM

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!

Riana Everly
AuAu
January 12, 2021 8:00 AM

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.

Gianna Thomas
AuAu
January 14, 2021 5:08 AM
Reply to  Colin Rowland

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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