Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Pompous Pomades: A Greasy Necessity

Pomade is a greasy substance used for several purposes: for the hair, the lips or the cheeks. When used for hair, it was especially practical since it made the powder stick to the hair. It could be smeared directly onto the hair or combed more precisely in. If the pomade was used for the skin it was to achieve that shiny effect.

Pomade pot with octagonal vase-shaped body with flat pull-off lid, part of the Keir Toilet Service of silver made by Colin Mckenzie, Edinburgh, 1703 - 1704, for the Honourable Marion Stewart on her marriage to James Stirling of Keir, 24 February 1704
Pomade set, 1704
The word "pomade" is derived from the French word for apple ("pomme") since apples were often a part of the recipe. They were usually made of fat - bear and ox fat was favoured in the 18th century - and was considered a luxury item.

By the 1740's a courtier could not do without pomade. Consequently, new kinds of pomade were sold which were scented to make the sticky substance more appealing. Scents such as lemon, bergamot, jasmine and orange were wildly popular. Usually, pomade was sold in pots but already in 1750 new solid sticks of pomade appeared. They made it easier to get into all those curls and poufs required by fashion.

Pomade pots from Chantilly

However, there was another reason than just mere costumer-pleasing to the advent in scented pomades. A proper hairdo took time and quite a deal of money, so it was common to keep the hair in the same style for weeks - or pretty much until the pomade could no longer keep it together. As it happens the smell of grease rotting on top of one's head is not the pleasantest in the world. This is where the sweet flavours come in. In fact, the pomade would often become so rancid that lice, fleas and even rats was attracted by it!

Pomade Pot from a 12-piece Toilet Service, English, 1680,
English pomade pots, 1680

Since most pomade was sold in pots it did not take long for the perfumers to realise that their exclusive customers appreciated a beautiful packaging as well. Even Sèvres and Chantilly created pomade-pots!

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