“The MANNER of DRESSING the HAIR calls for much attention at the present day, and many are the inquiries addressed to us on this important subject.”
Peterson’s Magazine, 1863.
Hairstyles of the 1860s are, in my opinion, some of the most beautiful of the nineteenth century. Hair was arranged in enormous rolls or plaited into intricately woven patterns. Women donned crowns of flowers or bound their hair up into silken nets or velvet hoods. These were soft, feminine styles, lacking the Gothic severity of the 1830s and 1840s while, at the same time, still far more conservative than the long, draped curls that would come into fashion in the 1870s and 1880s. These were also the hairstyles that most of us recognize from the American Civil War era (1861-1865). Popular coiffures changed from year to year, and often from month to month. Today, we look at a few of the most fashionable styles of 1863.
To begin, it is important to understand that most ladies of this era had long hair. This gave them something to work with when rolling or plaiting hair into various styles. However, just as with women today, not everyone’s hair was thick and luxuriant. For that reason, many women employed false hair. False hair came in a variety of forms, including invisible tufts, comb tufts, plaits, ringlets, and pads. Used to add height, thickness, or simply as fashionable adornment, false hair was meant to blend seamlessly with one’s own hair color. For an exact match, many women made their own hairpieces—also called “rats”—out of the hair that was leftover in their hairbrushes.
Plaits and Rolls
Quite a few of the popular hairstyles featured plaits (or braids) combined with rolls. These were twisted and woven together into patterns. Though women’s magazines of the day recommended certain ways of doing this, there was no hard and fast rule about the exact placement of the plaits. The rolls, however, were usually situated at the nape of the neck or at the sides of the face. As an example, the below image from Godey’s Lady’s Book depicts “a very graceful style of coiffure for a young lady, suitable for the new side combs.” Note the overlapping rolls in the back.
Often, the roll at the nape of the neck was built up in size over a pad of false hair and secured with a thick plait. This plait was frequently made of false hair as well. Alternatively, the roll itself could be made of false hair secured with a lady’s own hair plaited around it. Godey’s advises on how to implement false hair in the below coiffure, stating:
“The front coiffure consists of a full roll and a plait of three strands. The fall at the back can be of false hair, pinned on, and the front plaits twisted round it, which gives it a perfectly natural appearance. When false hair is used for these styles of coiffure, they are arranged with but little trouble.”
Rolls and plaits could be left plain or adorned with combs, flowers, feathers, beads, ribbons, or lace. The image below shows a rolled coiffure with white feathers.
The above images were suitable for day-to-day wear. Formal occasions, however, required something more elaborate. In the image below, the lady has her hair crimped and rolled off of her face and back over a cushion. At the nape of her neck, her hair is arranged in the shape of a bow. This was a very popular style for evening in 1863. For this particular coiffure, Godey’s states:
“The bow at the back can be arranged with the natural hair, or it can be made of a false braid. In the latter case, it is pinned on underneath the back hair, which should be tied and combed over the bow, twisted round and fastened with a fancy comb.”
You can see a hairstyle similar to the one above in the 1863 fashion plate below. The lady in the blue gown at right has her hair arranged in a much more pronounced bow at the back. Her crown is adorned with an elaborate plait.
An even more elaborate bow coiffure is show in the 1863 image below. This bow features rolls, beads, and a circle of plaits.
Floral Wreaths and Floral Bandeaux
For balls and evening wear, ladies also adorned their hair with wreathes of flowers such as orange blossoms, rosebuds, or verbena. Flowers could also be attached to a decorated bandeaux or hair ribbon. The below image depicts “The Coiffure Caliste” which was popular in Autumn of 1863. It is described as being:
“…composed of bandeaux bouffants at each side of the head, and a full bow fixed low at the back. A wreath of red verbena passes along one side, the flowers being disposed in a fall cluster in front of the forehead, and forming a cache-peigne at the back of the head.”
Most commonly of all, flowers were simply pinned into the rolls or plaits of an evening coiffure. This could be quite simple, such as in the image at below right. As you can see, the lady in pink is wearing flowers pinned into both the roll at the nape of her neck and the rolls at the sides of her face.
For a more intricate style, the image below shows a coiffure with multiple layers of rolls trimmed in flowers. Similarly, Godey’s recommends a coiffure of flowers, bows, and rolls arranged as follows:
“…erect three rouleaux of hair, one above the other, at each side of the head; to place bows or flowers in the centre, between the rouleaux, and then to arrange bows of hair and ringlets to fall low at the back.”
Nets of Gold, Leather, and Velvet
Many ladies bound their tresses up in nets. These nets varied widely. There were the ever popular “invisible nets” made of fine silk to match one’s hair color. There were nets made of chenille and those made of gold net, velvet, or leather. Some were suitable for everyday wear, including athletic pursuits such as horseback riding. In fact, according to the 1863 edition of The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, hair nets were an absolute necessity for ladies venturing out of doors as they kept the hair “neat and tidy.”
Plain, everyday nets were worn either on their own or accented with “knots or bows of ribbon over the forehead or at the side of the head.” You can see an example of plain, everyday nets on the woman and little girl at right in the 1863 fashion plate below. The little girl’s hair net features a ribbon bow.
Others nets were elaborately beaded or adorned with gemstones or feathers, making them suitable for evening wear. The below 1863 net is just one example of a hair net intended for more formal occasions. The entire headdress is called “The Eulalio” and is described as follows:
“Net composed of gold card caught with black velvet and gold buttons. Three white plumes are on the left side. Over the head is a roll of black velvet, which is finished on the right side by a large bow with ends trimmed with gold and lace.”
One of the many novelties in nets of 1863 were those made of leather. According to the December 1863 edition of Godey’s Lady’s Book:
“They are formed of narrow strips caught together in diamonds by steel, jet, or gilt beads, and trimmed with ruches and ribbons. Sometimes the leather is of the natural hue, at other times it is colored. Another pretty style has bright silk cords twined in with the leather, which is quite an improvement.”
Hair nets were also made of velvet. The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine reports a new and uncommon style of velvet net for 1863 made of velvet that was “laced in and out and secured to keep the squares in their proper shape, by sewing the velvet together wherever it crosses.” The same year, Godey’s also featured a similar velvet net for the hair. Pictured below, it is made of plaited velvet strips.
A Few Final Words…
The styles above were not the only fashionable coiffures of 1863, but I hope they have given you an idea of how ladies wore their hair that year. You can learn more about Victorian hairstyles in my upcoming book A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Fashion and Beauty (Pen & Sword Books, July 2018). The hairstyles of 1860 also get a mention in my debut Victorian romance novel The Lost Letter.
Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, Vol. VI. London: S. O. Beeton, 1863.
Godey’s Lady’s Book, Vol. LXVII. Philadelphia: Louis A. Godey, 1863.
Peterson’s Magazine, Vol. XLIV. Philadelphia: Peterson’s, 1863.