A Fashionable Coiffure: Rolls, Plaits, and other Popular Hairstyles of 1863

“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.

The Reluctant Bride by Auguste Toulmouche 1865.
The Reluctant Bride by Auguste Toulmouche 1865.

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.

Godey’s Lady’s Book, April 1863.

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.”

The Coiffure Caliste, Godey’s Lady’s Book, September 1863.

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.

Le Moniteur de la Coiffure 2, October 1863.

Evening Bows

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.”

Godey’s Lady’s Book, April 1863.
Godey’s Lady’s Book, April 1863.

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.

Petit Courrier des Dames, Plate 075, 1863

An even more elaborate bow coiffure is show in the 1863 image below.  This bow features rolls, beads, and a circle of plaits.

Le Moniteur de la Coiffure, Plate 026, 1863.

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.”

The Coiffure Caliste, Godey’s Lady’s Book, September 1863.
The Coiffure Caliste, Godey’s Lady’s Book, September 1863.

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.

Modes Vraies Musée des Familles, Plate 046, 1863
Modes Vraies Musée des Familles, Plate 046, 1863

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.”

Le Moniteur de la Coiffure, October 1863.

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.

Journal des Demoiselles, Plate 054, 1863.
Journal des Demoiselles, Plate 054, 1863.

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.”

Eulalio Headdress, Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1863.

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.

Velvet Hair Net, Godey’s Lady’s Book, February 1863.

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

Mimi Matthews is the author of The Pug Who Bit Napoleon: Animal Tales of the 18th and 19th Centuries (to be released by Pen and Sword Books in November 2017).  She researches and writes on all aspects of nineteenth century history—from animals, art, and etiquette to fashion, beauty, feminism, and law. 

Sources

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


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21 Comments on "A Fashionable Coiffure: Rolls, Plaits, and other Popular Hairstyles of 1863"

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Lydia
Guest

Wow, I had no idea that hairstyles in the 1860s were so ornate.

Mimi Matthews
Guest

Oh yes, they definitely could be. For at-home wear, though, lady’s generally wore their hair pulled back into a simple roll.

Lindsay Downs (@ldowns2966)
Guest

From the descriptions and pictures some of those hair styles, especially for the evening, must have taken an hour or more to do.

Mimi Matthews
Guest

I think, with the help of a skilled lady’s maid, some of these could be done in an hour or less!

Pam Shropshire
Guest

The hairstyles with the flowers reminds me of Meg in Little Women, when she is preparing her wardrobe for a house party at some wealthy friends. She remarks on a “lovely old-fashioned pearl set in the treasure chest, but Mother said real flowers were the prettiest ornament for a young girl…”

Mimi Matthews
Guest

Flowers really were quite popular as a simple adornment. In fact, in 1860s fashion plates, flowered coiffures with ball gowns are practically the norm!

Angelyn
Guest

Reminds me of the first time we see Scarlett with her hair done up as a young matron, (I think I have this right) in mourning, crying “why should I have to pretend and pretend!” throwing herself down on the bed to reveal that large comb above the rolled style of her hair.

Mimi Matthews
Guest

That is a perfect example of one of these hairstyles, Angelyn :) And such a great scene, too!

AlexandriaConstantinova
Guest

I assume that these elaborate & intricate hairstyles necessitated the help of a maid or two. Were these hairstyles more common among wealthy women?

The film The Piano also comes to mind, where its heroine, Ada (Holly Hunter) has her hair severely divided into sections which are then braided, draped, rolled.

Fascinating post, Mimi. Have a lovely Thanksgiving

Mimi Matthews
Guest

Thanks, Alexandria :) Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday as well! And yes, a lady’s maid would have been essential for some of these styles. Also, the fancier ones were more appropriate for balls or evening entertainments among fashionable people, but I see no reason why a girl of more modest means couldn’t attempt them for a country dance. The rolls, plaits, and flowers were relatively easy with practice. And with false hair, even easier!

Kathleen W.
Guest

Thank you for another great post. This subject is of particular interest to me. I love the styles of this era. I believe that without much effort they can be translated to use today. I’ve been experimenting with crocheting hairnets recently. I enjoyed seeing the pictures of how they were worn in the past. Thanks again I enjoyed this post.

Mimi Matthews
Guest

Thank you so much for your comment, Kathleen :) I’m so glad you found this article helpful. I agree with you about the styles being adaptable for today. In fact, many of them translated well through the 20th century, too. Just look at the rolled hairstyles of the 1940s!

Kathleen W.
Guest

The 1940’s are another favorite era of mine. The hair, the clothes. Still feminine without being trussed up and unable to move.

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Renée Reynolds
Guest

This post feels like the Victorian version of scrolling through Pinterest for hairstyle ideas :) I have long hair, and I love to mix a bun with braids still. Terrific post!

Mimi Matthews
Guest

I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Renee :) I think some of these styles are still wearable. Especially the rolls and braids!

Nas
Guest

I think these hairstyles are very beautiful and unique and it gives women a sense of confidence and poise. I simply Love them

Mimi Matthews
Guest

I agree :) The hairstyles of the 1860s were some of the most beautiful of the 19th century in my opinion.

poetsjasmineblog
Guest

Wow! Very comprehensive article, even in old days life was certainly hard for the ladies. I loved all the hairstyles, but I actually did feel sorry for the women. They really experienced hardships even in the form of elaborate hairdos.
Thank you for this wonderful post though, it was certainly an eye-opening experience.

Mimi Matthews
Guest

I’m so glad you enjoyed it :) Thanks for commenting!

poetsjasmineblog
Guest

My pleasure. :)

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