Wavy Hair in Old Photos: Spot the Right Decade

By Maureen A. Taylor

The next time you curl your hair, think about the success of 19th-century hairdresser Marcel Grateau. In 1872, he turned hair tongs upside down when styling a stage star’s hair, and created a trend that remained popular for more than 50 years!

Last week I discussed Jim DeVogt’s funeral card for a woman named Jane Early. He’d like to know if this photo shows Jane Early.

Right away her hairstyle stood out. It’s the Marcel Wave. In this circa 1878-1880 image, this fashionable young woman not only shows off the latest hair fashion, but also a very trendy collar.

Religious motif jewelry also was worn in the 1870s. Her choice of accessories could be fashion or faith.

Jane (Darcy) Early, born in Ireland in 1828, died in Wabasha County, Minn., in 1891. Is this Jane? The big question is, how old do you think this woman is? If this photo was taken in 1878, Jane would be 50. I think this woman looks too young, but everyone ages at different rates.

Provenance could be key. This photo is from Jim’s aunt, who inherited it from her mother, who had been married to Hugh Darcy. There are multiple marriages between the Darcy and Early families. The aunt thought that the photo album in which this image appeared had once belonged to the Early family, but the last member of that family died in 1906.

I’d love to see your pictures featuring the Marcel Wave. Send in your pictures of women from the 1870s through the 1930s wearing the Wave through the ages using this blog’s How to Submit guidelines.

You can learn more about using hair to date your old family photos from my book Hairstyles 1840-1900.

Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now