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Naval Hair Styles Have Caused Waves Throughout History

Hair in the Royal Navy

The Royal Navy has recently announced a new hairstyle policy that allows women to wear a variety of hairstyles including ponytails, corn rows, twists, locks, afros and braids.

These new regulations remind us of how the social and cultural relevance of hair within the navy has been important throughout its history.

Here at the National Museum of the Royal Navy, we have been diving into the history of hair within the Georgian Royal Navy with our new exhibition, Diving Deep.

This exhibition tells the story of HMS Invincible, a Royal Navy warship that sank in 1758. One of the more surprising artefacts found were wig curlers, which are now on display until October 2021.

Bigwigs

These wig curlers found on HMS Invincible would have been used for the wigs of naval officers. The muster roll of HMS Invincible showed that Captain Bentley had 28 servants onboard in 1758, one of whom would have been responsible for styling the Captain’s wigs.

Reconstructions of curling an 18th century wig shows that this was a lengthy process which took several hours.

Firstly, the wig curlers were heated up in a fire and then the wigs were curled. To keep the curls in place, layers of wax or animal fat were added, acting as 18th century hair gel!

Chalk powder was used on top to stop the fat collecting dirt and to give the hair body which also had the added bonus of colouring the hair grey, which was in vogue at the time.

Officers wore work wigs, much like the wig worn by Admiral Pocock (see image below), where he is wearing a bob wig major.

When in dress uniform, officers would have worn more elaborate wigs with ponytails. The more elaborate the wig, the more important the person – this extravagant practice led to a term we still use today when describing an important person: bigwig.

Wearing hats on top of these “bigwigs” was difficult and so officers sometimes wore a half wig (see image below) instead to accommodate the hat.

The Crew

In comparison, crew would wear their hair short or secure it in a long ponytail. They would have used things like tar and bindings to stop it coming loose - look at the hairstyles of the crew at their mess table below.

Diving Deep

This is just one of the many fascinating things to discover at Diving Deep. Please buy tickets in advance - book your tickets online at https://www.nmrn.org.uk/book-your-visit.

Teams across the site have been hard at work to ensure that all elements of a visit remain COVID safe - details of this and further COVID safety measures can be found on our website.

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