Civil War Hairstyles

A Southern Belle or a Connecticut Yankee?

Women left to tend their homesteads (or parlors) during The War of Northern Agression were forced to find practical, timesaving ways of doing up their hair. There are some similarities between WWII hairstyles (see my post “Longer ‘Dos of the 1940s”)  and these of the American Civil War, which makes me think that times of scarcity call for certain measures in keeping up appearances.

One similarity was this business of making rats. Fanny & Vera’s helpful hints and timely tips for Civil War reenactors say that, “Almost every Victorian lady had a hair receiver on the dresser, and would place the hair gleaned in daily brushings into it.  A lady could use this resource to construct rats for her hair. …Rats were used to add volume to the hair at the sides of the head.  Hairstyles that accented the width of the face were in style, so hairstyles were low on the crown and wide at the sides.” Anyway, they can tell you more about that here, if you are so inclined to find out.

Yankee??

The main goal was to have a very wide appearance to the hair, which adds roundness to the face. It’s just a thought that this hairstyle emerged while men were gone because the women were forced to take a more masculine role, and thus, a more masculinized appearance.

They had an uncompromising part in the middle, with no bang. The unbudging part down the middle could be seen as a parallel of the two sides of the Civil War, although I will say that the hair surely stayed a lot more in place than most anything else during those times. Perhaps due to an inability to control political affairs, the women controlled their tresses relentlessly during the War, not letting them get whimsical or out of place. It was very improper for a lady to let her hair down in public (a difference between these war hairstyles and those of WWII). You would be hard-pressed to find a tintype of a lady with her hair down between 1861–1865.

Who is this lady, and which side is she on?

However, it was permitted, at balls or dances, to wear ringlet curls. Often, women would confine their hair in buns at the nape of their neck with a knitted snood. Going to church or town, or riding horses or in a carriage, a lady may’ve worn a bonnet. Miss Vera’s Millinery has a great collection of Civil War bonnets.

Mississippi Woman Fights the Confederate Blues with a Bonnet

The last characteristic of Civil War hairstyles was a lot of grease, if it could be spared. That brings us to the end of this post and to the beginning of our next topic, Civil War hairstyles of the men in battle.

Until then, tout a l’heure!

Published in: on 16 February 2010 at 13:26  Leave a Comment  
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Flowers in their Hair

Isn’t it sensual to have the soft petals of flowers adorning your tresses? Isn’t it fabulous to pin on the scent of sugar that all the honeybees are drawn to? Ladies, I tell you, flowers are nature’s adornment, and we should wear them any chance we get! It’s been done throughout history in all different nations.

In the 1940s U.S., blossoms gave Lady Day an untouchable glamour on the stage.  She always wore hers on one side––a little sassy, she was, and very feminine. She preferred white hibiscus, although she wore other kinds too. In the 1930s Mexico, Frida Kahlo, boldly creative, always wore hers right on top of her head with a part in the middle. She preferred bright, tropical blossoms. Kahlo said to her lover Josep Bartolf, “I paint flowers so they will not die.” If we pin them into our hair, we can reclaim a little youth, too, before it wilts away.

Now I’m thinking of my youth wilting away like a flower, and I’ll just indulge this bout of melancholy. Lovesick Ophelia drowned herself in the flower of her youth, for she could not turn the head of the boy who made her heart leap.

She put flowers into her long, straight tresses just before she laid herself down in the river, probably ’round the 12th century in Denmark–– fictionally speaking, of course.

“There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
Therewith fantastic garlands did she make
Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold maids do dead men’s fingers call them:
There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke;
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide;
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up:
Which time she chanted snatches of old lauds;
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element: but long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull’d the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.”

Ophelia was a deep-thinking and poetic young girl, so she pinned the flowers for deliberate meaning. The willows stood for forsaken love; the nettles for pain; daisies for innocence; pansies for love in vain; violets for faithful chastity and death of the young; and roses round her face, for she had been called the rose of May. What a poor young girl, but smart for dressin’ up so pretty for her death bed.

Long live Ophelia and Frida and Ms. Holiday; they’ll always be remembered for the flowers in their hair.