What's a Pomatum?

January 1831 Magazine of the Beau Monde

In A Duke in Shining Armor (and in other of my books),  the term pomatum appears. If the context leads you to believe that this has something to do with styling hair,  you’ll be right.

A pomatum,  based on a grease of some kind (usually lard), was used to style hair and to keep it smoothly in place, like today’s gels, mousses, hair waxes, and sprays.

March 1831 Magazine of the Beau Monde

Some recipes call for bear grease, but it appears that other forms of grease or fat usually masqueraded as bear grease (luckily for the bears). The initial reaction of the modern mind to putting lard and/or suet in the hair is ick. But re-enactors don’t seem to find it icky, and some have become converts to the 18th and 19th century ways of caring for the hair.

May 1831 Magazine of the Beau Monde

Parisian Pomatum was one formula I came across again and again, in all kinds of books and magazines. Very often, I saw the exact same recipe in several different publications, a reminder that copyright was not protected, and publications stole freely from one another. I'm listing several recipes here, to show both variations and the extent of "borrowing."

A New Supplement to the Pharmacopoeias of London, Edinburgh, Dublin, and Paris: Forming a Complete Dispensatory and Conspectus; Including the New French Medicines and Poisons (1833).  Recipe here.

The Art of Preserving the Hair (1825).  Recipe here.

The Art of Beauty (1825). Recipe here.
The Duties of a Lady's Maid (1825).  Recipe here.

Finally, in the London Magazine (1826) you’ll find this lovely rant about the advice offered in The Duties of a Lady's Maid.

If you'd like details about how milady’s maid arranged the complicated styles of the 1820s and 1830s, you may peruse my Two Nerdy History Girls blog post on the subject.

Susan, the other Nerdy History Girl, offered this post on one of the fashionable hair accessories.

Portions of this post appeared previously at Two Nerdy History Girls, but the images did not. The images are hair styles from 1830s ladies' magazines online. Gallery first row, left to right: all from May 1833 Magazine of the Beau Monde; second row left to right: June 1833 Magazine of the Beau Monde, June 1833 World of Fashion (courtesy Los Angeles Public Library, Casey Fashion Plates collection), August 1833 Magazine of the Beau Monde