Eighteenth-Century Headwear

The hairstyles and headwear worn by women changed dramatically and rather frequently during the eighteenth century. The men's styles, on the other hand, gradually became simpler as the century progressed. Shifting fashions had developed deep roots in Western culture by the end of the eighteenth century, and both men and women had become accustomed to yearly, if not seasonal, shifts in fashion, a trend that continues to this day.

Wigs were indispensable hair accessories for men during this century. The long, curled wigs worn by men during the previous century were abandoned by all except older men or those working in law or politics. Without their huge wigs, men experimented with easier-to-manage styles. Professional or middle-class men wore chin-or shoulder-length bob wigs with curled or frizzed powdered hair. Military men made pigtails tied with black ribbons especially fashionable. A man might wear a pigtail tied from his natural hair or attach a wig with a pigtail. Wigs were offered to men in more styles than ever before. Hair could be left plain but was often heavily coated in powder for formal occasions. In keeping with the simpler hairstyles, men also donned less formal hats. Many discarded their tricorne hats of the previous century in favor of tall-crowned, wide-brimmed hats once only worn in the country.

Hairstyles evolved into the most important fashion accessory for women by midcentury, but by the end of the century hairstyles had diminished in importance compared to hats. Hairstyles changed from masses of curled tresses to enormous, towering styles to very short styles, and then back to longer curled locks. Women styled their hair in a variety of tall styles that featured heaps of powdered curls at the beginning of the century. In general, styles followed the lead of Madame de Pompadour (1721–1764), the mistress of French king Louis XV (1710–1774), who fashioned her hair in many different upswept, curled styles. While gray or white powder continued to be used for most occasions, hair left plain was often dyed a fashionable black hue. By the mid-1700s hairstyles had started to climb higher and wider. Hairdressers created monstrously large styles with the help of false hair, pomatum (a sticky oil used to hold the hair in place), and pads or supports for the hair. These large styles were elaborately adorned with stuffed animals, model ships, jewels, feathers, ribbons, false curls, and other ornament. A variety of hats were made to perch atop these large hairstyles. The pouf, for example, enveloped the massive egg-shaped hairdos. These large hats were replaced with smaller caps and hats as styles diminished in size at the end of the century. Amazingly, the cuts that followed the enormous hairstyles of the mid- to late century were very short cuts, including the Titus cut. Although short hair experienced only a brief popularity before longer styles returned to fashion, the dramatic contrast between the large styles of the midcentury and the shorter styles of the late century marked the beginning of a trend toward quickly changing styles that continues today.

During the eighteenth century professional or middle-class men wore chin-or shoulder-length bob wigs with curled or frizzed powdered hair. Reproduced by permission of .


Corson, Richard. Fashions in Hair: The First Five Thousand Years. London, England: Peter Owen, 2001.

Laver, James. Costume and Fashion: A Concise History. 4th ed. London, England: Thames and Hudson, 2002.

À la Belle Poule
Lice, Hunger, and Hair
Pigtails and Ramillies
Titus Cut

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