Hairstyles during the Victorian era ranged from the remarkably simple to the immensely complex. Women strove for demure, neat looks, especially in the early part of the era, and young women in particular wore their hair down in ringlets and other curls. Victorian up-do styles often involved elaborate braids and coils, but some simpler buns also existed. Additionally, women frequently adorned their hair with hairnets, bonnets and flowers.
Curly Down Style
The fashionable Victorian woman desired a hair style meant to emphasize her hygiene and natural beauty. Many women of this era, especially early on, smoothed their hair down with oil and curled their locks into long, neat ringlets. “Barley curls,” long drop curls typically worn by children, gained popularity among adult women around the 1840s. Around the 1870s, women began letting their hair hang loose in long waves, and in 1872, the practice of crimping came about. The “Marcel wave” was a style that made use of crimping hair over a hot iron to create loose waves arranged around a woman’s head.
The latter part of the Victorian era brought about detailed buns, usually pinned at the base of the neck, that consisted of elaborate plaits, braids and coils. Many of these styles were immensely complex, especially when worn to formal events. To duplicate a simplified version, create a tri-braid. Tie your hair back into a single ponytail, pulling a small loop of the ponytail out just above the hair tie. Divide the hair below the tie into three sections and braid each section separately. After braiding each section, braid the three sections together and tuck the braided ends into the look created earlier. Secure the ends with an added hair tie.
The “Gibson Girl,” a style popularized near the end of the Victorian era around the 1890s, consisted of a natural, simple bun without much detail. Young women swept their hair into a loose bun at the back of their head. The bun mimicked the more elaborate pompadour style of the 1880s since it swept hair away from the forehead, but it lacked the height of the pompadour. Recreate the “Gibson Girl” style by loosely pulling your hair back into a simple bun and arranging the few loose strands of hair near the face and at the base of the neck into delicate curls.
While bonnets and hairnets remained popular hair ornaments and coverings, the practice of decorating a hairstyle with flowers rapidly grew after Elisabeth of Bavaria, empress of Austria during the mid- to late-19th century, first started the practice. Some young women opted to weave flowers directly into braids and curls, while other women wore headdresses with flowers attached. For example, headdress might consist of petunias woven together in a chain, roses tied into a wreath or pansies attached to a comb amongst gold leaves.
References and ResourcesUK Hairdressers: History of Hair
Eras of Elegance: Hair and Makeup
Beauty and the Bath: Beautiful Victorian Hairstyles
Victoriana: Headdresses and Hairstyles, 1860-1865
ResourcesDressy Tresses: The Victorian Updo
The Costume Gallery: Vintage Hairstyles
The Costume Gallery: Article about Hairstyles from Delineator Magazine, June 1881
Victorian Web: What Victorians Wore
Fashion Era: Sketches of Victorian Hair Fashion History from 1840-1870