While the first explorers to the West were fur traders before Lewis and Clark, most of the period commonly referred to as the Wild West dates between 1850 and 1880. Those years were lawless ones, and many people lived lives relatively isolated from relatives — and fashion and hairstyles — on the East Coast. With limited time, supplies and resources, hairstyles of the Wild West were simple for both men and women.
Men’s hair was often worn long on the frontier. Allowed to grow out to all one length, hair past the shoulders is acceptable. For shorter hair, use an oil-based pomade to slick the hair back. While this is a bit citified for the West, it certainly would have been seen, particularly in the towns. Men would have worn facial hair, either in the form of a mustache or a mustache and partial beard. Mustaches were often styled with wax.
Anyone who’s ever watched a Western knows this character. She works in the saloon, and might do more than wait tables. This look requires sausage curls, typically pinned in a half-up style. To create sausage curls, choose a curling iron with a fairly small barrel, around 3/4 inches. Part the hair in the center. Separate the hair into sections and curl all of the hair into tight ringlets. Spray well with hairspray for hold. Gather each side of the hair, from the temple to the ear and pin into place at the back of your head with bobby pins.
As an alternative, twist your curls into a loose bun, allowing ringlets to fall free from the bun and pin into place.
While wealthy women or even middle class women were rare in the Wild West, they did exist. They opted for prim and proper styles that distinguished them from both the saloon girls and pioneer women expected to work for a living. Even with additional resources, they often did not have access to the latest fashions or skilled hairdressers. Well-off and proper ladies in the Wild West would have opted for a center part, with the hair brought forward over the ears. Start with smooth and shiny hair, carefully pinning it below the ears to secure the center part. In the back, the hair would have been tightly braided or coiled and pinned to the scalp. More complex twisted and braided styles were also an option, if a maid was good with styling.
Younger daughters in these wealthy families would have worn a half-up style with the hair curled and loose before marriage, at least some of the time.
Many of the women who moved West did so with their husbands, children and farm equipment. They hoped for land to farm or a mining claim, and were prepared to and expected to work. Their hairstyles reflected that. They were quick, easy and not fussy. The hair was long, either uncut or simply trimmed at home. Women would have washed infrequently, and simply kept their hair braided and pinned up. Braid long hair into one or two three-strand braids. Coil the braids against the scalp and pin into place. The braid can also be left loose down the back.
The history of the Wild West includes a few women who defied all convention, like Calamity Jane and Annie Oakley. These women typically favored simple styles, with portraits showing Annie Oakley wearing her hair long with straight bangs across her forehead and Calamity Jane pulling hers tightly back from a center part. They relied on many of the same quick-and-easy styles you might use for hard work or horseback riding today.