Victorian Hairstyles: a short history, in photos

1880s 3

In the Victorian era, a woman’s hair was often thought to be one of her most valuable assets. Styles varied quite a bit throughout the nearly 7 decades of Queen Victoria’s reign, with everything from simple middle parts to elaborate pieces made from human hair being in fashion. Accessories such as combs, pearls, hats and bonnets each had their time in the spotlight throughout the 1800s. Victorians weren’t as serious as people think they were, but they sure took their hair seriously. Scroll down and take a look at some of the different ways Victorian women wore their hair from the 1830s to the turn of the century.

Hair was long in the Victorian age. Extremely long. Haircuts weren’t exactly a thing yet for women.They did occasionally trim split ends, or even singe them, but long hair was viewed as being ultra-feminine and desirable.

Victorian hairstyles, long 1

Victorian hairstyles, long 2

Victorian hairstyles, long 3

We can find plenty of photos of women wearing their long, wavy hair down. However, loose hair wasn’t something that “respectable” women would wear in public and was mostly a style used for the sake of art. Girls often wore their hair down, but were expected to begin wearing it up around the age of 15 or 16. More often than not the women with long, cascading hair were models and actresses intended to depict intimacy and romanticism.

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Victorian hairstyles, long 4

victorian hairstyles, long 5

When it comes to long hair, nobody could top the Seven Sutherland Sisters. They became a national sensation in the 1880s because of their hair (37 feet in total), and made a living doing musical performances with their hair down. They capitalized on it even further by producing a line of hair care products, and became quite rich. When the 1920s and the bob rolled around, they began to be ridiculed as unfashionable relics of the past and lost the public’s eye.

Victorian hairstyles Sutherland Sisters

Victorian hairstyles Grace Sutherland

Long hair styled in an updo was the way most women, especially upper class women, wore their hair during the 19th century. Neatness and cleanliness were important. Hairstyles also often reflected dress styles, with the entire silhouette of a woman being taken into account. To create more elaborate looks, women would use false pieces, usually made from human hair. These pieces were much easier to style and also added volume.

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Victorian hairstyles updos, 1867

Women in the 1830s usually rocked a clean middle part with their hair tied back in a neat bun, braids, or twist. Occasionally they curled the sides, but bangs weren’t in fashion.

Victorian hairstyles, Jane Franklin 1830s

Victorian hairstyles, Lady Harriet Georgiana Brudenell

Queen Victoria, 1837

In the 1840s, women began sporting “barley curls”, long ringlets that were worn mainly by children before they came into style for adults. Chignons moved to the back of the head.

Victorian hairstyles 1840s 1

Victorian hairstyles 1840s 2

Hoop skirts took over in the 1850s, and hair expanded to match. While still parting it in the middle, many women began padding the sides, creating large wings or rolls.

Victorian hairstyles, 1850s

Victorian hairstyles 1850s wings

Chignons began to move towards the back of the head in the 1860s, mimicking changes in dress style. Huge hoops reached max fullness and women began wearing dresses that were full in the back, giving the silhouette more of an S-shape.

Victorian hairstyles, Countess of Castiglione

Victorian hairstyles, 1860s

When bustles burst onto the scene in the 1870s, hair moved even higher.

1870s 1

1870s 2


Hair got a little weird in the 1880s. Pompadours appeared, sometimes accompanied by bangs. Just like the 80s of the 20th century, frizzy bangs were hot. Middle parts fell out of fashion.

1880s 1

1880s 2

1880s 3


Did you know that Victorian women had rats in their hair? No, not rodents. Rats (or ratts) were used to increase volume. They were usually made from the loose hair collected from a woman’s comb, which would be stuffed into a hair receiver — a small box or dish kept on the vanity table. Rats were used as padding to fluff out the sides or top of the hair, often in order to create a more balanced silhouette in which the head appeared to be approximately the same size as the waist.

The 1890s introduced a hairstyle that later became an Edwardian icon: the Gibson Girl look.


Would you wear any of these Victorian hairstyles? Let us know which one you think looks the best (or the worst) in the comments below.

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5 replies
  1. Danielle Harper
    Danielle Harper says:

    I like them all, and its interesting to see these women with their hair down. It would be interesting to try these hairstyles myself, since I am an enthusiast when it comes to the Victorian Era.

  2. Andrea
    Andrea says:

    I just wrote an article about Victorian hairstyles in contemporary looks for Thai audience and found some inspiration in this wonderfully written article, really thanks for it!


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