DIY Hair Powder Shaker, or, DIY Powdered Sugar Shaker (depending on your Pinterest Mood)

Hello Lovelies!

Abby here  –

Today, I wish to speak with you about Arts & Crafts, while attempting to teach ya’ll something that will make Pinterest go crazy with excitement!


I guess it depends on 1 of 2 things.

1. You’re really into 18th century hairdressing (like me) & you want/need a way to get the hair powder on your head.

2. You really like powdered sugar on everything.

3. All of the Above.

(Note: If you’re 3. Welcome to the club. Powda-Sugaaaa!! <– 10 pts to whomever can guess which “Bad Lip-Reading” Video I just referenced)

Anyways – what I’m about to show you is a very easy, fast, and relatively cheap way to make yourself a powder shaker that can be sealed securely & wont cost you $20 at Williams & Sonoma (please don’t ask how I know how much they cost – it was a dark & desperate moment in my life.)

Here’s the history deal – Women & Men pomaded & powdered their hair in the 18th century for a variety of reason (too many for me to go into at the moment). It is not something that is necessarily relegated to social class or strictly vanity (though social beauty norms are a thing & hair is a part of that). It was just a normal part of hygiene in the 18th century – just like washing our hair with Shampoo & Conditioner is a normal part of our hygiene in the 21st century (though this is starting to change – hooray – cause S&C is bad for your scalp/hair – fyi).

When looking for ways to apply powder to your hair there are a few different options. The one we are all probably the most familiar with is the bellows & mask that we see in prints like this one here.


The Englishman in Paris, 1770, James Caldwell via PBS 

La Toiette d’un Clerc de Procuruer, Carle Vernet (1758-1836) Here (Note: The hairdresser is using what is either a silk or wool puff with the hair powder in that drawstring bag instead of bellows. This is also extrememly common and often recommended in hairdressing manuals. You can buy new swansdown puffs on Amazon for about $50 a piece – expensive but worth it. If you’re a die-hard you can try and find vintage ones in antique malls/ebay/etc but be away the quality of the feathers is going to be varied due to age.) 

But here’s the deal – this is not the easiest or the only way to get that powder on your head. The powder puff is great for finishing your hair style on your own (like with that final application of powder after your hair has been dressed), but when it comes to trying to powder your hair or wig in the back, etc, it’s not all that easy to use a puff. Personally, in my opinion, using a shaker is the easiest way to apply powder to your whole head. (Also – I’m biased because I came up with this idea on my own, only to later have it validated by primary sources *hair flip of accomplishment*.)

Lady Drudger going to Ranelagh, 1772, Lewis Walpole Digital Collection

The Lovely Sacarissa dressing for the Pantheon, 1773,  British Museum 
So yeah, these are variations of the same image, that’s normal in the 18th century – but aren’t they fabulous?! 
Now, here’s the deal – the historically correct option for a hair powder shaker is going to be made out of tin, with a handle and a fine mesh sieve for the top (this is to help ensure that only the finest powder comes out – you don’t want it clumpy – the powder needs to be “fine as snow”). So when it comes to buying a powdered sugar shaker to use for your 18th century hair powder, the ones with the holes are easiest to find, but obviously they’re not going to prevent clumping as easily as a mesh shaker. I have bought my shakers up until this point…but when we were going to Rufflecon this past weekend, I realized that I didn’t have my very expensive shaker from Williams & Sonoma with me in Reno (I was so desperate – it was ungodly expensive. Don’t make my mistakes). 
When a shopping trip to all the big box stores gave me nada – I decided to get crafty & make my own. It was so quick, cheap & easy, that now I want to share with ya’ll how I did it – Here we go!
NOTE: The use of a Mason/Bell jar is NOT – I repeat – NOT historically accurate. If you wish to use/make one for hairdressing do NOT use it in front of the public. This is NOT an interpretation tool. It is for private use in your bathroom. Kapeesh?! Cool.

Materials: 1. Mason/Bell Jar in the “Jam” size (I got blue cause I’m festive) 2. Wire Mesh (This came from one of those sink drain strainers in the kitchen section, you could also use window screen mesh from the hardware store, or whatever tickles your fancy so long as it’s a wire mesh.) 3. Wire cutters 4. Sharpie.

Use the lid of the jar as your pattern. Lay it on top of the wire mesh and trace the pattern using a medium/large felt tip marker. It will be a bit hard to see so it’s ok to make the mark thick. 

Look at me being economical in my patterning & cutting. *high five*

Using the wire cutter – carefully nip the wire around the outside edge of the mark. Don’t worry if it’s not exact, but try and follow the line as best as you can. The mesh can be a bit wiggly so don’t worry if it stretches or compresses. 


Now it’s time to add it to the screw-top-ring-thing part of the jar (what is that part called?)

Just pop it into place and push the edges into the top of the ring. If the mesh came out a bit big – you will see that you can just push the mesh up and it will create a dome shape. See? No problems. 

Double Boom.

Now you can add your powder and go crazy. POWDER ALL THE THINGS!!!! (Is it weird that I’m now craving French Toast?)

But wait! There’s more! Don’t forget the seal lid. Pop that sucker on.

And then add the ring back on top & guess what?

You got damn better security for storage/traveling than you do with those dinky plastic “lids” of the overpriced powder sugar shakers you buy at the store.
And that my friends – is how to save some $$ and feel accomplished in your craftiness in about 10 minutes. 🙂
Real Quick – The hair powder in my jar is my own, that I make. It’s made mostly out of wheat starch (btw – wheat starch is not flour) which was the most common way that hair powder was made in the 18th century. If you want to do a super fast DIY & you don’t want to drop money on wheat starch (cause it’s hard to find & expensive) Corn/Potato/Rice starch will do fine – they have a similar feel to them (I’ve experimented a lot…) but unless you’re doing a specific impression where you know flour was used – don’t use it. Ok? It’s too coarse & unrefined (name that Disney Tune!), and it will not behave the same way that a starch would. 
<3 <3


  • Sandyland

    October 25, 2016 at 4:27 PM

    I have the perfect powder dispenser! Of course it is not even remotely period correct, but it is really fun. It is an Avon Puff the Magic Dragon talc dispenser. LOL They were made in the 1980s and discontinued, but I found one at an estate sale for 50 cents. Just fill the little guy with powder, and when you squeeze him the talc shoots out his nostrils! Not as practical as yours, but oh so much fun!

    • Abby

      October 27, 2016 at 1:48 AM

      Thanks! I kept looking at that part when I was writing the blog and my brain was going "does not compute something is wrong", but I was too tired to see/know the correction! 🙂

  • Ms. Rebecca

    October 25, 2016 at 9:17 PM

    I would never have thought of using this method(I have hoards of mason jars lying around…)for hair powder, let alone powdered sugar. Well done dear Abby!

    While I am a 19th and early 20th century gal, I do use "dry shampoo" (a mixture of arrowroot powder, cornstarch, and crushed lavender buds) on my hair. I wondered what to put it in that would make it easier to dispense into my hair. I have quite a collection now of crystaline glass salt and pepper shakers that I have found in various places, some even antique. It works surprisingly well. But for fear of seeming unrefined, I may have to try your technique.

    B of Life on the Flying VS Farm.

    • Abby

      October 27, 2016 at 1:52 AM

      Yeah it would be easy to make, especially if you have the stuff needed just laying around, or if you don't feel like a DIY you can order one off the internet, just don't buy the one with the holes in it – the mesh strainer/sieve is important. 🙂

  • Unknown

    October 26, 2016 at 7:10 AM

    Women & Men pomaded & powdered their hair in the 18th century for a variety of reason (too many for me to go into at the moment)…

    I personally would love an entry on the "why"s and "how"s of 18th century pomade & powder. 😀 I haven't touched 18th century costuming yet (but it's getting very tempting…no! Gotta finish my 19th century costumes first!) but I love reading about changes/attitudes in every-day-stuff like ideas on hygiene. Sorry if it's off topic for the blog; I just read this sentence and got very excited!

    • Abby

      October 27, 2016 at 1:58 AM

      Yeah, those types of shakers are the easiest to find, but like I said, the problem is that they don't have a mesh top. So they're close, but no cigar. You can also buy handle-less ones that do have a mesh top, but those can be extremely hard to find in stores (or very expensive – W&S charges an arm and a leg for theirs). Now, if the ring from a Mason jar fits the top of the shaker with the handle – then things are golden! Since I made this shaker out of desperation (we were leaving for the flight the next morning at 6 am & I didn't have time to go to every store in Reno hoping to find the perfect type of shaker), I thought it would be fun to share. 🙂

  • AuntieNan

    October 27, 2016 at 3:36 AM

    ANNNNNNND….. How about the Mason Jars or ball jars with handles??? Abby, this post is so funny I was laughing aloud, ticking off hubby who is GLUED to the CHI/CLE game. I love the period drawings of ladies flinging white stuff at their wigs on stands. I hope you guys had fun in the Big Apple and that Dangerous L wiped all dis comfortable memories from your Potty Squatty trip.

  • Anonymous

    November 3, 2016 at 3:27 AM

    Hi Kelly here,

    I'm not sure if this is helpful but I keep frogs so I buy live insects a lot. Many of the containers have a super fine metal mesh on the top. I'm not sure if it's too fine but it might be worth checking out. It's totally reusable with a good clean.

Leave a Reply

Discover more from American Duchess Blog

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading