10 thoughts on “SNARK WEEK: White Wigs

  1. I am reminded of the “why don’t I have three heads?” scene in Amadeus. Maybe the wigs are a stretch, but it was fun seeing someone get “powdered.”

  2. And I remember theq line uttered by Donald Sutherland ‘And I shall be queen.’ from Start the Revolution.

  3. To play devil’s advocate for silent black and white movies I think they used stark white wigs because they showed better on the film. Kind of like blondes had to be platinum blonde in order to register blonde on camera at all.

    1. I might be wrong(I know zilch about handling a camera)but didn’t they use blush pink fabrics to read matte white on camera?Pink wigs would have similarly read white.
      I don’t think wigs were ever stark white-they were shiny platinum blondes that read shiny white on camera.Colour photographs from the era show this clearly.Besides stark white had a “burning” effect on the film so it was avoided at all costs.

      1. Black and white film stock changed over time to permit a greater range of colors to be recorded as shades of gray.

        In the earliest silent films, the orthochromatic stock was so limited in sensitivity and skewed– blues tended to come out too light, reds/yellows too dark– that the makeup on the actors had to be wildly unnatural colors, in order to get something that would read on film.

        It went beyond the stark “pale face / dark eyes and lips” contrast we associate with silent films. I’ve read accounts of actors in the early days with their faces painted yellow with blue lips (or blue faces with yellow lips, depending on the source). Blonde hair would register way too dark, and blue eyes way too light.

        By the early ’20s, panchromatic stock was introduced, and by the end of the silent era, the sensitivity of film stock had improved to the point where a greater range of grays could register and makeup could be more normal. (Also, by this point, Max Factor had developed special makeup for screen use rather than stage use.)

        However, care still had to be taken with sets and costumes. As you point out, pastel colors were used instead of white, because actual white would “blow out” in B/W, even though everything else was registering correctly.

        This was a problem that continued in color photography, where pure whites could present lighting problems and had to be used with caution, if at all. (This is likely why Glinda’s costume isn’t white sprinkled with sparkling stars, like the original Good Witch of the North, though it may have also been a choice made to flatter Billie Burke.)

        There was also the problem that two different colors could translate in B/W as an identical shade of gray and show no contrast. Because of this, Superman’s iconic red and blue costume was represented by other colors (brown and gray, IIRC) until the later seasons, when the show went to color episodes.

        One other point– you have to take any “color” promotional images from pre-’60s films with a grain of salt, because so many were actually tinted B/W photos. They don’t necessarily reflect what the costume in a B/W film “really looked like.”

  4. This is an incredibly informative post amidst all the fun snark! I really enjoyed this!

    A couple of questions, though:

    1) Wasn’t there a point where powdering the hair (and face) suddenly went out of fashion because the powders used were declared toxic and linked to the unexpected death of a young and previously healthy, well-liked noblewoman?

    Or is this just more “hairdo urban legend,” like “rats living in the wigs” (and the 1960s version “black widow spiders / roaches in the beehive”)?

    2) This point was brought up in the comments on the post on BRIDGERTON hairstyles, but since this post includes examples of the particular hairstyle in question, and since you’ve done a LOT of research on 18th c. hair, I’ll ask this here:

    In the comments there, it was alleged that the 1780s trend towards a rounded mass of poofed-out / frizzed hair was “culturally appropriated” from enslaved people– but with no solid evidence to establish this, apparently.

    Have you encountered anything in your research that supports this?

    On the one hand, I can see the distinct possibility this was done, because of the way “exotic” non-whites were being incorporated into decorative motifs and artworks by Europeans. This clearly documented behavior and the way the hairstyle looked certainly make appropriation seem like a given.

    But on the other hand, a good number of Europeans naturally have tightly curly to downright uncontrollably frizzy hair (e.g. Elsa Lanchester, Art Garfunkel), so it doesn’t necessarily have to be something appropriated from enslaved sub-Saharan Africans’ “natural hairstyles.”

    (Furthermore, there doesn’t seem to be evidence put forth by those making the claim that enslaved people were even wearing “Afro”-type hairstyles at this time.)

    And I’d think that the hairstyle would have been more obviously named (like “blackamoor” ornamentation) by a dominant group appropriating from a subjugated group, if that was what was going on here.

    Also, wasn’t there a progression to this style from the “Pouf” to an earlier, more vertical version of the “Hedgehog” (with a sort of evenly-trimmed “flat-top” effect to the hair ends) to the fully blown-out rounded shape of the 1780s?

    Thanks for any input you can give!

  5. Anyone else flashing back to the extra-shiny wigs in Singin’ in the Rain, where Lina Lamont complains about how heavy her wig is?

    1. That movie is one of my guilty pleasures. Jean Hagan is basically my spiritual twin sister.

  6. There are some examples of original white wigs in the book “Lockenpracht und Herrschermacht” and the materials are sometimes surprising. But they are just not looking like poorly produced plastic wigs.

    I have to say, that I don’t like the wig on your example from “One nation, one king” as it is looking too much simplified with these long hairs pushed back. That’s more looking like an “ordinary” modern long hair wig used for the job and not like a wig especially made for the film.

    I’m very often looking on old photos from events in the past of our reenactors and it’s remarkable that at least for the women more are thinking about the right hairstyle which should correspond with their clothing. Maybe that’s the same in the world of cinema. Good wigs are not expensive compared with locations, actors etc. and can even help when the costumes are poorly made (as many costumes are in “Licht” for example).

    “Dangerous Liasions” has some very fine aspects (like locations, actors etc.) but I’m not in all cases happy with the costumes (it seems to me, that the coats of Valmont for example can’t be closed at the front, which would have been a major issue during the 1760s). No powder on the ladies and on Danceny for example are somehow a nitpick. We find the same in the otherwise very nice “Lady J” (F, 2018). But there are beards too and maybe they never had the intention to care about hairstyle.

    I never managed to get a wig which is perfect from a 18th century point of view, although I payed a lot of money and therefore I hope that my hair will do as long as I need 18th century hairstyle.

    I love to see nice wigs in movies. But that’s rare. We very often have reasonably good costumes but no care about haircut. I would love to see more of the complicated different styles of men’s wigs in cinema.

  7. First off, thanks for the awesome article. Those shiny white plastic nightmares are a particular pet peeve of mine.

    Now, I’ve a somewhat odd question related to the acclaimed “One Nation, One King” and am hoping perhaps ye learned ladies of Frock Flicks or a particularly savvy reader might be able to help me. Since the comment section on the post on the movie’s costumes has been long closed, I thought I might give it a try here. It’s a very long shot, but who knows, I might be lucky…

    Having first read about “One Nation, One King” in this post, I immediately checked your costume anaysis out and was surprised to find that my favourite kitchen apron (or rather, the same fabric) stars as a working-class gown on an extra.

    Does anybody know where/if the yellow, floral-patterened printed cotton is still being made/sold?

    I’ve always looked at my apron, imagining how great an anglaise made of this fabric would look. Now that I know the fabric appears to still be around (and have seen my dream gown), I’m quite desperate to find it.

    Any suggestion, however tiny it may be, would be hugely, immensely appreciated.

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