Thursday, October 6, 2011

Oh-Heigh-Oh: Really Big Hair c. 1776

Thursday, October 6, 2011
Susan reporting:

I can't move on from 18th c. feathered hats without sharing one of my favorite satirical prints of the era. The towering hairstyles and hats - not to mention all the ostrich plumes - were favorite targets, and while both likely were exaggerated for effect and not quite as over-sized as the cartoons suggest (here's a recreation that's probably more true to scale), they were still pretty astonishing.

OH-HEIGH-OH, or A View of the Back Settlements, the English print, left, from 1776 is typical. This lady is not only sporting a stylish be-ribboned and ruffled hat with the required curled ostrich feathers, but she has also tied her hat over a stupendously elaborate hair style, full of twists and curls and sprays of silk flowers and fruit. If all that hair isn't a wig, it likely does contain a good deal of false hair to achieve such heights and volume. In those pre-mousse days, the standard "volumizer" was sugar-water, which must have been sticky as well as a magnet for bees and flies.

But there are more jokes here beyond the obvious visual jab at extreme fashion, with the "Heigh-oh" referring the height. "Heigh-ho" was an old expression when this print was new. Dating back to the early 16th century, it was used to indicate boredom or weariness – think of Snow White's seven dwarfs singing "Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it's off to work we go." So the first joke here is that no matter how fashionable a lady tries to be, there's always something new to make yesterday's style hopelessly passe and boring: Oh, heigh-ho, we've seen that look before.

Yet that's only the beginning of the pun. In 1776, Ohio was still part of the remote North American wilderness, populated mostly by fur traders. The territory had only recently been ceded from the French to the British as part of the terms of the 1763 Treaty of Paris, so recently that it was still considered more French than English. Thus on another level, OH-HEIGH-OH is a political joke, too, making fun of the uncivilized French settlements as well as French fashions and hair-styles. Whew!
Thanks to Chris Woodyard (who happens to live in Oh-heigh-oh) for sharing this print with me.
Above: OH-HEIGH-OH, or, A View of the Back Settlements, published July 9, 1776 in London by M. Darly

9 comments:

Anne Danko said...

Oh my, but what where would a lady be without her hat? :)

Karen A. Chase said...

I love this post, and believe it to be one of your best so far. Hats are highly (no pun intended) underrated these days. I still love buying and wearing them, though perhaps they are a bit less over-the-top than they were. Thankfully.

Hammond-Harwood House said...

There are so many wonderful prints of outrageous hair! I can't stop blogging about them either. If you search the website of the Lewis Walpole Library for "hair", you'll turn up some great ones. I particularly like the ones called "Fruit Stall" and "The Green Stall."

Kate Dolan said...

Thanks for sharing this fascinating cartoon. I always wondered just how wide-spread the ridiculous hairstyles were and whether they were seen much in the colonies. Okay, I'm still wondering, but it's an interesting cartoon nonetheless...

ZipZip said...

What fun with all the depth to be found in a single print. We wonder what jokes we are missing in all the other prints out there...

Very best,

Natalie

Louise Partain said...

I always learn something new when I come here. Based on the Gainsborough ladies and other pictures I have seen of the period, I did not realize that brightly colored plumes were used in day wear, but only to match evening dress. After this and the previous blog in the last week showing the colorful plumes used in Georgian times, I am reviewing my preconceptions of the Georgian Millinery creations.

Madame Theodora said...

What a brilliant reading of this print! So many layers to what appears at first glance to be only one more print mocking silly fashions. Simply fascinating.

Miss Tami Lee said...

I love this! I just did a video tutorial for an 18th century inspired hairstyle (that is in no way historical) and I sure fell weird with all that high hair!

Marquis Jacques said...

love it! My favorite historical period for this particular reason. :) You ladies have a wonderful blog. You can always learn something new and interesting with history. Like I never knew Ohio was named after a pun!

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