Just Because of My Hair

Long or short, curly or straight, black or blonde, hair influences how people see themselves and how others regard them.  That’s one reason why changing hair styles is profoundly upsetting–it may radically alter the self-image.

For girl characters in the nineteenth century, it was rarely for the better because of the social expectation to wear hair long.  Remember Anne Shirley’s humiliation after she dyes her auburn tresses green and has to accept that there is no choice except for Marilla to closely crop them.  Or Jo March shearing off her hair to earn a $25 contribution towards her father’s comfort while he regains his health.   Camille, the heroine of Le parrain de Cendrillon, chops off her magnificent dark hair on a dare from her brother.  Of course he laughs and tells her how ugly she looks.

Louis Ulbach, Le parrain de Cendrillon. Illustrated by E. Bayard. (Paris: J. Hetzel et Cie and Calmann-Levy, 1888) Cotsen 60200.

Grown men disgraced by their thinning hair can be ridiculed just as heartlessly as  girls with short hair, especially when they turn to unguents that promise to replant the “waste places of the human cranium.”   Carrot-Pomade by American illustrator Augustus Hoppin is an alphabetical history of the “origin and performances” of one such wondrous remedy.

Augustus Hoppin, Carrot-Pomade (New York: James G. Gregory, 1864) Cotsen 2323.

Handsome young men with full heads of hair, on the other hand, are ridiculed for their vanity.  Here is the dandy Cadet Roussel, a famous character in traditional French song.

Cadet-Roussel adapte par F. de Grammont d’apres les ancient textes a l’usage de la jeunesse. Illustrated by Lorenz Froelich. (Paris: H. Hetzel et Cie, 1877) Cotsen 4970.

The careless elegance of his coiffeur cannot be maintained without setting his hair in curl papers morning and evening.   An emblem of male vanity, if there ever were one…    

But not an emblem  of proverbial Gallic vanity.  In the fourth plate of William Hogarth’s Marriage-a-la-Mode (1745) “The Toilette,” one of Lady Squanderfield’s hangers-on appears in curl papers…  He is seated, legs crossed, by the flute player at the far right.

Curl papers are still used by modern women who want rippling locks without the use of heat or harsh chemicals.


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