Victorian Hair
by Michael Warner


he expression, "a woman’s crowning glory" had its origins dating back to the Victorian Period.  But ironically, women's hair during this era of romance and feminine mystery was often severely damaged from the relentless use of hot irons.  Hair became scorched and often had an unpleasant odour that had to be masked with heavy perfumes.  It was not uncommon to have ones hair reduced to a wool-like texture.  Hair was never cut except in cases of serious illness.  The simplicity of the smooth, center-parted styles worn by women in the Victorian era lasted until the 1870s, when the Parisian hairdresser M. Marcel Grateau created a new, natural-looking wave by turning a curling iron upside down.


n 1872, Marcel had introduced his famous Marcel wave using a heated iron that imitated the natural curl of the hair.  Hot tongs were applied to produce a curl rather than a crimp.  Done at intervals over the head, the hair would assume the look of moiré.  It revolutionized the art of hairdressing all over the world.  The Marcel wave remained popular for almost half a century and helped usher in a new era of women's waved and curled hairpieces, which were mixed with the natural hair.


rnate hair combs like this faux tortouise comb were a common hair accessory.



rnamental hairpins, combs with Rhine pebbles, or laced butterfly were commonly worn on one side.


urls, crimping, and the natural-looking marcel wave were achieved by the use of heated irons, including the waving iron invented by Marcel.


air-fashion for the average face demanded graceful waves, coquettish curls, and plaits of hair becomingly arranged.  Hair was often twisted and arranged to create the appearance of height and the look of an oval or round shape to the face. 

Curly hair was meant to indicate a sweeter temperament, while straight-haired girls were considered reserved or even awkward.  A woman's hair was profoundly important to the overall effect she was able to make.  Reaching the age when the hair could be put up was a rite of passage in her life, and often there were several interim stages, where a plait would be loosely put up with a ribbon, to signify the coming event.  


uring the Victorian Period, the hair receiver was commonly found on a  woman’s vanity.  After brushing her hair, she would remove the hair from the brush and  place it through the opening of the receiver for storage.  Once enough hair had accumulated, it could be used to construct rats, or could be woven or plaited and put into lockets, left visible through cut-glass windows of a brooch or even made into watch chains, bracelets or jewelry.  Hair receivers were usually made from ceramic, bronze or crystal.  Hand-painted ceramic receivers are commonly found in antique stores.



ictorian hairwork is a popular collectible today.  Bracelets, watch chains, necklaces, rings, and even ear rings were carefully crafted from human hair.  A few museums where hairwork is displayed
are the Dearborn Historical Society in Dearborn , Michigan and the  Swedish Institute, Minneapolis,  Minnesota.  For more info on hair jewelry, visit the Official Victorian Hairwork Society Website.

Watch Fob Made with Hair


 7-inch bracelet carefully woven with human hair.

More Hairwork Pieces



n the late 1800's and early 1900's, postcards and valentines were often sent with human hair attached.  The sentimental sender would glue locks of their hair onto specially made postcards, (a picture of a beautiful woman) and send it to someone as a keepsake.

More Hair Postcards


t was common to save a lock of hair from a loved one.  These pieces appear to have come from several members of one family.





he mourning  brooch was a common piece of jewelry used to preserve the locks of a loved one.   This brooch was made in the form of the Prince of Wales' feathers, embellished with seed pearls and gold thread.


he Gibson Girl was known as the century's first pin up.  First sketched by Charles Dana Gibson in 1902, this imaginary woman was to represent the ideal woman.  She  became known as the liberated young woman with the characteristic upswept hairdo.  Created using a combination  of the Marcel wave and postiche, the Gibson Girl look was to last a quarter of a century.  The hair style consisted of a soft pompadour, puffed for a cloud effect, rolled from temple to temple over a horsehair rat to give it the width that went well with a tiny waist.


The Gibson Girl look became immortalized by the stage idol, Lillian Russell.

                                                                                            Return to Index