Papillote Curls : Authentic and Easy 18th Century Hairstyle

June 4, 2015 in Creating The 18th Century, Looking Good, Uncategorized by M C

Book 2 in the Outlander series

Claire and her hair… From the castle at Leoch to the French court.. to colonial America, if it isn’t inciting envy it’s in her way, being pinned into submission, or scandalizing, since she refuses to cover it properly with a mop cap. Claire’s hair seems to naturally hold an 18th century hairstyle other women had to work at to get.

Outlander has been picked up by STARZ network, and the Outlander universe is abuzz with who is being signed, what scenes will be included, and what sort of party must be thrown to celebrate.  While it is vaguely interesting to discuss who might play what character, or speculate on where the filming might take place, building a historically accurate tableau requires an understanding of How Stuff Worked. And, for that matter, How Stuff Works today.  Now.. there’s something interesting!

For example, fashion. If you study fashion you will see that ornamentation, frills, and the decoration of women’s dresses, change dramatically with the introduction of two new technologies: the sewing machine and the camera. Hand sewing techniques can’t be reproduced with a sewing machine so the entire structure of clothing was redesigned to accommodate the limitations of the sewing machine. The camera doesn’t like fussy clothing and if you look at women’s clothing as photography gains in popularity the ornamentation which defined high style and sumptuous dress, the elaborate superstructures which defined its shape, gives way to sleeker lines.. not only in the female shape but in the very structure of her clothing.

Mary Robinson by John Hoppner; late 18th century

Mary Robinson by John Hoppner; late 18th century

Therefore, when you’re watching even a very well done historic piece, likely you’re not seeing garments as they would have appeared at the time because cameras, unlike the human eye, can’t distinguish between what is important, and what isn’t, and the frills, tucks, bows, and ornamental florals, create, on film, a jumbled mess. In short, to accommodate the limitations of film (and budget!) the dresses which look sumptuous and elaborate to our eyes… aren’t.

Hair plays a huge roll in fashion, and the 18th century saw an explosion in sophisticated tools and methods for styling hair. While Claire refuses to dress or cover her hair fashionable women took considerable pains to achieve the teased and curled look popular in sophisticated circles, while men paid barbers to maintain their wigs in perfect, curled, order.

The technique for creating this hairstyle is called Papillote, or Papillote Curls, which you can reproduce yourself… impressing friends, loved ones, and anyone else wishing to join you in the 18th century:


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