Saturday, June 6, 2015

1855-1865 Hair Dressing: 'The Look' and A Basic Tutorial

Frontispiece from "How to Arrange the Hair", 1857
Artist's Rendering of the Process
"A lady can never be said to be well dressed, unless her hair be tastefully arranged, and in a style perfectly in keeping with the other portions of her costume. "
Lady's Home Magazine, 1858

Costumers and reenactors take note, the public does notice when you neglect tonsorial adornment. Fortunately, help is at hand!

No matter your current modern style, there is something you can do to approximate, if not reproduce, a typical mid-Victorian hairstyle--and if all else fails, there's always a nice, covering sunbonnet.

First, what is the style we're trying to emulate?  The details will, of course, vary with year, location, age, and your persona's personal fashion.  Let's look at some of the options c. 1855-65.

Detail of two women's hair, "The Young Wife: First Stew" (1854)
Detail from The Young Wife: First Stew by Lilly Martin Spencer, 1854
Note the stylish side hair of the wife (very wide, covering the ears), and the simpler, tight rolls used by the maid-servant.  Both have a center part, with the hair contained at the back of the head.

Opera coiffure of ringlets and chignon, from Godey's, 1858
Godey's 1858: Opera coiffure with 
side hair in tidy ringlets, back hair in a coil
Wreath over dressed hair, Peterson's 1859
Peterson's 1859: wreath over dressed hair;
shows the 'Y' or 'T' part from the back
"New Style for Dressing the Hair" in Peterson's, 1862.
Peterson's 1862: crimped and braided side hair with an "S" twist at the back
Detail of woman's and girl's hair, from "The Lesson" (1861) by Jules Trayer
Detail from The Lesson by Jules Trayer, 1861
The woman wears modest side rolls, with a decorative comb over a braided back bun.
Hair detail from an 1862 colored fashion plate in Peterson's Magazine.
Peterson's, 1862: rolls or waves at the side,
contained at the back with a net over it
Ball Head-Dress from Peterson's, 1865
Ball Coiffure, 1865: a "waterfall" back
with braids and many ornamnents
New Fashion of Dressing the Hair, Peterson's, 1865
Peterson's,1865: high side rolls with
the back hair woven into three faux-braids
While the side hair may be rolled, braided, curled, crimped, or smoothed out over 'rats' (small pads of hair), some principles underlie most 1850s to mid-1860s women's hairstyles.
  • Center part--looking at hundreds of period images, I've seen 1 side part* and a few slightly-off-center parts. Earlier in the '50s, you'll occasionally see a V-shaped part, with two parts converging at the forehead, but the center line is most common.
  • A second part, orthogonal to the center, divides the side hair from the back; this makes a "T" with the center part, or the second one may be angled back behind the ears into a "Y" shape.
  • The bulk of the hair is confined at the back of the head, typically low
  • Excepting ringlets, the side hair usually moves out (away from the face) and back (incorporated into the back hair)
  • Short hair is rare on mature women, but popular for younger teens and girls; I've never seen a period image with bangs in the 1850s or 1860s.
  • Decorations (combs, nets, wreaths, caps) are added to or over dressed hair, they do not substitute for it.
  • As a general trend, stylish side hair goes "out" from the head at ear level in the early 50s, streamlines/collapses around 1860, and then starts creeping up to the temples in the mid-60s (much as the bonnets sit low and round about the face in the mid-50s, then start narrowing at the cheeks and rising over the forehead into the early 60s)
Detail of a girl's Hair from Solomon's "Second Class- The Parting" (1855)
Detail from A. Solomon's
"Second Class- The Parting", 1855
Detail from a study for Solomon's "Second Class", c. 1854
A Study for "Second Class" by A. Solomon, c. 1854



















This painting and study by Abraham Solomon shows the side part to great effect.  I'll be using its simple side twist in the "basic hairstyle" of this post.  It's a nice, conservative treatment of the side-hair, which is fast, requires little extra equipment, and won't look drastically out of place in the year span we're looking at.  More stylish options will be forthcoming.

Step 1: Part your hair down the middle of the head.

A center part.
Don't make your part sloppy like this.

Step 2: Make a second part behind the ears, perpendicular to the first; together these parts make a "T" shape from above.

A second, "T-shaped", part.


Step 3: Braid the back hair (or skip to step 4).  Some people feel more confident if they make a ponytail and then braid it; others think this destabilizes the structure.  I prefer it without the ponytail.

1850s or 1860s hair, step three: braiding the back hair


Step 4: Wind the braid around itself, making a coil at the back of the head.  Pin it in pace. If your hair is long enough to wrap around more that once, it will help to stick at least one pin in round.  To keep it in place, try to catch on each pin some of the braided hair and some of the hair underneath the bun. If using straight steel pins, 'weaving' the pin back and forth when putting it in with help it stay put.

Coiling the back hair into a twist (bun).

Step 5: Tuck the tail of the braid under the bun, and secure with a pin.

Step 6: Grasp the left side hair in your left hand, and raise it so it's straight out.  Smooth this hair out with a brush, then twist the hair by rotating your wrist clockwise.  You can make the twist as tight or as loose as you like.  If you have long-ish bangs, you can try to incorporate them into this twist (a bit of pomade can help).
Brushing the side hair out for an 1850s/1860s hairstyle.

Twisting the side hair.


Step 7: Wrap tail of the twisted hair around the back bun, pinning it in place as you go.  Tuck the ends and pin into place.

Step 8: Repeat with the right side hair.

Basic 1850s/1860s hairdo, side view.


Step 9: Apply a small amount of pomade (I like beeswax-based ones), or oil to your hair and smooth it over the hair to help contain fly-aways and get a sleek Victorian look.  I used to work in the pomade before styling, which may have been the reason my hair kept managing to slide out of place...

Step 10: Wear as is, or add a decorative comb, hair net**, cap, or other embellishment of choice.  Don't forget your bonnet when going outdoors!

1850s or 1860s hairdo, back view with comb.


Miscellaneous tips to mid-Victorian hair styling (with thanks to Betsy, Liz, and Dana, who have all given me useful advice and help on this topic):
  • Freshly washed hair is difficult to style in this manner; if possible, give the hair a day or two to get 'tacky' before you need to dress it.
  • Too much pomade can make the hair very slippery. Use sparingly
  • Pin placement takes a bit of practice.  Bobby pins are meant for bobs (short hair), and aren't ideal for this sort of hair styling.  When wearing a back comb, I prefer to concentrate my pins at the 3 o'clock and 9 o'clock regions of the bun, so I'm not sliding a comb over pins.
  • If you need to use modern elastics, try small ones which match your hair color.
Coming Soon: Stylish variants of this basic 'do for the 1850s and the 1860s, and working around modern hair cuts.

*These instructions from 1861 (London) state that side parts should directly line up with the center of the eyebrow, either left or right.  It also goes on to explain the center parts are universally flattering, and my perusal of period images suggests that most women agreed with this pronouncement.

**Before selecting a net, I would recommend reading Anna Bauersmith's article To Net or Not to Net and looking at her compilation of original images.  Elizabeth Stewart Clark's Getting Snoody is also a good (and cheeky) read.

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