Every fashion era evokes a hairstyle, from the functional to the fanciful. In our lifetimes, Farrah Fawcett’s blowout, the Beatles’ bowl cuts and Dorothy Hamill’s sculpted wedge were coiffures that launched a thousand cuts. For our 19th-century ancestors, Queen Victoria and Gen. Ambrose Burnside were the hairstyle trendsetters. Just like today’s fashionistas, our ancestors wanted to emulate celebrities’ styles.
Women parted their hair in the center—a trend that would continue for most of the century—and had locks of hair in front with ringlets that looped over the ears. By the end of the 1840s, all the fullness was at the sides, and hair always covered the ears. Ladies wore wide bonnets that hugged the back of the head and framed the face, with the ringlets visible. Large combs decorated their hairstyles, while in the evenings, women donned feathers, flowers and wreaths as hair accessories.
The 1850s were a tumultuous time for men’s hair. Disagreements over the appropriateness of beards continued, and the Bank of England prohibited mustaches during work hours, leaving one to wonder how a man could manage having facial hair only on his own time. The answer was simple: false beards and mustaches. In 1850, The Knickerbocker magazine ran three months of articles against beards, and in 1853, author and hair product manufacturer Alexander Rowland published a book, The Human Hair, in support of them. By the end of the 1850s, beards had gained public favor, and side whiskers were increasing in size and popularity. On their heads, men wore their hair long on top, often with a side part, combed into a wave at the center of the forehead. Macassar oil, lard or bear grease was used to keep hair smooth (see box, page 58).
By 1864, Empress Eugenie of France was the style icon, inspiring women to pile their hair into rolls. The center part for women remained dominant, with hair covering most of the ear. The idea was to frame the face using rolls (enhanced by cushions) or braids that met at the back of the head. In the late 1860s, a French style known as the Parisian chignon became popular. Ringlets, decorative hairnets and braids that encircled the head were all in fashion. In order to duplicate these styles, women needed more hair. In 1860, the United States imported 200,000 pounds of hair, harvested primarily from French and German peasant girls. American women who couldn’t afford real hair used flax, wool or horsehair instead.
Rutherford B. Hayes and James A. Garfield followed his lead.
Long, free-flowing hair enhanced by hairpieces and large combs was all the rage for women at the beginning of the 1870s. This youthful waterfall style replaced the long sausage curls of the late 1860s. If you weren’t born with a naturally wavy head of hair, you could use the recently invented curling iron. During the mid-1870s, women wore large buns or braids on top of their heads, with jewels, beads, ribbons and flowers as decoration. Bangs briefly took precedence over the center part—they were frizzed or made of tightly wound corkscrews of fake hair. After the Centennial International Exhibition of 1876 in Philadelphia, women began to wear Spanish mantillas—lace or silk scarves draped over the head and shoulders. On the cusp of the 1880s, frizzed bangs remained in vogue, with buns worn low on the back of the head or hair in a single braided loop. Women’s magazines such as Peterson’s published step-by-step illustrations of fashionable hairdressing.
Women’s hair was tame compared to the previous decade’s trends. While there was some frizzing of bangs, flat bangs were common by mid-decade. Ladies pulled their hair back in a severe fashion, and wire foundations assisted in creating French twists. Actress Lillie Langtry’s pompadour hairstyle was popular.
blogspot.com>.) Mothers, inspired by the Little Lord Fauntleroy stories by Frances Hodgson Burnett, gave their sons long curls, known as love-locks. It can be difficult to separate the girls from the boys in this era, but there’s one easy trick to tell them apart: girls’ hair was usually parted in the middle, and boys’ on the side.
The look for men in the ’90s was neat—short hair with a cleanshaven face. With a shave costing just 10 cents on average, men visited their barbers often—even daily—to maintain a tidy appearance and to network. (See the sidebar on page 57 for more on hair salon history.) If a man sported a mustache, it was a handlebar, kept shapely by using special combs, brushes and wax.
duplicate the style with hair pulled back to the nape of the neck. They wore side or center parts with full hair on the crown of the head accented with tall combs, or went after a Grecian look of topknots accented with hair jewelry. In this period, women’s heads tended to look small in comparison with their puffy sleeves.
Men forsaking facial hair inspired salesman King Camp Gillette to create a disposable razor in 1895. Sales were initially slow, but by giving away safety razors and selling the replacement blades, Gillette sold 90,000 razors and more than 12 million blades. The majority of men wore short hair; long locks were associated with artists and musicians.
By early in the 20th century, men were tired of women’s hair contrivances and advocated for a more natural look. French hairdresser Marcel Grateau had invented the curling iron in the 1870s, and the “Marcel wave” was popular in the United States by the advent of World War I. Long hair was dangerous to women working in factories during the war, so they copied dancer Irene Castle’s bobbed hair. The style ushered in 50 years of short hair. The trend was slow to catch on, but by 1918, many young women decided it was time to shear short. It was a revolution.
19th Century Hairstyles <www.demodecouture.com/hair>
The Hair Archives <www.hairarchives.com>
Hairstyle History <www.costumegallery.com/hairstyles.htm>
Mustaches of the Nineteenth Century <mustachesofthenineteenthcentury.blogspot.com>
The History of Hair by Ann Charles and Roger DeAnfrasio (Bonanza, out of print)
An Illustrated History of Hairstyles 1830-1930 by Marian I. Doyle (Schiffer, $39.95)
My Likeness Taken: Daguerreian Portraits in America by Joan Severa (Kent State University Press, $65)
The Long and Short of It by Bill Severn (David McKay Co., out of print)