Monday, August 11, 2014

The Lard That Binds... (Or My First 18th c. Pomatum)

As you saw in my previous post Mrs. Fox dressed my hair Sunday last and we tested out my "new" pomatum and powder. It worked pretty well, all things considered, and I'll be making up a new batch this week as I seem to have left my large tin in my friend's cooler Sunday evening. Whoops!

The back of my dressed hair
I was introduced to the art of big hair at last spring's Burnley and Trowbridge workshop and since that point I've been fascinated with wanting to improve my 18th century hair. I've been scouring all available resources for primary documents and thankfully the internet is full of them, some can still  be purchased online, and I may be able to find more once I have access to my library at work.

But here's the skinny on my foray into the fat underbelly of pomatum. (Okay- I confess that whole sentence was pretty awful, but I just couldn't help myself...)

First things first, I needed to pick a receipt from all of those sources I had been browsing. There were tons of options. Pomatum was so common and scents could be chosen by the maker based on any number of sweet flowers (lavender, orange blossom, whatever you wanted really). I knew that I already have a particular fondness for clove and citrus, so I used oil of clove and lemon for my pomatum. I'd like to try scenting the pomatum in the 18th c. manner with flowers sometime, I'm just not there yet.

Not having every single ingredient for any one pomatum receipt- I improvised. I used the basic amounts of lard and mutton suet from a pomatum receipt in The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies and substituted lemon oil for bergamot and thyme. The three ingredients I didn't have on hand included alkanet root, beef marrow, and virgin wax.

On a side note, although the blog lists the pomatum receipt indicating use for hair, I'm wondering if it's actually supposed to be a lip salve. The alkanet root is what makes me question. I haven't seen it used in an explicitly "hair only" pomatum but is frequently used in lip salves. There are definitely red pomatums in other sources. For example, The Toilette de Flora  says "white" pomatum says can be used "in the same manner as other pomatums" while the instructions for "red" pomatum are a little more general in just saying to "set it by for use."

The New London Toilette lists a red pomatum with alkanet root with instructions to be "...made up into a paste and rubbed over the face..." to give it a reddish color. So take that for what it is.

Either way, it seems that pomatum in general is made up of mostly lard with a variety of other ingredients being thrown in for good measure (or good fragrance), so I felt okay using this ratio as the base for just a simple pomatum for my hair. We're constantly being reminded in the manuals, though, to not mix anything noxious to the hair into our pomatums and powders. We're way too smart for that, ladies!

Anyhow, here's what I did:

Measured out my lard. You can see how soft the lard is on my spoon. Once it was thawed I was able to scoop it out pretty reasonably into my dish.
 Lard in my bowl and on my spoon.
 The mutton was a bit harder. I ended up "cutting" it with a butter knife (more like scraping and stabbing- semantics!) and it took longer to melt.

Not as soft as the lard...

 Once I had everything measured out, I set to slowly melting it on a very low heat.

It was slow... very slow... but we made it eventually. You can see the mutton
chunks in there.
Once I was done melting, I added my clove and lemon oil to my liking and then poured into my containers for storage.
Left: three four oz ball jars for overflow (and to give to friends.)
Right: a large candle tin to store the majority of my pomatum.

I forgot to take a picture of it once it cooled, but it basically looked like the lard in the beginning. The scent does mask most of what there is of the "lard smell", especially once it's in your hair. It goes on really well and the scent stays for 5-6 days- the clove lingers longer than did the lemon. Overall, I can't wait to try the process again.

I have ordered my virgin wax and a few other ingredients and I am ready for round two. I am feeling a little more confident now that I have a bit of experience under my belt, and I'll be sure to post again with my second attempts.

Until then, I will leave you with my list of alternative literary lard loving punned titles that were almost chosen for this post. Enjoy and feel free to add your own in the comments. =)

P.S. No promises that these are PC, but hopefully you'll find them somewhat humorous.

Lard of the Rings
Lard in August
The Pigslayer
Journey to the Center of the Pig
Lard Times

I would entertain song lyrics, also...


  1. Hmmm. I really want to try something like this, but I'm a vegetarian. I'm wondering if there would be a way to use vegetable shortening or something. I know it kind of goes against the point of being historical, but I feel like I want to use something more correct than modern hair paste.

    1. Tracey- I can't really say much to alternatives as I haven't really experimented with anything other than the lard based stuff at this point.

      I know Abby mentioned some alternatives to animal product in class but for the life of me I can't recall what they were. :-/

      I wish I could be of more help.

  2. Weeell, it maybe would work. Crisco was invented as a "heart healthy" replacement for lard. Anybody else?

  3. How is this cleaned from your hair? Or is it just continually brushed out? I read a blog from a couple of girls who work at Colonial Williamsburg and they never conventionally wash their hair. My hair is below my waist and my family participates in Civil War reenactments and Daughters of the American Revolution functions. I would love to understand how to use this and help my hair stay healthy at the same time!

    1. Hi Allison-

      The regimen I follow consists of pomading my hair, then applying powder, then combing or brushing the powder out through the week (s). Everyone's hair is different, so I was able to go about 10-12 days in between applying fresh pomatum but might touch up with powder and combing more frequently. Think of it like the pomatum acting like a leave in conditioner and the powder is a dry shampoo. The combing will help remove any debris via the powder (it will absorb sweat and allow it to be combed out.)

      The look of the hair from this process is very specific and is what gives 18th century ladies that soft, matte hair able to take the taller molded styles so popular in that time.

      The mode of hair care changes into the 19th century and many more types of oils become available for the hair. The fashionable look also begins to leave behind powdered hair, but actually wetting of the head was frowned upon for quite some time by many haircare professionals.

      If you're using the pomatum and power method as your no-poo method, you might want to leave off powder for a week or two before a civil war event (or do a fresh wash two weeks before or so and then begin a more 19th century hair care regimen.)

      I went a little over a year using pomatum and powder with waist length hair and my hair was in very fine condition when I finally cut it off. With my shorter hair I've been following more of a low-poo regimen (washing every few weeks or so) because I permed my hair once I cut it off.

      If you're not ready to make the leap mostly all historical haircare yet (and no pressure!) You can always stop washing your hair for a out a week or so before an event and then begin the regimen of whichever century you are interpreting. This will give your hair a closer look and feel of the period you are portraying without the commitment of your hair keeping that appearance long term.

      I'm not sure if that successfully answered your questions or not, but let me know if there's anything else I can share that might be helpful. :-)

    2. Thank you, Christina! I'm excited to try it! My hair is already very full (I keep it up), will this regimen add to the body very much? (Think Anne Hathaway in "Princess Diaries" before her makeover!) And where is the best place to get the ingredients?

    3. It will add quite a bit to the body. I source my ingredients from local farms. However, there are two ladies that make pomatum and powder ready for purchase. They are both on etsy. Lbcc historical is one and heirloom haircare is the other. Good luck and let me know if there's anything else I can do to assist!

    4. Thank you~ I have enjoyed catching up on all of your blogs from the past years. I hope you continue!

  4. Also, with all that grease, doesn't it get all over your pillow and clothes?

    1. You'll get powder on your pillowcase the first night more so than any "grease". You don't actually want a ton of excess pomatum in your hair otherwise it makes your hair heavy and limp. Again, it's like a leave in conditioner thathe acts as a sculpting gel/mousse all in the same product. The powder provides a soft finish which makes the hair somewhat silky but with body and staying power.

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I would sincerely love to hear your thoughts on all this, so please feel welcome to comment here :-)