Sunday, June 7, 2015

Hair Dressing: 1855

"After a few experiments, a lady may very easily decide what mode of dressing her hair, and what head-dress, renders her face most attractive."

So, how were women wearing their hair in 1855?

Empress Eugenie, 1855, Winterhalter
The Empress EugĂ©nie Surrounded by her Ladies in Waiting (1855) by F. X. Winterhalter
"The Last of England" (1855) by Ford Brown
The Last of England (1855) by Ford M. Brown
"Harvester with Sickle" (1850-1855) by Corot
Harvester with Sickle, by J.-B.-C. Corot, c. 1850-5 

Magazine illustration, 1855
Magazine illustration, 1855
So, whether looking at the Empress or the agricultural worker, we have some consist styling. There's the basic T-part (center front to back, and then perpendicular behind the ears) with the back hair arranged up--likely in a chignon or coil.  The two major treatments of the side hair are ringlets, or brushed out over the ears to look as wide as possible.

An 1854 article in Arthur's Home Magazine notes that:
"For ordinary wear, plain bands on each side the temple, drawn out wide where the size and shape of the head admit of it, are principally seen. The back hair is formed into a French twist flat to the head, around which the rest is disposed in a close circle, either twisted, roped or braided, leaving the smooth twist displayed in the centre."
Incidentally, this "wide over the ears" look persists into the later '50s:
Six hair styles, from "How to Arrange the Hair" (1857)
From "How to Arrange the Hair", 1857
To do it, we'll start with the T-part and low braided bun from "Basics" post.

T-parted hair with back bun, basic 1850s-1860s hairstyle.
Starting point: back hair braided and coiled at
back of the head, side hair loose.
Even with my long and rather thick hair, some sort of structure is required to get the proper side-on fullness. Enter the rats.

Rats or frizettes for 1850s hairstyling.
Hello, rats!
The "rat" is a small bundle of hair--typically gleaned from the brush over a few weeks--which is held together by an invisible net.  I've also seen them made up with stretchy fabric (like old nylons) over hair or other padding, but my p.c. citations so far are for hair or silk (not that I've found an image or description of the latter).
China hair receiver, date unknown, from the author's collection.
It is not at all weird that I store hair on my dresser.
Anyway, after brush out my side hair, I separate it horizontally (about 75% above 25% below), and pin the rat underneath the bulk of the hair.  Small combs or wig clips stitched to the rat are preferred by some people--including Dana, the awesome lady who taught me how to do this properly.

Dividing the side hair.

Pining the rat into place.

Next, I smooth the hair over the rat, and adjust the positioning until I'm happy with it.  I then twist the hair behind/below the rat slightly, to help hold it in place.

Smoothing the hair over the rat, and twisting the excess.

Further fiddling occurs.  Once I'm satisfied with the look, I pin the twisted portion of the hair to the existing back bun.  I keep twisting the remaining hair and coiling it around, tucking in the ends once it's complete.

Finished 1850s wide side bands with rats or frizettes for volume.

Now, the tricky bit is to repeat the process on the other side, trying to get the rats in the same position, so the hair style is symmetrical.

Wide 1850s hair, top front view.

Once all my hair is pinned in place, I get a little pomade on my hands and rub it in over the top.  This help give a smooth, tidy period appearance--note the sheen in the period images.  I used to apply the pomade before styling, but it made my hair too slippery and the pins tended to slide out.

If desired, an invisible net can be added to help contain fly-aways.

Finally, the comb or other decorations are added.

1855 hairstyle: wide side bands with back braided bun.


  1. Nicely done! I've used that basic style quite a bit, but still need to make myself some rats. :)

  2. I avoided rats for a long time because I couldn't get the outer hair smoothed over them nicely. They really add volume.


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