aka, You Knew This Was Coming, Didn’t You?
Yep, 18th-century hair nerd Kendra reporting for duty! Who’s watching Harlots (2017), the 18th-century London-set story of two dueling brothels, airing on Hulu.com in the U.S.? I am, and so far I’m mostly loving it! Oh, I’ve got some quibbles with things here and there, but the story is entertaining, and they’re doing a good job of mixing the glamour and grit of whoredom and 18th-century London life, and I’m interested in the characters and plotlines (although I want Lydia Quigley to GO DOWN IN FLAMES). Anyway! Expect more Harlots-related content, but the first thing that springs into my mind is, HAIR! (It’s Pavlovian, y’all).
So, how are they doing? Not half bad, I’d say! There’s a lot of great hairstyles and only a few WTF. The main thing they’re doing is mixing up their eras, which, when they do the details of the hairstyle right, I’m shockingly okay with. I’d way rather see a mish-mash of late 18th century hairstyles all mixed up together, but done well, better than a bunch of hairstyles from one period done badly. Because I get that they are using different hairstyles to distinguish the various characters’ class levels and to show formal vs. informal events. Also, let us give mad props that Harlots seemed to find a way around the bobby pin rationing so epidemic in historical productions these days!!
I think the hair designer is Jacquetta Levon (IMDB credits her as “hair designer / makeup designer,” but whether that’s a lead position, I don’t know). Other hair people credited are Sara Austin, Vincenza Miele, Sam Smart, Amy Mansfield, and Lynda Pearce.
So what have we got? According to the title card on the first episode, it’s 1763. Whyyyyy do they DO that??!! I know, they think it gives the story so much more verisimilitude, but all it makes ME do is start comparing every detail to the realities of fashion in 1763 and going “nope, nope, ohhhh-kay I guess if I squint, nope, nope, I guess so…” Listen, filmmakers. You’d do SO MUCH BETTER by us historical nerds if you didn’t give us an actual YEAR to nitpick about.
So, what year(s) are the hairstyles in?
1730s Hairstyles in Harlots
If I’m being generous, Lydia’s son George’s wig is a style most seen in the 1730s. It DOES have the right cut in terms of front vs. back hair, but by the 1740s and beyond, almost ALL men’s wigs had side rolls (buckles). And, while men’s hair/wig styles were much more fossilized than women’s, and a man would certainly wear an out-of-fashion wig as a sign of his profession/class, I’ve yet to see anyone hang on to this particular no-buckle style. Also, really the short-front-hair (toupee) should be lower and smaller on top if it’s going to be 1730s; if it’s going to be later, the top hair is okay, but then it needs side buckles.
Also, I’ve never seen a man’s queue (tail) this short. Makes me wonder if other things on George are less-than-impressive. Just sayin’.
1750s Hairstyles in Harlots
Apparently in some future episode, Lucy is going to kick it old skool and rock a 1750s ‘do.
Madame de Pompadour c. 1758 is proud:
Early 1760s Hairstyles in Harlots
Alright, props! There are some people in Harlots wearing hairstyles that are perfect for 1763! Among them:
Mid- to Late-1760s Hairstyles in Harlots
Charlotte Wells is clearly fashion-forward, because her high, egg-shaped styles are very late 1760s.
Late 1760s Hairstyles in Harlots
Sir George’s wigs — one brown, one white — are high on top, buckled on the sides, and long in back. Minus the top height, this is the basic layout of a man’s queue wig from the 1740s through the 1780s. You start seeing these high tops in late 1760s and through the 1770s, so that’s where I’m putting this.
1770s Hairstyles in Harlots, WTF Edition
And then they come up with this clunker:
Alrighty… so clearly they are trying to do a mid- to late-1770s style in order to show that Charlotte is over-the-top dressed up super-formal and super-artificial. I get it, theatrically! I also like the overall front silhouette, with the hair angling out and up, and the fact that the back hair is clearly longer and styled up.
What I don’t get is why she looks like she stuck her finger in an light socket — check out that bottom left image, where the teased/hair-sprayed hair is separating. And, of course, the details of the long-and-up-back are wrong.
Now, let’s address that pink streak at the same time that we look at the crappy powdered-green wig of Charlotte’s that Sir George tries on:
And yes, they did have colored hair powder in the 18th century! I don’t know that they ever did streaks (I’m also looking at you, Poldark) of color, but they did occasionally use crazy colors.
This grey wig hangs out in the background in at least one scene in Charlotte’s room. Style-wise, it looks kind of like the ones above even if it too is sort of “meh” in terms of details.
Late 1770s Hairstyles in Harlots
Lydia’s OTT-for-the-theater wig is along the same lines as Charlotte’s (above), but I like the execution better. It’s still missing the form under the hair to keep things smooth, but at least it’s not separating! And the angled side buckles and twists are both accurate and pretty. I tried and tried to get a screencap of the back, but it’s on screen for 0.5 seconds and kept going by too quickly, so I’m giving it a pass!
Mid-1780s Hairstyles in Harlots
I’m super impressed by all the ways they got the style details right for this mid- to late-1780s “hedgehog” (actually a term for a different, earlier style, but it’s the shorthand most modern costumers use) frizzy low and wide style. It’s just about 20 years too early.
1940s/2017 Hairstyles in Harlots
OH FOR FUCK’S SAKE IT’S BEACHY WAVE TIME!
Sorry. Ahem. Lucy is showing her innocence through a 1940s Alice in Wonderland ribbon tied in her hair that I am just dying to rip off and throw in a garbage disposal. Clearly she is meant to look young and innocent, and although she’s a little old for hair-worn-down, I can buy it, storywise — her mother is waiting to sell her virginity to the highest bidder, so keeping Lucy looking young and pure is key. That being said, the whole layered hair that’s curled only from the ears down into large, beachy waves? IS COMPLETELY FROM 2014 ONWARDS. THANK YOU.
(OTOH, I do enjoy complaining about a good beachy wave. My friend Jessica posted about this on Facebook, and my response was simply: rubs hands gleefully)
2017 Hairstyles in Harlots
Charlotte’s unwigged hair is super cute! But you know what it isn’t? 18th century!
Why? Because by and large, 18th-century women DIDN’T WEAR WIGS! For various reasons that are too complicated to get into here, 18th century men in England wore wigs that were supposed to look artificial. However, women did not. In general, they used pads to make their hair bigger, and added shittons of false hair to their own hair, to create the sometimes huge hairstyles of the era. So seeing obvious “wigline” around the face in the 18th century? For men, absolutely! A wig was supposed to be artificial. For a woman? Nope. If a woman really didn’t have enough of her own hair and therefore had to wear a wig (which sure, did happen), she would have worked her own hair into the front to hide the artificiality.
Are you enjoying Harlots? How’s the hair-era-mish-mash working for you?