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.
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.
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.
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!