Fashion played a big part in smuggling – especially among women who could conjure up all sorts of imaginative ways to carry their contraband.
First, though, we need to understand the ideal fashion statement concerning hair and cosmetics of the 18th century. This will help us appreciate an ingenuity of smuggling that was later discovered by customs officers.
Hair that was black, brown, or blonde (particularly during Marie-Antoinette’s reign) was fashionable; strong red hair was unfashionable and would often be dyed a different colour.
Chestnut and strawberry blonde were popular and the hair was worn in a wavy or curly texture. The forehead was high, her cheeks plump and rosy, and her skin was white.
Fashionable eye colors included black, chestnut, or blue; eyebrows were divided (ie no monobrows), slightly full, semicircular, and tapered at the ends in a half moon shape. Her lips were small, with a slightly larger bottom lip creating a rosebud effect, soft, and red.
One fashion in particular caught the smuggling imagination – the Lady’s High Head. It took a great deal of poise and strong deportment to carry it off as this article from the Oxford Journal (Saturday 14 September 1771) illustrates:
“One Day last Week an Officer of the Customs of Rochester, searched a young Lady’s high Head, on an Information, and found concealed in her Roll a large Quantity of foreign Lace, which he seized; it is thought this new Mode of Smuggling has been practised with great Success, but by the above Discovery the Ladies Heads will be often subject to an Examination, which will discommode the Oeconomy of their Hair. If this Fact should induce the Fair Sex to lower their Heads to a moderate Standard, it will be a full Proof that Custom-House Officers are an useful Body of Men.”
There are quite a few accounts of the Ladies of Society going for a sail along the Medway and visiting East India ships. The ladies came back to port far more ‘copious in proportion’ than when they left. Indeed, an official complaint was made to the Royal Household concerning the Ladies of Court who were going for trips to the seaside, stopping off at boats in the estuary to pick up cheap silk and lace as a little reminder of the day.
Perhaps this is one reason Why we find Mr William Baldock, gentleman smuggler, purchasing at least two hoys to run between Whitstable and London. These boats operated once a fortnight which begs the question, what were they doing for the rest of the time?