Test Driving “18th Century Hair & Wig Styling – The Book”

As all of you 18th century beauties will already know, Kendra Van Cleave, the intrepid costumier and long-time blogger of Demode, has finally produced a how-to book on authentic 18th century coiffures.

“18th Century Hair & Wig Styling: History & Step-by-Step Techniques” will cover history and tutorials for hairstyles from each distinct period. From the images on the Facebook page, a number of high and mighty 1770s poufs and 1780s hedgehogs will be covered, along with 1760s styles, and techniques for men.

I thought a great way to help Kendra reach her pre-order goal would be to try one of the styles from the book and show you all the result. When it comes to styling hair, I pretty much suck, so if I can do this, then you ladies with skills far greater than mine will excel to unbelievable heights (four-foot hair tower, anyone?)

The style I tried is one from c. 1768  through the mid-1770s.  It was quite a popular style worn by Marie Antoinette and Madame Du Barry alike.

Marie Antoinette, 1769, by Joseph Ducreaux
Madame Du Barry, 1770-74, by Francois-Hubert Drouais

In studying these portraits, I determined that the style was overall egg-shaped, with smooth or frizzed hair ascending, then twisting into vertical rolls arranged prettily.  The tutorial walked me through each step in re-creating this style, and left room for a little creativity on my part, too.

I’m not going to show you a step-by-step, because that is what the book is for. Instead, I’ll say that the tutorial instructions and images were clear and easy to follow. I made things a little harder for myself with the length of the wig I chose – mine was well-past the shoulder, and I ended up cutting off some of the length, before making the vertical rolls.

Left – my wig at the start; Right – set in rollers according to the instructions

My wig is synthetic, hard-front, and was about $30. You can do this with a cheap wig like this one, a nice lace-front wig, a human-hair wig, your own hair, doesn’t matter. As mine was synthetic, I set the curlers with boiling water (Kendra goes over how to do this in the book), and let it cool and dry overnight.

Hair set with boiling water, then combed out. Atop is the foam rat foundation, a hair rat, and some of the hair pulled up from the back.

Following the instructions, I smoothed, pinned, ratted, combed, fluffed, and curled. The style is built over a collection of foam rats wired together to create the correct shape.  After much fussing and pinning, I got to this point…

I thought it looked nice – sculptural in a pleasing way – but I wasn’t sure how it would look on my own head, so I thought I’d give it a go…

After just a little work blending my own hair into the front of the wig (and yes, some color work needs to be done to match my own hair to the wig color better), I was *astonished* at how good it looked, and utterly pleased that it literally took 5 minutes to put the whole thing on. The little gaps in the wig where the wig cap peaks through are covered by my own hair, and with a few silk flowers and an old necklace, all of the sudden I had one epic pouf.

No, seriously, I’ve never had hair this good. My prior experiments in 18th century hair hopping have been rather disappointing, so I am just amazed that this was so straight-forward and easy to do. I just needed the right tools and a guiding hand.

What I love most about the tutorial is that I can see how to create infinite variation. You could do this style with a much shorter wig and a smaller foundation, to create an earlier 1760s ‘do, or you could go even bigger and higher, using a different structure (I’m sure will be covered in the book). You could create side-rolls under the ears, or stacks of rolls down the back. The possibilities are quite limitless and completely exciting.

All-in-all, for a few hours spent on wig-wrangling, I am incredibly happy with the result, and terribly excited to get my copy of the book. If you are wanting a copy as well, support Kendra’s pre-order so that we get the best possible version of the book, with all the portraits and planned tutorials, printed on good quality paperstock. Here’s the link to the book’s Indiegogo order page: http://igg.me/at/18thCenturyHair


  • Mistress of Disguise

    January 16, 2014 at 7:48 AM

    Ooo, it turned out fabulously! I can't wait for this book, I've been anticipating it since she first announced when she was thinking of putting it together. 😀

  • AuntieNan

    January 16, 2014 at 1:18 PM

    Very impressive! I was amazed at how well you sized the head shape for yourself. I always struggle since I have a big head, no, really! And wigs usually just look like little hair pillboxes on me! As to coloring your own to blend in, the foam mousse colors do a pretty good job, and wash out afterwards.
    Thanks so much for this!!

  • Anonymous

    January 16, 2014 at 2:34 PM

    That is amazing! I had confidence that the book would be good, but I'm over the moon with these few pictures. It's not enough to do it myself, and it's definitely enough to make me go YES I WANT. So excited now! And what a wonderful post!

    • Lauren Stowell

      January 16, 2014 at 7:42 PM

      Yay! Mission accomplished! I was hoping to show that even someone with zero hair-styling skills like me can use the instructions in the book to achieve something great.

  • ZipZip

    January 16, 2014 at 5:20 PM

    Whee! Living evidence of the quality of Kendra's instructions. Looks fantastico, terrific, exquisite. I can hardly wait for my copy to hit the front step!

    Thanks too, Lauren, for supporting Kendra so. I know neither of you personally, but it's such happiness to see folks in this far-flung community working together to advance both the common fabulousness and individual success.

    Very best,


    • Lauren Stowell

      January 16, 2014 at 7:44 PM

      We're a community, and we should support each other! I want this book to happen so badly, so I'll do all I can to help reach the pre-order goal. 🙂

  • Trystan L. Bass

    January 16, 2014 at 5:32 PM

    Damn, that looks SO good!!! I knew Kendra's work was good, & I've already copy-edited a portion of the book, but seeing this kind of 'evidence' of how the tutorials work is amazing 🙂

    • Lauren Stowell

      January 16, 2014 at 7:45 PM

      Indeed! I'm hoping that others who are scared to death of styling wigs will see this and see how easy it is if you have the right guidance.

  • Anonymous

    January 16, 2014 at 7:48 PM

    Thanks for posting this! I am really bad at hair – I cant even braid the back of my head evenly – so this makes the book seem less intimidating,

  • Unknown

    January 18, 2014 at 4:46 PM

    What a wonderful blog! I have just signed up. Thank you for supporting my Hidden Wardrobe blog also – we could really use your skills at Berrington Hall this year to recreate some Georgian Wigs so if you happen to be hitting the UK any time soon please come and visit! Ellie 🙂

  • Unknown

    January 22, 2014 at 7:56 AM

    wow that is incredible! so so beautiful and perfect. and on a completely random note, whatever climate you're in, i'm jealous! it looks like gorgeous whether there. its freezing up here in canada right now:)

  • Kelly

    January 30, 2014 at 4:37 AM

    I swear if I did 18th century anything I'd be all over this like brown on rice. Sadly I don't and am trying resist the temptation to make a Robe a la Francaise and order a pair of Pompadours (you all always look so lovely). This book makes it even more tempting. Someone please tell me where I could wear one of these gowns to justify all the expense.
    Though I swear on bended knee that if she ever does a book about high Victorian 1860s – 1890s hair I will be the first in line to purchase a copy.

  • Jeeny

    April 19, 2016 at 7:42 PM

    Nice to known the history of hair style. I've always wanted to try hair extensions but haven't been brave enough yet! These look so good .

  • oceanblueeyes87

    October 17, 2016 at 12:24 PM

    I bought the book and will never take away its place of prominence in my 18th century costume section…it's an incredible purchase, being a lover of this era of costume & hairstyle. I was even more happy with the purchase when I found my beloved Du Barry included for her tête de mouton style; and reading how it was, for you, a great achievement, increased further my passion for this woman! I simply love her and her biography!!!!!!!


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