1700's Hair & Hygiene at Kensington Palace.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015





I visited Kensington Palace this weekend, and found out a few tidbits of historical facts that boggled my mind, and made me so excited to draw.

Social events were very big back then (probably because there wasn't anything else to do) and class and status was very important. For example, you could go to Kensington Palace to see the king eat. Supposedly it was proof that he was doing well health-wise to see him eat full meals, and what a novel activity! "Let's go see the king eat tonight!" 
"Okay! He's probably eating more tonight than I will ever eat in my life!" 

True story, peasants.

Going to social events at the palace was also a way to socialize and network with other "bigwigs" (NO PUN INTENDED... TBD). To be let into the palace, you had to dress the part. The dresses had to be of the best fabrics, brocades, and embroidery, or you weren't allowed in. The halls of Kensington were always lit with lots of candles, so the dresses were embroidered with lots of gold and silver thread, so that they would glitter and be noticeable and stand out. 

The way women (and men) dressed was absolutely out of this world. The style of extravagant dress for women around the 1700's was the huge "mantuas"-- wide puffy netting that was worn underneath dresses. These dresses were so wide, they had to go sideways to go through doors, and had the nickname "pop-up dresses" because they had to fold them to get into carriages.

 The hairstyles were huge powdered hair-do's that looked like wigs (but a lot of them weren't), and they had to be AT LEAST a head and a half tall, and preferably done with your own hair along with some extensions. They were embellished with all sorts of things, and arranged into heart shapes, long shapes, and just plain huge shapes, then powdered white.

 Men and women's faces were smeared with goose-fat and then a layer of white lead make up was applied, covering even the eyebrows. Rouge was applied where necessary, then they would apply mouse hair eye-brows above their real eyebrows, which gave them all a very surprised look. Then the beauty spots would be applied, also in different shapes, and put in different spots around the face,
 to represent various social statuses or meanings. 

The men's suit-coats were very taut in the back so that they would stand very straight.
They wore three pairs of stockings, so the legs hairs wouldn't stick out, and 
they wore very short-cut powdered wigs themselves.


The point of these outrageous styles, was to step into the palace and be
 transported into an unearthly, almost alien-type of world.
It was an experience, a party,
 a masquerade of the most extreme kind.

Now, with all of this going on, you can imagine how uncomfortable being in these outfits were, especially for the women. They all could barely move. The tops of carriages sometimes even had flaps so the headdresses of hair could have a space to be when they went to these gatherings. 

It was considered very rude to show your back to the king when present in his palace, so everyone shuffled around with their ridiculously huge hairs and dresses, to avoid insulting the king with their backs. Sometimes the king would "rump" someone on purpose, by turning his own back to show he didn't like them, and then the "rumped" person would be banished from court. There was supposedly even a "rump" club in London, where others who had been "rumped" would go to discuss how to get in better graces with the king and court again. 

So while all of this "rumping" and shuffling was going on for hours and hours (up to at least 5 hours) you have to wonder about the basic bathroom necessities, correct?

Correct. 

A woman just a few years ago, found a little dish with a handle that she used as a gravy dish for some years. She had it appraised by an antique expert. They discovered it was actually a miniature porto-potty. Used for just the above moments! If a lady during one of these social events needed the loo, she would signal to a maid, who would bring over one of these little ceramic-handled bowls, go underneath her dress, and the woman would hold it between her legs, 
and continue on with her conversation. 

Supposedly turning your back on the king was more offensive then peeing into a bowl hidden underneath your dress.
WHO KNEW?
The men would simply use fireplaces, or corners of the palace. 

Shocking I know.

As you can imagine, the palace was a very smelly place. Mixed with perfumes, urine, and bodily odors. I don't think it was as glamorous as all of us think it was at that time. But I'll just keep thinking about Marie Antoinette, the movie by Sofia Coppola, because that is exactly how I'd want it to be. Not smelly, just BEAUTIFUL! DECADENT! PERFECT!
 With Mogwai just playing ALL THE DAYS in the background!!

So there you have it. History in Hygiene and Hair 101. 

Kensington Palace itself is very intriguing, with so many stories, and very personal history that is different than a lot of the other ones we've visited. It almost was torn down, but Queen Victoria decided last minute to keep it. 

Take a visit sometime. You'll be glad you did.


1 comments:

  1. LOVE IT! I live for this kind of information! And your illustrations were amazing as well :)

    ReplyDelete

 

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