October 29, 2023

Gaurav Monga

The Posticheur 

There are very few people left who would recognise this profession. Ever since women have started wearing their hair short, the craft of a posticheur is not merely not recognised but even some hairdressers today are unfamiliar with the term, ‘postiche’, the art and craft of hairwork performed largely on a good work bench with sufficient light, the right tools and a wooden head. It is told that there was a time in England during the reign of Queen Mary when hairdressers were also expert posticheurs as witnessed with Queen Mary’s well known ‘false attires’ for her hair. At one point in time, each hairdressing salon in many parts of the world had its own workroom in which postiche of all kinds were made for sale and to special order. It was in these kinds of workrooms where young hairdressers first handled hair. It was here where they learnt to appreciate its texture, to observe the fine degrees of tone and colour and to notice the way it  ‘fell’  into waves or curls.

Wearing one’ s hair short for women is by no means new. There have been instances of women wearing their hair short as far back as the ancient Egyptian civilisation, but in our modern times we can attribute the ‘ bob’ and the ‘shingle’ to the genius of the Parisian hairdresser, M. Antoine. Short hair has become ubiquitous, hence the role of the posticheur—the maker of fringes, transformations, switches, pin curls, fronts, the foundation upon which wigs are made—has slowly grown increasingly obsolete. Not that it has completely vanished, for as long as women keep losing  their hair,  posticheurs still have a function in society, albeit a marginal one.

Today, the posticheur has no choice but to resort to cutting fresh hair off people’s heads—there is just not enough money in making fringes, switches or wigs—although he truly prefers to handle hair, for example, accumulated over a period of time fallen onto people’s combs. He likes cleaning this hair that often gets dusty and matted by washing the ‘combings’ as this hair is often referred to, but prior to that he must shake out all the dust, as much as possible, into the open air. For the purposes of successful postiche work, however, the posticheur must turn the roots, else the final work would appear as if ridden with nits—white roots, in particular present an appearance not so dissimilar from nits. It is from these vagrant combings, these left-overs of fallen hair that emerge some of the most glorious wigs a posticheur may make in his life. Often, he prefers not to resort to artifice, for a lot of postiche work, especially for the purposes of the theatre, cinema and in some countries for the fraternity of lawyers, substitutes of human hair is used. This artificial hair is usually made of jute, horsehair, goathair, thread and silk. Judicial and legal wigs often constitute a special branch of postiche, comprising a group of wig makers unconnected with the hairdressing profession, as such.  

Tilda Swinton in Orlando (1992), Costumes: Sandy Powell and Dien van Straalen; Korean gache (traditional wig), Yun Yong ‘presumed’, 19th C.; Comme des Garçons Homme Plus SS16, Hair: Julien d’Ys, Photo: Ilker Akyol.

Some posticheurs do not resort to using hair substitutes. They dislike artifice, and feel sorry for those who have to resort to postiche; that at least they should not have to adorn the hair of another beast, that at least they should wear, if not their own, hair fallen off someone else’s head. Naturally, the posticheur must frequent hair markets. Asiatic hair is cheap, whereas European hair is expensive. White or gray hair is much more expensive than the more normal shades of brown or black. It is, however, possible to produce white or gray hair by means of bleaching.

The posticheur then gathers hair that he collects from stray combs—even his own—and some hair he purchases in the market.  After preparing the hair, the delicate process of mixing all the gathered hair begins, for even if there happens to be the exact shade of hair required in stock, it is most unlikely that the lengths will match. It is often necessary to mix several lengths of hair of a similar shade to produce a natural-looking tress. Most posticheurs do indulge in dyeing and tinting hair using things like Bismarck powders and Nigrosin, but some prefer to leave their postiche work, just as is, with as little artifice as possible; complete artifice is unavoidable and not even desired, for in that case postiche work would cease to exist. There are, however, organic postiche dyes but some posticheurs abstain from those as well. They would rather have their switches, fringes, fronts, toupees to be made of natural hair. Of course, the procedures to make postiche are very complicated in technical detail, but by virtue of making knots, weaving and wefting hair, one finally arrives at the art of making wigs, which was usually the main staple upon which the livelihoods of posticheurs rested.

Nowadays, however, these wigs don’t rest so much on people’s heads but are more at ease on the wooden heads in the workshop and on the heads of tall mannequins standing at clothing storefronts. The posticheur often awaits a large theatre or cinema production in his city that may require his skill, the art of postiche, a dying but not altogether finished craft. 

Gaurav Monga is an author and educator originally from New Delhi. He is the author of several books; his current literary work looks at the relationship between fashion and literature. More about Gaurav and his work can be seen at www.gauravmon.ga