Victorian era hairstyles in Britain were not just a matter of fashion. They were both intertwined with and a symbol of, social status, wealth, and personal identity. The contrast in hairdos between the affluent and the less fortunate was sometimes stark and often telling. We take a look at the different styles for men, women and children across the classes.
Pre-Victorian Hair Styles
Before Queen Victoria’s reign, hair fashion was quite distinct. The Georgian and Regency periods, preceding the Victorian era, favoured more natural hairdos. Women often wore their hair in uncomplicated updos or let it flow in gentle waves. Men’s hairstyles were relatively simple, with shorter hair and less emphasis on facial hair. As the Victorian era dawned, hairstyles evolved to become more elaborate and structured.
Changes in style reflected the growing emphasis on formality and decorum. New styles mirrored the momentum and intellectual shifts taking place across society.
How Did Victorian Children Have Their Hair?
In Victorian times, children’s hairstyles were a miniature reflection of adult fashion, albeit simpler. Girls typically had long hair, styled in soft, gentle curls or simple braids. They might often have ribbons or small flowers in their hair. The flowers would often be real but sometimes made of silk, particularly in the cold months when flowers were out of season.
Young boys, usually had their hair kept long and in curls until they reached a certain age, known as the ‘breeching age,’. At this stage of childhood they would start to wear trousers and their hair would be cut shorter. This grooming marked their passage towards a more ‘masculine’ appearance.
Much like their parents, Victorian children’s hairstyles were not just about looking presentable. Hair and appearance were also a reflection of the family’s social status and adherence to social norms.
How Did Affluent Victorian Men Have Their Hair?
Victorian men wore their hair in a variety of different styles. Beyond ‘fashion’, these styles were a symbol of a man’s dignity and social standing. Here are some of the popular styles, each reflecting a different aspect of masculinity:
1. The Side Part
This style is still regionally popular amongst the ‘well-to-do’ gentlemen in society. The side part(ing) was all about understated elegance. Hair was neatly parted on one side, often combed flat with a slight pomade to maintain its place.
2. Slicked Back Look
For a more formal appearance, men slicked their hair back using oils or pomades. This was a particularly popular style amongst young businessmen and those in the public eye. It remained popular well into the 20th Century, but evolved to incorporate a slick back top, with short, clean sides. Products like Brylcream were commonly used to maintain the slick shape and look well into the late 1900’s, and are still sold today.
3. The Mutton Chops
Facial hair was a significant aspect of men’s grooming in this age. Mutton chops – large, bushy sideburns that extended down the jawline – were a statement of virility and were often paired with a neatly styled hairdo. It’s a look more aligned to country living today, and not often sported by the wealthy anymore. But in the Victorian era it was very popular.
4. The Full Beard
The full beard though not uncommon before Victorian times, really saw a surge in popularity toward the latter half of the era. These magnificent facial beards were often well-groomed and maintained, sometimes with oils. The look was often adopted by those in intellectual or educational fields, and more popular amongst older men. They may accompany a full head of hair, short or long but were also popular on those with a balding scalp too.
5. The Dandy Style
Influenced by the ‘dandy’ fashion movement, this style involved neatly combed hair, often with a middle part, and a more tailored approach to facial hair. It presented a polished and sophisticated appearance and is a style that has stuck with us. You can still see it widely today, across all classes.
How Did Affluent Victorian Women Have Their Hair?
Victorian women usually had long hair, with many different elaborate styles. Hair was often used like a canvas to display wealth and femininity. Here are a few of the common styles of the time. Some of the images are modern representations used to give an example of the style.
1. The Chignon
A versatile style where hair was gathered into a low bun at the nape. It could be simple for everyday wear or elaborately adorned with accessories for special occasions. The photo here is an example of how the Chignon is still used today as a popular style.
Younger women and girls often wore their hair in soft ringlets framing the face. This style was seen as youthful and demure. While still seen today, more modern versions of the style tend to use more open rings, less framing and more flowing.
3. The Pompadour
Inspired by Madame de Pompadour (a 18th Century mistress of King Louis XV), this style involved sweeping the hair upwards from the face and wearing it high over the forehead. It was often volumized with hairpieces to create an imposing silhouette.
It’s a style we most commonly associate with men such as Elvis or James Dean, popularised by these cultural icons in the 20th Century. Before it was a popular style for men and children though, it was popular amongst affluent women.
4. The Gibson Girl Updo
Popularized towards the end of the Victorian era, this style involved piling hair atop the head in a loose and slightly tousled manner, often with a few strands artfully escaping around the face. It epitomised the idealised female image of feminine beauty at the time. The style takes it’s name from artist Charles Dana Gibson, who at the end of the 19th Century, would draw images for popular magazines of women sporting this style. It started out as an American style, popular amongst young fashionable women, with an athletic and confident nature.
5. The Braided Crown
Braids were not just for children; adult women also wore them. Hair was braided and then wrapped around the head like a crown, sometimes incorporating ribbons or flowers. This style was both practical and elegant, keeping hair neatly away from the face and neck.
6. The Marcel Wave
Introduced towards the end of the Victorian era, the Marcel Wave was a game-changer in hair fashion. Created by François Marcel in the late 19th century (1870’s), this technique involved using a heated iron to produce controlled waves in the hair. Unlike the natural curls of ringlets, the Marcel Wave offered a more stylized and lasting wave pattern.
Though popular, it wasn’t seen often at first. The irons used to curl the hair properly were not widely available until the patented curling iron came about at the start of the 20th Century. The style became immensely popular later into the 1920’s, loved for its elegant and sophisticated look. It oozed both modernity and femininity and was a precursor to the modern-day crimping and waving techniques that dominated the 1900’s.
Victorian Era Hairstyles Of The Working Class
People at the other end of the social spectrum, the working and lower classes, often had very different hairstyles from their wealthy neighbours. Mostly as a result of economic priorities, but also for practical reasons. There was no point in a chimney sweep sporting a neat side parting for example. It wouldn’t last long! Here’s a closer look at the typical hair styles for the lower classes:
Practical and Low Maintenance
Hair As touched on above, for poor men, practicality was key. Hairstyles in this demographic were generally simple and low maintenance. The style reflected their working-class status and the more ‘grounded’ needs of their daily labour. They weren’t trying to show off or display their wealth and status.
Short and Functional
Hair was usually kept short to avoid interference with work and to minimize the need for upkeep. Short hair was easier to keep clean and less likely to harbour lice, a common problem in the crowded and unsanitary living conditions many poor people endured. Once someone in a household had lice, they would spread like wildfire around the slums.
Natural and Unstyled
Unlike the upper classes who used various products to style their hair, poor men’s hair was typically left natural. There was little to no use of oils or pomades, both due to the cost and the lack of necessity for such styling in their daily lives.
Rough and Unkempt Appearance
Given the harsh living and working conditions, along with limited access to hygiene facilities, the hair of poor men often appeared rough and unkempt. Regular haircuts were a luxury, so their hair might have grown unevenly or appeared shaggy.
Facial hair, such as beards and moustaches, was common among the working class, partly due to the lack of regular shaving. Shaving required both time and resources (like razors and shaving soap), which were scarce. Beards and moustaches were often kept short and functional, without the elaborate grooming seen in higher social classes.
How Victorians Kept Their Hair Up
Wealthy Victorians used a range of different tools and methods to maintain their elaborate hairstyles. Much like today, hairpins and combs were perhaps the two most essential items for securing hair in place. Additionally, hairnets were used to keep styles intact, especially for women engaged in work or during windy conditions. The use of hairpieces and pads was not just for volume but also helped in giving shape and support to the elaborate updos.
Did Victorians Dye Their Hair
Hair dyeing in the Victorian era was not as common or as advanced as it is today, but some did experiment with natural dyes. These dyes were not very good quality, limited in colour and not very long-lasting. One popular method was to use henna for bringing out reddish tones. Some more ‘out there’ solutions involved using materials like walnut shells to attempt to darken lighter shades of hair.
It was much easier to change your hair colour simply by wearing a wig than to try and dye in during this age.
Fake Hair In Victorian Times
Believe it or not, fake hair was widespread in Victorian times, especially among the upper classes. Various styles of wigs, hairpieces, and extensions were all used to create or amplify styles to taste. Extensions helped to create the voluminous and intricate styles that were fashionable at the time. Wigs on the other hand were often used to disguise baldness and thin hair, or to create elaborate pompous styles.
These hair additions were often made from real human hair and could be quite expensive, serving as just another a status symbol.
Hair Pieces In Victorian Times
Hair pieces in Victorian times were not just for aesthetics but also a practical solution for women who lacked natural volume. These pieces came in various forms – from false braids to buns and even elaborate curls. They were often custom-made to match the wearer’s hair colour and texture as closely as possible.
Crimping And Curling
Crimping and curling were popular techniques to add texture and volume to Victorian hairstyles, particularly later in the period. Heated irons were used to create curls, which were then set with pins until they cooled. Crimping irons, with their zigzag patterns, were used to create waves and add body to the hair.
What Is Mourning Hair?
Mourning hair was a unique Victorian tradition where hair from a deceased loved one was woven into jewellery or keepsakes. There was a broader culture of mourning in the Victorian era of which this was just a small part. Hair, being durable and not prone to decay, was seen as an ideal keepsake.
Did Victorians Remove Body Hair
Body hair removal was not widely practiced or discussed in Victorian times. The focus was primarily on the hair on the head. However, some women did remove facial hair, and there were various depilatory creams and razors available for this purpose, though they were not commonly used.