Nothing quite finishes off an outfit like a great hairstyle. And when it comes to historical outfits and reenactments, like it or not, the right hairstyle is vital. Nothing, in my opinion, ruins a lovely historical gown then a scrunchie and a messy bun. I have seen it. It bothers me. You definitely do not need to create some elaborate design, but a proper bun or braid just makes such a difference!
In my experience, the length of hair really isn’t all that important, as there are many tricks and pieces to use. In fact, I have shoulder length hair and have no trouble creating a passable 1850’s look. Even those with short hair can use extensions, winglets, appropriate caps or nets etc. to help maintain authenticity. While I have limited experience with the unique Apollo knot styles of the 1830’s, the majority of the styles from the 19th century can be recreated with a bit of practice.
Several years ago, I created a few tutorials for hairstyles. They are linked below:
I have also found these hair pins to be very helpful in holding my hair without having to use more modern Bobby pins:
And now for the fun stuff!
I have collected several images of the most common or popular styles from the 1800s-1860’s. This is not an exhaustive collection or even to say any other style can’t be used. It is simply the ones I have seen the most in my research, and have found fairly easy to recreate for historical events.
Simple, Greecian, and youthful. The most common style features either loose curls pinned up and around the face, or hair was pulled back tightly with braids. I’d recommend rag curls for a more authentic look, but a curling iron works just as well! If your hair is short, fake braids that match your hair color can be used.
Madame Nicola Louis Faret, 1812 by Martin Drolling
Hairstyles became more elaborate, intricate, and ornamented. To achieve unique twists of the Apollo chignon style, I’d recommend the use of hair pieces and wire. Wigs may also be used as the buns and twists can be created on a mannequin head and kept from event to event.
Style known as Coiffure a la Chinoise – hair is pulled tightly back then twisted up in huge loops on the top of the head.
Hairstyles (along with fashion) took a definitive turn downward (literally). Spaniel loops, long twists or braids under the ears, and an overall desire to look as meek and feminine as possible were all hallmarks for the Victorian Gothic Era. Long ringlets were also very popular as were side puffs (created with the help of hair rats.)
Susan B Anthony, 1850
There was only a slight change in style from the 1850’s to the 1860’s. The center part remained, as well as the bulk of the hair near the nape of the neck, however, ears were exposed. In addition, hair was twisted away from the face, which I personally find more flattering. Proper hair nets/snoods may also be used but I recommend researching before purchasing or making one. A modern snood or too brightly colored, may throw off your whole look.
Remember, this is only a snap shot of hairstyles worn. There were many other styles, however these are the ones I have found either the easiest to recreate. I also know many living historians who wear hairstyles such as these for historical events. Although some may seem intimidating, with a little practice and help from a few hair rats and pieces, you will be rocking a new historical style in no time!