Sheared Bliss


History Hair
February 3, 2014, 9:32 pm
Filed under: History | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

“My dear, where did you get it? Twenty-five dollars! Jo, I hope you haven’t done anything rash?”

“No, it’s mine honestly. I didn’t beg, borrow, or steal it. I earned it, and I don’t think you’ll blame me, for I only sold what was my own.”

As she spoke, Jo took off her bonnet, and a general outcry arose, for all her abundant hair was cut short.

“Your hair! Your beautiful hair!” “Oh, Jo, how could you? Your one beauty.” “My dear girl, there was no need of this.” “She doesn’t look like my Jo any more, but I love her dearly for it!”

~Little Women, Louisa May Alcott

While I’m certainly not going to accuse anyone of cutting off their one beauty, I know that having a shorter, modern hairstyle is a challenge for many female reenactors (including myself).  There were occasional trends for short hairstyles on women in various historic time periods and other reasons that women might have their hair cut short, but in general women had much longer and more elaborately styled hair than is common today.  So, what’s a modern girl to do?  Of course, you could spend many years growing your hair out, but even with quite long hair it can still be difficult to achieve the right look.  How did women achieve impressive hairstyles like this?

Well, some women had other women around to help style their hair – mothers, sisters, or even lady’s maids, but the real answer is that they were great big fakers.  Throughout history, women have used all manner of false hair to supplement their own hair and achieve fashionable styles.  What do you think Jo’s shorn hair was used for, anyway?

So, in the noble tradition of our ancestresses, we’re going to fake it until we make it.

The following is a style that I’ve devised to turn my modern, shoulder-length, layered hairstyle into something appropriate for 1860s reenacting.  This style works best on hair between chin and shoulder length that can mostly be pulled back into a low ponytail.  It was inspired by originals like these.

Before we get started, a few general rules about ladies’ hairstyles in the 1860s.

  • Fashion dictated that ladies’ hair should be parted in the center.  Men parted their hair on the side.
  • The desired shape was low and round to enhance the roundness of the face.  There should be very little height on top of the head and lots of fullness around the sides of the face and nape of the neck.
  • Hair should be very smooth.  To the modern eye this often looks greasy both because hair was washed less frequently than it usually is now and because various types of oils and grease were used as styling aids.  Smooth and slicked down was considered more attractive than tousled and flyaway.
  • Ladies always covered their hair when leaving the house.  Even the best hairstyle is no excuse to run around outside without an appropriate hat or bonnet.

Of course, there are always exceptions to the rules so do your own research to make sure that whatever hairstyle you choose is appropriate to the time period, location, activity, and individual that you are portraying.

Now, on to the tutorial!

Supplies:

  • Dirty hair.  Yes, really.  I have the best luck with this hairstyle if I haven’t washed my hair in two or three days.
  • A brush
  • A comb
  • Some sort of styling aid.  You can use hairspray, gel, or mousse in a pinch, but you’ll get a more historically accurate look with something greasier like pomade.  A multitude of modern pomades and hair waxes are available.  If you’re feeling particularly historically accurate you can make your own pomade from a period recipe.  You may even have something on hand that will work.  I use a body butter that I happen to have that’s mostly shea butter.
  • A bun that matches your hair color.  Kanekalon is a fairly good quality synthetic hair at a really reasonable price.  I bought this switch, braided it, coiled it and sewed it in place so that it would hold its shape, and covered it with a fine hair net to keep it smooth (although you can see in the picture it’s starting to frizz a bit).  For tips on working with Kanekalon, check out this post on the Sewing Academy.
  • Two rats or chignon forms.  My rats are two of these hairpieces which I happened to have on hand, wrapped in fine hairnets.  You can purchase mesh chignon forms or you can do what women did historically – save the hair that collects on your brush and bundle that into a rat when you have enough.  If you don’t have a hair receiver for collecting your shed hair, a small, empty tissue box works well.
  • Two flip clips
  • A rubber band
  • Bobby pins.  I use 10 large pins.  You may need additional small pins to secure flyaway hair if your hair is shorter or has more layers.
  • A hairnet if desired.  Dissertations could be (and have been) written on 1860s hair nets.  Here’s the brief summary of the relevant facts for day wear hair nets – ribbon hair nets for evening wear are another story.  They were called hair nets, not snoods.  They were worn over styled hair, not loose hair.  They were quite fine and in a color that matched the hair.  They were generally made of silk and netted.  Mine is technically incorrect because it’s crocheted cotton.  I didn’t know better when I made it, but it’s not too bad.  You can net your own if you want to be really accurate or you can buy one that’s not too bad.

1. Part your hair down the center from your hairline to the crown of your head.

2. Make a second part across the crown of your head from ear to ear.  Use clips or rubber bands to hold the front two sections of hair out of the way.  Pull the back section of hair smoothly into a low ponytail at the nape of your neck.

You should now have a nice T-shaped part.

3. Using large bobby pins, secure a rat slightly behind and above each ear.

4. Pull one front section of hair back over the rat making sure it’s very smooth.  Secure behind the rat with a flip clip.  Repeat on the other side.


5. Place the bun low on the back of your head at the nape of your neck.  It should cover the small ponytail and both flip clips.  Secure with large bobby pins.

6. Use your styling aid to smooth your hair and tame flyaways, paying special attention to smoothing the front sections on either side of the center part.  If using pomade, remember that a little goes a long way.  I put a small dab of body butter on my hands and rub it in like lotion and then rub my hands over my hair to smooth it down.

7. If desired (or needed for a little more coverage and control of short layers), add a hairnet.

Done!

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