A Simple Coiffure: Basic Hairstyles for Victorian Women of Moderate Means

Hair styled with a center parting and plaits.
(An Embroidery Lesson by Gustave Leonard de Jonghe, 1864.)

For balls and other formal events, fashionable women of the early 1860s often arranged their hair in elaborate styles with artificial tufts, pads, and false plaits. On a day-to-day basis, however, Victorian women of more moderate means stuck to more practical styles. These styles included firmly pinned plaits, simple chignons, and rolls bound up in a hair net or secured with a ribbon. In today’s post, we take a brief look at some of these styles, specifically those which feature in my new Victorian romance novel The Lost Letter.

At the beginning of my novel, the heroine, Sylvia Stafford, is working as a governess. She has no lady’s maid to assist her with her hair, nor does she have the time in the mornings to arrange her tresses in an intricate style. Instead, Sylvia and others like her would generally roll their hair into a simple chignon worn at the nape of their neck or twist it into a plain coil or intertwined sections of plaits.

The July 1860 edition of Godey’s Lady’s Book describes a simple coiffure comprised of four, intertwined sections of plaits. To create this style, the hair was divided first from “the centre of the forehead to the nape of the neck” and then by “a transverse parting” made from ear to ear. With the hair in four equally divided sections, the two sides of the front were then plaited back from the forehead. The two sides of the back were plaited as well, with the plait beginning “just above the ear.”

A hairstyle of tightly pinned plaits was perfect for a Victorian governess.
(Plaited Coiffure, Godey’s Lady’s Book, July 1860.)

With the four plaits in place, all that was left was to secure them together. As Godey’s explains:

“The plait of back hair on the right hand side is passed across the nape of the neck, and the end fastened by a hair pin, under the root of the plait on the left side. The plait of the left side of the back hair is brought round to the right side, and fastened in the same manner; and thus the two plaits cross each other at the back of the neck. The plaits of the front hair are then brought round to the back of the neck, where the ends are fastened under the crossing of the plaits of back hair.”

A tightly plaited, well-pinned hairstyle could last throughout a busy work day. It not only served to keep one’s hair out of the way, but also to keep it clean and tidy. Plaits were generally unobtrusive, especially when bound close to the head. An employer was less likely to object to them than to clusters of curls or a more fashionable padded roll (styles which might lead a governess or companion to be accused of “putting on airs”).

Victorian ladies often styled their hair in simple chignons or coiled or interwoven plaits.
(Petit Courrier des Dames, 1861.)

A simple chignon or “bun” was another option for the Victorian lady of more moderate means. All that was needed was a handful of pins. For added security, the bun could be covered with a fine, silk hair net. During the 1860s, “invisible” hair nets were available. Made in the same colours as a lady’s hair, invisible hair nets were a practical, everyday way to keep stray hairs in place without appearing gaudy or ostentatious. They were also quite suitable for keeping the hair out of the way during athletic endeavours. In The Lost Letter, for example, Sylvia wears an invisible hair net when she goes riding.

Hair nets were ideal for riding and other sports.
(Lady’s Riding Habit, Les Modes Parisiennes, 1860.)

It’s only one week until the September 19 release of The Lost Letter! If you haven’t yet pre-ordered your copy, I very much hope you will do so. I can’t wait to share it with you all. In the meanwhile, I hope the above has given you some idea of how ladies of the 1860s wore their hair on an everyday basis. For information on more elaborate styles, please see my article on Fashionable Coiffures of 1863.

Mimi Matthews is the author of  The Pug Who Bit Napoleon: Animal Tales of the 18th and 19th Centuries (Pen and Sword Books, November 2017) and A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Fashion and Beauty (Pen and Sword Books, July 2018).  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. London: S. O. Beeton, 1860.

Godey’s Lady’s Book. Philadelphia: Louis A. Godey, 1860.

The Ladies’ Home Magazine. Philadelphia: T. S. Arthur & Co., 1859.


Now Available for Pre-Order

A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Fashion and Beauty

What did a Victorian lady wear for a walk in the park? How did she style her hair for an evening at the theatre? And what products might she have used to soothe a sunburn or treat an unsightly blemish? Mimi Matthews answers these questions and more as she takes readers on a decade-by-decade journey through Victorian fashion and beauty history. Find out more…

Pre-Order Today
Amazon | Amazon UK | Barnes & Noble


© 2015-2018 Mimi Matthews

For exclusive information on upcoming book releases, giveaways, and other special treats, subscribe to Mimi’s newsletter THE PENNY NOT SO DREADFUL.

You can also connect with Mimi on Facebook and Twitter.

  Subscribe  
Notify of
Wendy
Guest
Wendy

I’m afraid this is one area of Victorian style that I could never adopt. I always prefer to wear my hair down, not up and back!

paper doll
Guest
paper doll

Fab post as always, Mimi. Thank you for keeping this history known and in such well done manner.. The importance of bonnets for middle class and shawls for the working class, to cover their heads when out, can’t be over stated; particularly for the latter, who had time to fix their hair ? …but also one could not appear out and about with an uncovered head , you would be thought mad.lol

My copy of “The Lost Letter ” is finally on its way!…yay!

Lora M
Guest
Lora M

What an awesome post. I love that no small detail is too small for you to research and include in your writing. Thank you for sharing!

Nicol Valentin
Guest
Nicol Valentin

The twisted braids are gorgeous! I wonder if it worked with curly hair?

New Natural Hairstyles
Guest
New Natural Hairstyles

I don’t know it before reading this article. Thank you for posting.

This website uses cookies for a better browsing experience and to analyze site traffic to improve site performance. Find out more about how cookies are used on this site and how you can manage cookies in your browser by reading the Cookie Policy