Between the 1850s and 1860s, England was in the midst of the Victorian period and the United States was approaching the Civil War. The cultural changes of the decade were reflected in everything from the food to the dress. Even the hairstyles of the time were the result of social trends. These historical coifs mark the tastes of the decade and some remnants of them can still be seen today.
The hairstyles of this decade were much less ornate than those of earlier eras, such as the Elizabethan Period in England when women and men wore very tall, elaborate coifs and wigs. This trend was largely influenced by Queen Victoria, who had a much simpler style. Her influence spread from England to America. Women’s and men’s hairstyles were generally short and gathered closely to the head, not tall and rarely flowing beyond the shoulders. Women also often had a part in the middle of the scalp, regardless of what other style they may have worn. Women also wore small bonnets during this time, which paired well with the shorter hairstyles.
The chignon is a French hairstyle for women that gained much popularity in the decade from 1850 to 1860. The term means “bun or topknot” in French. To create a chignon, the wearer twists the hair in the back of the head into a tight knot and then pins it down at the nape of the neck. The hairstyle was most often worn during large, formal gatherings.
Another popular women’s hairstyle of the 1850s was the wound braid. For this hairstyle, hair would be braided into one wide, long braid falling down the woman’s back. This hairstyle was worn more for everyday, causal occasions and was equally popular in the United States as it was in England.
Curls were worn by women during this decade most often at parties and weddings. It was during these times that women would become slightly more adventurous with their hair and wear thick curls around the temples and sides of their heads, usually accented by a brooch or decorative hairpin. If women wore curls on regular occasions, the curls were much shorter and simpler.
Men wore their hair shorter and simpler during this decade and much of the 19th century in England and America. Men often wore their hair straight or curled somewhat, rarely ever letting it grow pass the ears. Men also often grew mustaches, beards and thick sideburns during this period.
References and ResourcesVictorianWeb.org: Victorian Women's Fashion, 1850-1900: Hairstyles
Tudorlinks: Fashion in the 1850s and 1860s
VintageVictorian: Costuming Ideas
UKHairDressers: History of Hair