This week was meant to be a Georgian hairstyle tutorial, but the supplies are taking longer to arrive than I anticipated. Instead, I’m going to be writing a book review for ‘The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Beauty’ by Lauren Stowell and Abby Cox, with guest writer Cheyney McKnight. I was planning to do a review for this anyway, so the hairstyle tutorial is merely delayed- it will come up in the next few weeks!
I want to preface this review by informing you that I am a UK based costume maker familiar with the Georgian period, but very unfamiliar with the world of hair and hairstyling. I find it a very frustrating art, actually, as my hair is so straight and fine that it's an absolute nightmare trying to do anything at all with it.
However, reading this book did give me hope that maybe I will be able to make my hair co-operate into some pretty Georgian hairstyles! But I digress, I'll save the praise for the actual review.
The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Beauty
I’ll kick this off by saying that this is a monster of a book.
It may not look big but it is jam packed with history, hairstyles and any hair accessory you could want for any decade in the Georgian era. I also own the first American Duchess book and I cannot fault the consistent quality of their pictures, instructions or historical research for either of them.
One of the only qualms I have with the American Duchess books is that they often call for a multitude of expensive items. With the first book, which is more clothing based, they suggest using linens and wools which are the most expensive fabrics nowadays (even though they weren't in the 18th century!). In this book, there are even more supplies which are not necessarily expensive, but they are numerous.
I imagine that a lot of people already have these sorts of things, but as someone who hasn't really played around with hair much, I've had to buy a lot of things just to complete one of these hairstyles. Now that I've got the supplies I won't need to buy as much when I want to try a different hairstyle, but it was still a lot to buy for someone as cheap/broke as me!
Common things like hair clips and curling tongs are easy enough to come by, but rendered mutton tallow and rendered pig lard are unusual requests, to say the least! Also, I am UK based so sometimes the supplies are called by a different name over here or much more difficult to come by than they may be in the US. Perhaps it's too much to ask for them to cater to every region, but a more in-depth description of the more unusual items would not go amiss.
However, as much as they ask from you, I will concede that learning how to do things the proper way first does give you the allowance to break the rules later on. And my goodness, they definitely don't do things by halves.
As I've mentioned, there is not much to say about the instructions except the fact that they are clear and well-illustrated. How they managed to do this consistently with the sheer size of the book continues to amaze me, but it just shows that this is a book written with a love and a dedication to the subject matter.
They have repeated some sections from the first book, which isn't a drawback. It simply means that you do not need to buy the first book in order to receive all of their wisdom.
As I continue to write book reviews I'm sure that this is something that I'll repeat, but I'll mention it anyhow- there's just something about modern people recreating historical techniques that just makes it feel so much more accessible. It's the same with Prior Attire's 'The Victorian Dressmaker' book; you can read as many period tutorials as you like, but it doesn't really click until you see a modern person doing it with photographs or videos. Perhaps that's just me.
It feels as though there's a lot more research in this book than the first, but maybe that's just because I'm very unfamiliar with hair so everything feels new!
You also discover through these research sections that a lot of these tutorials are based off of nothing except extant etchings and paintings. As someone who has tried to recreate things from fashion plates and paintings, that's tough. But American Duchess clearly has the historical know-how to be confident enough to make their own patterns and then put them out into the world.
For the hairstyle tutorials, they made the genius move of selecting a range of models of different ethnicities and hair types to demonstrate how each hair type is best treated for Georgian styling. This means that no matter what type of hair type you have, it has been addressed in at least one tutorial and you can apply those tips to any hairstyle in the book.
My hair type, according to the Andre Walker Hair Typing System (a new discovery for me!) is 1a & 1b, so most closely resembling their Chinese model, Jenny. They mention how using a wooden comb would reduce static and to use Mareschal powder because the extra beeswax will help with flyaways. They demonstrate this treatment of the hair for the 'Ski Alpin' style, but I am planning to do the 'Coiffure Français' style to start as it fits best with my hair length. I can transfer those tips over to the hairstyle that I'm going to do.
I can't spot any blind spots in the range of hair types. There may be someone who disagrees, but from what I can see there looks to be a wide range that covers as many hair types as possible with the amount of tutorials they've written. They also have styles for every era; the length of your hair will impact which styles you can achieve, but they do mention the ideal hair length and offer alternatives through the use of hairpieces and buckles.
I would have liked to have had some more pictures of the finished styles at different angles, but I will admit that the book is big enough. This 'Coiffure Chenille' hairstyle, for example, has only this small picture of the finished style which could be a little hard to use as reference.
For those of a black heritage, they also introduced a guest writer, Cheyney McKnight, to expound on the history of black people in the 18th century and it was fascinating. As a white woman who shouldn’t have any say in the matter, it’s a very mature and well thought out way to expound on black people in history which is an unknown subject for a lot of people.
I haven’t tried out any of the projects in this book yet, but I have tried some from the first book and the instructions were flawless. The patterns were easy to upscale, instructions were clear and the pictures were beautiful. It looks the same in this book; I have my eye on the calash bonnet for an upcoming project!
Overall, I would thoroughly recommend purchasing 'The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Beauty' if you have any interest in 18th century hairstyles or accessories, but perhaps be prepared to spend some money if you actually want to be able to complete any of these hairstyles.
Let me know which book you would like me to review next; I have an extensive book collection of both modern and historical books, some of which I would recommend more than others!
Until next time,