The Lady's Stratagem: Washing the Hair
One of my latest acquisitions is The Lady’s Stratagem: A Repository of 1820s Directions for the Toilet, Mantua-Making, Stay-Making, Millinery & Etiquette. It’s a wonderful book that reprints sections of antique guides on all of the above topics. One of my favorite sections is about personal hygiene. Everything from caring for your teeth to recipes for makeup to directions for bathing (a subject upon which period authorities seem to have been strongly divided, which might explain why so many of us are confused).
A wonderful example of this schism of opinion can be found in the sections featuring arguments for and against washing your hair. The Toilette of Health, Beauty and Fashion is decidedly against the practice, claiming that washing your hair frequently results in “head-ache, ear-ache, tooth-ache, and complaints of the eyes” and ends its commentary with the precept: “Wash the hands often, the feet seldom, and the head never.” The Duties of a Lady’s Maid on the other hand actively promotes the washing of the hair, and says quite saucily: “Some persons have a strong prejudice against washing the hair . . . were this prejudice confined to the ignorant and illiterate, I might pass it over without notice; but as it is put forth in books, and under authority of professional men, it requires to be exposed and refuted . . .” it goes on to state that frequent washing of the head with tepid water prevents the exact same ills that the other source claims results from the practice.
What did a lady do if she did not wash her hair? There seems to be quite a lot of combing of the hair with ivory combs to remove oil and “scurf” (dandruff?) and severe admonitions against the use of a metal comb, as it breaks the hair. There are directions to wipe your hair down with dry towels, or with linen during summer to remove moisture and perspiration. And there are directions for the use of egg-yolk to de-grease the hair: “Take the yolk of a raw egg. Moisten your hand with it, pass it over your hair several times, them comb with a fine comb.” Can you imagine?
I can see a character having great fun (and trauma, a la Anne of Green Gables) if she were to get her hands on one of these books.