Water, an absolute essential for hair care, was a complicated issue at the turn of the century. Ignorant of sanitation, people drank, washed and eliminated in neighboring waters. Indoor home plumbing was still a rough blueprint on a dusty drafting table. Because hair washing was inconvenient, mothers washed and styled children’s locks monthly. Even though a hard life left little time to indulge children, proud mothers rolled, twirled and curled young tresses. Fidgeting children often heard Victorian mothers say, “Your hair is your glory,” as tightening and pulling continued.
Hair Styling and Care
An adult cut a child’s hair at home. Both boys and girls wore ringlets, bobs or pageboys. A girl’s long hair was a standard for beauty and styling. A child wore long, curly locks often copied from her doll’s hairstyle. Some girls wore short hair out of necessity and convenience. High fever and outbreaks of nits at school required children to shave their heads. Working mothers had less time to maintain a daughter’s hair, so they bobbed it for hygiene and practicality.
Elaborate unisex ringlets were long, cascading curls called “sausage curls,” “barley curls” or “sugar curls.” Hair cut at an angle with a shorter back angle described the unisex bob; it was worn straight or curled under. Thick bangs went straight across a forehead and sat right above the eyebrows. Although both sexes wore pageboys, girls’ pageboys were a little longer. A pageboy resembled the bob, but had no angles. Pageboy styles are cut straight with no layers and sit just above the shoulders.
Gender Issues: Parts, Ringlets, Length
At the turn of the century, parted hair created confusion when trying to determine gender. To solve this dilemma, a person had to check where a part was located. Many boys wore bangs and parted their hair down the middle or on the left. Girls also wore bangs and had either center or right parts.
From 1880 to 1905, the issue of gender and ringlets flip-flopped. Ringlets became less popular as girls chose shorter hairstyles. However, ringlets became more popular with boys who began wearing longer hairstyles with elaborate drop curls.
Bows were popular hair ornaments worn by both sexes. Boy’s hair-bows had different sizes, colors, knots and positions. It was a common French custom to tie a bow in a boy’s hair. Girls wore much larger bows attached to their ringlets. Film Star Gloria Swanson explained how her family made her wear large bows to cover her big ears. Her memoirs recall, “While… other girls… were wearing teeny, tiny hair ribbons, my mother made giant silk bows and poufs… to hide my ears.”
Ringlets were made using a curling iron or strips of rag. Hair ends were wrapped around a piece of rag and rolled and tied at the scalp. Curling irons often singed hair and burned many a young scalp. In 1905, Charles Nestle invented the permanent wave machine by making a borax paste to use with an iron. Black mothers had opposite issues; they wanted straight hair instead of frizz. At the turn of the century before hair relaxers, a black mother straightened her daughter’s hair with a hot comb.
References and ResourcesEras of Elegance: Hair & Makeup
Historical Boy's Clothing: Boys' Clothing in the Early 20th Century
Historical Boy's Clothing; Boys' Clothing during the 1900s; May 1999