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.

Gibson_Girl_by_Charles_Dana_Gibson

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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12 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.

    Reply
  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!

    Reply
  3. Lorie N Davis
    Lorie N Davis says:

    I edit for a historical clothing expert of international repute, Dr. Carma de Jong Anderson. In all her descriptions of 1800s hair, she insists that DURING that era, what we call a “bun” was called a “bob.” The short haircut we now call a bob, didn’t exist in the 1800s, and a “bob” was a bun or a chignon. Does anybody, anywhere have a source that backs up the “bun” as a “bob” during the 1800s? I would be desperately glad for an answer, as Google doesn’t have one.

    Reply
  4. Robert
    Robert says:

    Read 1 corinthians 11:15. Actually read 1 corinthians 11:1-16. Before the 1920s most of the woman had long hair, because of this versus, after the 1920s women became more liberal and independent, more away from God.

    Reply
  5. Marilyn Baird
    Marilyn Baird says:

    Love the Gibson girl look. I keep trying to do it as my hair gets longer. I love the Victorian age. I was born too late but I still imitate as much as I can. I am an older lady so I can do whatever suits my fancy.

    Reply
  6. Debra Fenwick
    Debra Fenwick says:

    I could relate to the comment about rats in the hair and using a small jar to receive loose hair.I was born in 1951,the generation that used a ‘rattail’comb to ‘rat’the top of my hair to acheive fulness or make it stay in place.I have never heard of the word ratts and it’s meaning.I had never questioned why we used the verb ‘rat’when we styled our hour.I googled the word ratts and no such word was found.
    My aunt once showed me a jar she kept on her dressing table.She said it was a hair receiver and was used to receive or collect hair.At the time it did not occur to me to ask what the hair was used for.But over the years I think about that little fancy jar and the hair it collected and I would assume that the hair was used to make pin cushins.My grandmother did a lot of sewing and made a lot of decorative pincushions out of empty tuna fish cans.She used cotton to stuff them but I assumed she would have used human hair if available as I had always heard hair was great for keeping the needles sharp.I have even tried to make a human hair pin cushion to see if it worked to keep needles sharp.In the decades following my Aunt’s remark I would ponder the the beauty of that little glass jar and I would ofton wonder if hair receivers was a common place item to be found on the dressing tables of women of the 1920 generation.I know my Mom certainly never used one.
    The reason I visited this website was because I stated thinking about my grandmother and how she wore her hair.Granny lived to be 101 years old and in all that time she had one hairstyle that never changed.I only saw her with her hair loose and hanging down her shoulders one time early in the morning soon after washing her hair.I was pretty impressed with the lenght.What I should have been impressed about was the fact that her hair always was exactly the same and nice and neat with never a hair out of place.I remember that she used weird old fashioned bobby pins and her hair was rolled in a bun.Granny would put on a small hat on Sunday’s and it would be enough to give a little height on top.I might give the bun style a try,I dont have the patience or stamina to hold my arms above my head to use a hot brush And curlers are so out of style, But I shall have to wait on the bun,I recently cut all my long hair off in a fit of displeasure of not being able to be old and have long hair.

    Reply
  7. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    An 80 year old friend has vivid memories of her grandmother whose hair was thick and fell to her knees even in old age. It must have taken forever to braid all that hair and pin it up.

    Reply

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