Thank you to @TheModernDayVictorian on Instagram for inspiring this post.
Here on the blog, I’ve talked a lot about late Victorian fashion, but I haven’t talked very much about hair and makeup.
I will be the first to admit that I am super awkward when it comes to doing hair and makeup, which is why I usually go for the simplest possible styles. But when it comes to Victorian fashion, “simple” just doesn’t cut it.
So what’s a girl to do when she spends every weekend in garb?
Go to Youtube, of course.
But first, here are a few basics to keep in mind when re-creating hair styles:
Victorian women did not shower every day. Or even every other day. They would bathe once or twice a week typically, and hair washing was recommended for roughly once a month (and people wonder why hats and bonnets were so popular).
I can hear you all making noises of disgust. Keep in mind, the standard of beauty was different. But it’s okay; I’m not telling you to stop washing your hair. Personally, I can’t stand the texture of my hair after three days. But there are some things to keep in mind when doing these styles. Most of them work best with “day after” hair. Remember, washing *every* day isn’t great for your hair either. But do you–this is 2020, not 1820, so we have more tools to work with here.
To achieve the correct texture for styles from 1870 onward, you’ll need at least a little bit of a wave or a curl in your hair. I recommend braiding your hair when damp from the shower, and leaving the braids in for at least 48 hours. Pigtails or a single French braid work best, in my experience.
Alternatively, you can also curl your hair using pin curls, rollers, or a curling iron. My personal preference is for pin curls, but find what works best for you. When pin curling or using curlers, I start with dry hair and spritz it with a water bottle before adding a teeny bit of gel, then allow them to dry overnight. For my hair, this is how it takes curl best. You can also use a very light mist of hair spray once the curls are rolled, but I don’t like doing this unless I’m completely out of other styling products. If you are using a curling iron, I recommend a bit of gel or mousse to help it hold the curl, especially for steamy summer days.
Dry shampoo is also your friend, regardless of the decade you are recreating. It can help add texture and volume to flat, greasy, or straight hair.
Women in the Victorian era kept their hair long for the most part, and fringe or bangs didn’t become popular until the 1890s. In fact, even then it was considered a “bold” or “questionable” fashion choice and was referred to a “lunatic fringe,” implying the woman had to have lost her senses to cut it.
For most of these styles, you’ll need hair that reaches at least the mid back, though for some you can get away with slightly shorter hair.
Is your hair extra short, or on the short side? Never fear! Victorian women used all manner of hair pieces, padding, and all-out wigs to make their hair look longer, fuller, or less grey. You can find hair extensions online or at Sally Beauty Supply (in the US), and a good lace front wig can be purchased on Amazon for $50, sometimes less. If you plan on using a wig for one of the latter up dos, however, I suggest splurging and getting a more expensive wig from a proper wig shop, as the weft in cheaper wigs will show when the hair is lifted up into a Gibson Girl or similar style.
Hair rats, bun bumps, and other padding can be found in your local Target, Walmart, Amazon, Sally’s, or you can make your own using scrap fabric (there are lots of tutorials online, so I won’t bother leaving one here. My recommended method is one that uses stockings, pantyhose, or a sock stuffed with fiber fill, or even your own hair. How better to get a color match?).
Still can’t bring yourself to wear a wig? Afraid of hair extensions? No worries. There are instances when a Victorian woman would cut off her hair, such as: illness, lice, or selling her hair. While these were exceptions, not the rule, it might be something to work into a persona if necessary. Short hair can also be covered with a snood, cap, or bonnet.
There are a few styles that today we see as timeless. The bun is one of them, and most of the styles below are based on them. But, if you are not feeling daring enough to try one of those, you can always work your hair into a knot. General rule: The knot starts around the neck area in the early Victorian period, and works it’s way up to the crown by the time we reach 1900. Additionally, more fullness is added to the scalp as we get later in the century (mostly because bathing/hair washing became more common as things like gas ranges, electricity, and running water became more accessible, making it less of a chore). For pre-1870 buns, use water, gel, or pomade to slick down flyaways. For 1870 onward, you’ll be relying more on dry shampoo, mousse, and those curling/texture techniques I mentioned to control your hair. Also, a lot of pins. A lot of pins.
If your hair is long enough, I recommend braiding it before pinning it into a bun, particularly if you’ll be doing a lot of dancing, etc, as it helps hold everything in place.
The second style that can be used for pretty much every decade is the “milk maid braid.” This crown of braids is most suitable for young women (20s ish) or older women playing a more “casual” role, such as a laundress or cook or just a housewife doing chores.
If you have very long hair, this can be done with a single braid, but usually 2 braids works better. For special occasions, ribbons or flowers can be added. If your hair is shorter, you can sometimes hide it by French braiding from the center part along each side, and then using a false bun or braid at the back to hide the ends.
You know what’s great about the 1860s? Snoods. Hair nets cover a multitude of sins–and short hair. They can be found at wig shops, or you can knit or crochet your own.
This video shows a variety of styles from different decades, but it’s mostly straddling the 70s-80s.
I hope you’ve found this post helpful. If you have more questions about Victorian life, fashion, and health, just life a comment below!
Like what you see? Check out Victorian Hair Care.