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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Give Me a Head with Hair, Long Beautiful Hair!

In Dora Deane by Mary Jane Holmes, our sweet heroine, Dora Deane, is tricked into cutting off her long, luxuriant hair so her wicked cousin Eugenia can sell it for big bucks to buy a new dancing ensemble. The story takes place in New York in 1858, and it got me to wondering if buying and selling hair was really such a big thing back then, since wearing wigs hadn't been in style for quite some time. But it turns out that accessorizing one's hair with more hair has never really gone out of style!

The Victorian Era encompassed more than sixty years of women's fashion trends (of which there were many!), and though hairstyles also changed over those years, one thing remained constant: the elaborate styles required an abundance of hair to pull them off successfully. Coils, curls, chignons, knots, clusters, fringes, ringlets--it was a veritable hairdressing playground, and one which every fashionable woman entered into fearlessly. But, one needed the proper equipment--thick, strong hair, and lots of it--to carry off those styles, and thanks to the merciless application of hot tongs and crimpers, a lot of women weren't blessed with a head full of healthy hair. So how did they manage to keep their hair in fashion?

Many women saved and re-used their own hair to achieve their desired look. It was very common for Victorian women to keep the hair that came loose in their brushes, storing it in special "hair receivers." This hair could either be teased into "rats," filler hairpieces used underneath the hair to create volume and height, or it could be washed and conditioned and woven or braided into hair extensions. But collecting that much hair took so much time. Many women preferred to purchase ready-made hair, and luckily for them hair was available just about everywhere.

Over the course of the Victorian Era, hats got smaller, and hairstyles got bigger. Advancements in artificial hair were made and the market for hair was booming. In 1872 French hairdresser Francois Marcel created the "Marcel Wave" by strategically using heated curling irons to produce a more natural effect than crimping, and it revolutionized the art of hairdressing all over the world. It also sparked demand for curly hairpieces, and "scalpettes" and "frizettes" were in such demand that at one point they were being manufactured at a rate of two tons per week. But hairpieces made with real human hair continued to be the ultimate coiffure accessory for those women wealthy enough to afford them. Selling one's hair was an honest, albeit drastic method for a woman to earn some quick cash.

Dora Deane highlights another popular custom of the time, that of giving locks of hair as tokens of love and remembrance. There was a time when some considered gifting a lock of hair to be the most personal and meaningful form of sentiment, and the gifted locks were treated as cherished keepsakes, as is the case in one of the more poignant aspects of Dora's story.

Yes, hair was very important to the Victorians, and though many, many styles have come and gone between then and now, one thing hasn't changed: we women are still pretty serious about our hair!

Check out the great images of vintage 'dos and contemporary vintage-inspired styles on our Pinterest Boards!


Dora Deane by Mary Jane Holmes
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