The Ladies' Page - Health and Beauty

Hair - A Woman's Crowning Glory

Detail from a fashion illustration of 1852 showing side ringlets and a plait on the crown of the head

Victorian Hair Styles
Long luxuriant hair was prized throughout the century though modes of arranging it- for the wealthier classes- varied according to the current fashion, whether rolled into thick ringlets gathered at the side or back, plaited and coiled over the head or tied at the back, or worn up in pleats.  Evening coiffures for the fashionable could be very elaborate, and in the second half of the century there were times when hair attachments in the form of chignons were essential for many women, incidentally  providing cartoonists with a new target. Hardy lovers will recall the much more sombre and resonant use of Mrs Charmond's secret purchase of Marty South's hair to embellish her own thinning tresses in his novel, The Woodlanders.


Above: Advertisement - actual size- for a hair preparation to hold curls, 1894 Above right: Back View of fashionable coiffure 1872
*It should be remembered, however, that fashion images and advertisements no more resembled the average woman than do those of today's papers. The magazine that advertised Frizetta carried a series of articles called "The Uncrowned Queen of ...". The photograph (detail) below is taken from the illustration to "The Uncrowned Queen of Learning" (Home Notes 1895) featuring Phillipa Fawcett, daughter of Millicent Fawcett, who had at the age of 22 passed "above the Senior Wrangler" at Cambridge. As a woman she could not be awarded a degree so could not be named Senior Wrangler.

Her hair is swept up at the back in the prevailing fashion but in a very much simpler style. This isn't just because she was one of the "New Women" stereotypes - a "Girton Girl". (She actually went to Newnham) The relative simplicity, avoiding the need to resort to lotions like Frizetta,  is fairly typical of other photographs of young middle class women of the period.

Victorian Hair Problems and Solutions
The pages of Victorian women's magazines suggest that women's greatest concerns about their hair centred on hair loss and colouring hair, although specific hair problems like the one immediately below also surface in the advice columns.

An Awkward Hairline
answer to a reader in the Englishwoman's Conversazione, The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine 1872
C. D., Gibraltar We fear that nothing will induce hair to grow on the forehead, but you will find that if you curl all the front hairs (that grow on the forehead under the long hair) with tiny curl -papers every night, in six months the hair will become quite thick and strong, and shade the high forehead of which you complain.

Oil to make the Hair Curl
Reader's tip in "Things Worth Knowing",
The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine 1858
Olive oil, one pound (sic); oil of origanum, one drachm; oil of rosemary, one drachma and a half. Mix the ingredients together , and it will be ready for use.

A Recipe for Hair loss or Thinning Hair
answer to a reader in The Young Ladies' Journal, 1873
Judy: Try rum and castor oil mixed in equal parts, shaken together, and rubbed into the roots of the hair at night. It is stimulating and nourishing.

Lightening Hair and Hair Washes
to another reader in The Young Ladies' Journal, 1873
Pollie's Own: Washing your hair with soda will make it lighter; but it is injurious to the skin of the head and causes the hair to break. Rosemary is very beneficial and is used as a wash. 
Grey Hair
extracts from an article by Mrs Ada S Ballin, Home Notes 1895
Premature greyness is apt to arise either from heredity, from ill health, or from shock or worry. The colouring matter of the hair is largely due to fat; and the use of alkaline lotions, such as those which contain carbonate of soda, potash and the like by absorbing fat cause loss of colour. This is why they are excellent for those who wish to keep their hair light but injurious to dark hair. Besides the oily substance in the pigment of the hair, there is a certain quantity of mineral ingredients, which vary according to the colour and the constitution.
[Mrs. Ballin then gives an explanation of the importance of magnesium, sulphur and iron in different colours of hair and based on this analysis recommends various recipes for improving the shade. The following is intended for "brown hair" ]
Flowers of sulphur ................ ½ ounce
Glycerine .............................. 1 ounce
Rectified spirits of wine .......... ½ ounce
Rosewater, to .......................  8 ounces

Another suggested treatment for Grey Hair
by "Violette" in The Happy Home 1895
was Condy's fluid.* In view of the instructions "Violette" wisely recommended it when only a little grey needed tinting. She suggested testing the shade on hair combings first and diluting with water if necessary. The dye had to be applied with a toothbrush, avoiding the scalp, which would otherwise be stained. Each grey hair needed to be dyed individually 'as it is not well to allow the fluid to get on the hair where it is not required.' Before dyeing, the hair needed to be thoroughly washed and Scrubbs' Ammonia was recommended. It was also plugged in the adjoining paragraph on the care of hairbrushes.  
* A patented solution of potassium permanganate and sodium chloride used as a disinfectant and deodorant.

For more about Victorian Advertisements see Advertising Page
Advertisements and editorial copy enjoyed a complex relationship. From time to time the claims of advertisers were contradicted by advice from columnists. Equally, if not more common, was product endorsement within an article, and in the cheap weeklies of the 1890s paragraphs that were almost indistinguishable from editorial copy were inserted by manufacturers. Conveniently below "Violette"'s article was :

 'Refreshing as a Turkish Bath' and a
    'Splendid Cleansing Preparation for the Hair'

Scrubb's Cloudy Household Ammonia is advertised here as 'Invaluable for Toilet Purposes' but also to remove stains and grease spots from clothing, restore colour to carpets, clean silver plate and jewellery, and allay the irritation from mosquito bites. All for one shilling a bottle - enough for six to ten baths.

Put like this it sounds a bit like the trick allegedly played by one late nineteenth century woman journalist; annoyed at being confined to "shopping column" fare, she recommended the same preparation for both improving the complexion and for cleaning boots! But on reflection, ammonia. though a chemical to be handled with care, is, of course, still an ingredient in many hair dyes, and the major active ingredient in some lotions for alleviating plant and insect stings, as well as being used in household cleaning products.

Artificial Hair and Victorian Hair Ornaments

Illustration from the Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine, 1872, of an elaborate coiffure and (left) a relatively simple trailing floral ornament to cascade over plaits at the back.

Whilst delicate wreaths of fresh flowers and foliage were worn at this time, concoctions of lace, ribbons and feathers, and, for evening, jewels, were also fashionable; and, as this extract from the fashion article accompanying the illustrations suggests, false hair was an important element in the most fashionable coiffures.

'The decree of Mesdames Thiers and Co. against artificial hair does not seem to have made much impression upon the female community in general, unless some means of acquiring a most luxuriant chevelure has been discovered by French ladies.... The hair is brushed off from the forehead and temples, and raised over frisettes, whilst at the back it is arranged in long thick plaits, drooping in heavy loops very low in the neck. These plaits are fastened upon the top of the head with a large tortoiseshell comb. The ornament, whether composed of flowers, bows, or jewels, is placed a la Marie Antoinette, just above the raised bandeaux; a drooping feather or spray of buds and foliage is often added to fall over the plaits at the back.'

*Popular magazines, however, were also anxious to assure middle-class readers that they could achieve elegance on a more limited budget than that of the French court and its followers. The Victorian passion for needlework of all kinds meant that women were encouraged to make their own accessories as well as clothes.

The Fancywork articles of the Young Ladies' Journal (1873) showed various designs of headdresses, from elaborate arrangements of roses made from poultry feathers cut to petal shape, coloured and wired, to the one shown above which was worked in thread  woven over  shaped wire and attached to a large hairpin.

There is more information on hair treatments and styles on the  Advertising Page. Just click the link and scroll down. The Ladies Page on Fashion has some account of the Englishwomen's Domestic Magazine.

For important information on Copyright, Citations, Images and References please see my Home Page. There you will also find an explanation of the aims of Victorian Page, and  a note about me.

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©  Barbara Onslow 2007     Last updated April 25 2008