I enjoy giving advice to others on how to get unique hairstyles.
Hair, as it happens, is an amazing indicator of time. Anyone can tell you this after going through old photo albums, looking at vintage advertisements, and watching old movies and television shows. Hair speaks volumes about certain decades— even specific years!
Now, I'm all for keeping up with fashion trends, but I also want to lessen the number of times I cringe at dated hairstyles, so I have been researching completely off-trend styles: hairstyles from 100 years back or more.
While I expected most of these styles to be too strange for modern use, or too time-consuming to be practical, I was pleasantly surprised to find that many historical hairstyles are not only fetching, but completely doable! The Victorian era has some of the best. Let's have a look at the time period's predominant coiffures. Perhaps you can take one or two of them for a spin!
As the Victorian period was in its infancy, it was popular for women to arrange their hair in an updo collected at the back of the head, complimented by one or more loops of hair leading from the front of the hair to this arrangement at the back, sort of like a sash.
The fun thing about recreating this style is:
- It does not require a lot of effort.
- It is unique: NOBODY wears their hair like this these days!
- It is an option for straight-haired ladies who do not feel like curling or crimping their hair.
Of course, this style is NOT ideal for the modern woman who moves around a lot (something proper Victorian ladies didn't have to worry about so much), nor is it all that feasible to those with curly hair (unless they might choose to braid those loops, which would look pretty cool). Still, it might be a fun choice for a quiet day—especially if you feel like trying something novel!
Queen Victoria's Hairstyles
It would be silly to discuss Victorian style without mentioning the influence of Queen Victoria.
When it comes to hair, this icon kept things pretty simple. In nearly all of her portraits, Princess Victoria, and later Queen Victoria, parted her hair down the center, looped her glossy hair around the sides, and secured what remained in an updo.
The fanciest styles I've seen her exhibit involved piling her braids high on her head, but she seemed to do this mostly when she was younger. In one 1935 self-portrait as Princess of Kent (below), Princess Victoria also sports some fancy curls at the side of her face, in addition to the braid-crown worn at the top of her head.
In her later years, Queen Victoria seems to have opted mostly for the simplest possible hairstyle and was more often than not photographed with just a bit of tightly pulled back hair peeping out form under a veil, bonnet, or hat.
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Hot irons were introduced as hair styling devices during the Victorian era, which resulted in the popularity of crimped updos.
One of these styles, known as the "Marcel Wave," involved using a hot iron on the hair to create a loose wavy updo which was similar to that shown by the women in the image above.
The Victorian Era's predilection for accessories made a big difference when it came to the crimping style—the waves look great when tied back with combs, flowers, ribbons, and strings of beads.
The Victorian Mullet
One more thing that many Victorian women did with curling irons was cut the hair around their faces very short, and then crimp it, leaving a sort of curly fringe around their faces. I just can't condone this. I see it as the Victorian Mullet. Alas, you will see it make many an appearance in Victorian-era portraits.
Use of Curls in the Victorian Era
Curls had been stylish for decades and decades before the Victorian period ever began, but they certainly took a turn for the creative during this time.
Some Victorian use of curls was influenced by the Regency era, in which curls were often worn in medium coils that framed the face. This style is apparent in the self-portrait sketch of Princess Victoria, which was created before the Victorian era, which officially began in 1837.
Also in the early 19th century, children were known to sport "sugar curls" or "barley curls," which were long ringlets that hung down from the rest of their hair. During the latter half of the century, women began to adapt the style to their own updos, leaving one or two long curls hanging down from a more polished coiled bun or similarly twisty updo.
Re-creating this look is much easier today than it was back then! With the help of a curling iron and some hairspray, you can create a coiled lock of hair that will hold its form for several hours.
Fun With Braids
As is apparent from Princess Victoria's self-portrait, many of this time period's updos were complimented by braids, either as a finishing element or as a flourish.
The video below contains a look at one hairstyle involving three braids and another take on the ever-so-popular looping that was going on during this time—all at the back of the head at this point.
As torrinpaige in the video points out, this hairstyle is good for people with hair just-past-shoulder length or longer, and it looks reasonably easy. I definitely recommend giving it a go!
What About Letting Your Hair Down?
During the Victorian Era, long, loose hair was only appropriate for children. If you were looking for a more free-flowing look, you would have to consider reproducing some different time periods with your coiffure, since most respectable grown women only wore their hair down in very intimate settings: their bedroom or dressing room, for example.
That said, loose hair did have some interesting connotations in Victorian times. For example, in Denmark, long, loose hair marked a period between childhood and adulthood for young women. Girls who were of marriageable age, but not engaged, would wear their hair down and without a hat or bonnet as a signal of their eligibility. Pretty cool, huh?
If you're not looking to advertise your eligibility, you can still get your way, at least partially, by braiding and styling hair at the front of your head and letting your hair in the back hang loose. This style saw some popularity during the 1870s, so by at least some Victorian standards, your style would not be too scandalous!
The Victorian period preferred opulence to minimalism. During this time, people fought back against the forced simplicity of the Regency Era and really went to town with their clothing and accessories.
It should come as no surprise, then, that many Victorian hairstyles were pretty bedazzled. Many of the time period's most classic updos would be considered incomplete without flowers, beautifully crafted ornaments, and elegant combs.
Women also wore hats during this time. It was common convention to wear some sort of head covering upon going outside, so most hairstyles would be covered! While that might seem like a shame, hats got pretty elaborate during this period, and were often complimented by impressive, supporting hairstyles beneath. While the hat depicted in the painting below is very simple, many hats from the time were embellished with lace, flowers, feathers, and veils and had a sizable girth to accommodate for large updos.
The Gibson Girl Style
Around the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, a new feminine ideal emerged on the scene: the Gibson Girl. The Gibson Girl personified a much more independent, sporty, and simple type of woman, and her hairstyles were much more loose and carefree-looking than some of the Victorian era's more involved updos.
The Gibson Girl was often portrayed as wearing one of the following hairstyles:
- The chignon. This simple style involves tying the hair in a knot at the nape of the neck.
- The top bun. A loose bun tied at the very top of the head.
- The psyche knot. Very similar to a high, normal bun.
The gist of any Gibson-girl-inspired hairstyle is this: it must be effortless, simple, and graceful.
If one were to sum up hairstyles worn during the Victorian period into just a couple details, they would be:
- Simple, smooth, and tight updos
- Long coiled curls hanging from a loose chignon
- Crimped updos
- Closely-cropped and curled bangs (the Victorian mullet!!!)
- The more airy but swept up Gibson Girl updo
When one considers how complex hairstyles from other periods has been, these styles are all quite reasonable! Which is your favorite?
Perhaps you might consider giving a nice top bun a try instead of going for today's most trendy hairstyles. I know I shall! We may have to live in the 21st century, but we are by no means barred from enjoying our favorite styles from the past.
What's Your Opinion?
Shayla on April 22, 2020:
I like the one that you didn’t add which is called loop braids were it loops at the front and clips into a bun made of braids creating a hair style
Emma on January 24, 2020:
I actually wore a simple early victorian hairstyle today to work, I work in a doctors office, a bun in the back with to braids looped to the back, and it has held up all day, is not restrictive and soo simple to do. Definitely will be trying a few more but like it so far. It goes with my fashion sense.
sasa on February 14, 2014:
Wow really an amazing hub some of the hair style are totally perfect and Interesting.i just love the way you present this page Thank you so much for this great blog. http://www.sasa.com/SasaWeb/eng/category/well_bein...
Karina from Edinburgh on July 31, 2012:
Really interesting hub! Some of the hair styles are really beautiful making me sort of want to live in those times. A good inspiration!
Mary Craig from New York on July 06, 2012:
Now I find this hub after I just cut off all my hair!!! The thing about Victorian hairstyles is they are so feminine. I think my favorite is the Gibson Girl.
I loved this hub because it speaks to our feminine side!
Vote up, useful, and interesting.
Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on July 04, 2012:
I love the Victorian era as far as home décor goes, but the hair styles are kind of restrictive. Still, some are kind of fun and would be challenging to pull off. Tell me, though, Simone, do any of them allow bows to be put in them? Sorry, I couldn't resist. Excellent layout of this hub. Love the photos!
Haydee Anderson from Hermosa Beach on July 04, 2012:
Love your hub! Some things today just are not as classy (and sexy) as they used to be. Thanks for sharing.
GypsyFootedWoman on June 29, 2012:
I love this. Not enough time is spent paying attention to women and their role in history. Good hub, thanks for sharing.
Nira Perkins on June 29, 2012:
These are beautiful hair styles. I loved the way they looked back then with their hair and clothes. It was so classy. Some styles were a little weird but most of them were very nice.
Miss Lil' Atlanta from Atlanta, GA on June 26, 2012:
I absolutely "adore" vicotrian fashion!! I mix it into my everyday style here and there quite a bit.
Janelle from Houston on January 14, 2012:
I was actually just in a show set in the victorian period. I had to wear a lot of different hairstyles. These brought me back! Thanks.
Simone Haruko Smith (author) from San Francisco on January 13, 2012:
Oooh! Yah, a couple more inches and I could see you TOTALLY ROCKING the Gibson Girl style, Om! Danke for stopping by the Hub!
And thanks so much, Alastar Packer! Julia Margeret Cameron's work sounds fascinating. I'll have to check it out!
Alastar Packer from North Carolina on January 12, 2012:
Simone i love this kind of hub. Having an eye for fashions and hairstyles to identify time periods is cool when browsing old photos and paintings. Not crazy about some of the repressed Victorian hair fashions but they are interesting and they'll look great if done right on today's women. There was a 19th century artist called Julia Margeret Cameron who took photos of women in legendary themed poses with more of a natural hairstyle that is rare for the time. A great photo book of her work was published several years ago that is awesome.
Om Paramapoonya on January 11, 2012:
I'd like to try the Gibson Girl style, but first I guess I'll have to grow my hair a few inches longer. This is a very interesting hub. Good job, little ninja!
Simone Haruko Smith (author) from San Francisco on January 11, 2012:
Thanks shea duane! I love seeing the evolution of style, too. And yeah, I'm not much of a crimping fan... though I do find every one of these styles to be intriguing!
The Gibson Girl style really is classy, innit anglnwu??
Thanks for stopping by, liza.bom!
Agreed, Daniella. Of all these styles, the Gibson Girl style would seem the least strange- though it would definitely still stand out! I don't see many loose top buns- though I'd love to see more!
Daniella Lopez on January 10, 2012:
Excellent hub! I absolutely love the Gibson style. It even looks like a style that wouldn't be too odd for today's time.
lisa.bom on January 10, 2012:
Very interesting. Thanks for sharing.
anglnwu on January 10, 2012:
If I've to pick a style I can still use today, it will be the Gibson free style. I think it requires little effort and I'm all for simplicity. Great hub.
shea duane from new jersey on January 10, 2012:
Cool hub. Some of the styles were a bit...ummm too much. But I love looking at how we've evolved as women. Thanks.