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.


Available Now

The Lost Letter
A Victorian Romance

England, 1860. An impoverished beauty is unexpectedly reunited with the beastly earl who jilted her three years before. Will they finally find their happily ever after? Or are some fairy-tale endings simply not meant to be? Find out more…

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Advance Praise for The Lost Letter

“This sweet story is the perfect quick read for fans of Regency romances as well as Victorian happily-ever-afters, with shades of Austen and the Brontës that create an entertaining blend of drama and romance.” -RT Book Reviews

“Debut author Matthews adroitly captures the internal conflicts of her two main characters…The author’s prose is consistently refined and elegant, and she memorably builds the simmering attraction between Sylvia and Sebastian.” –Kirkus Reviews

“A fast and emotionally satisfying read, with two characters finding the happily-ever-after they had understandably given up on. A promising debut.” -Library Journal

“An extremely romantic and emotional story… The characters are so realistic and just walk off the page and into your heart. This love story will stay in my memory for some time to come. This is a definite keeper that I can highly recommend.” -The Romance Reviews

“Absolutely remarkable!…Right up there with the best books I have read this year…Beautiful, romantic and emotionally shattering…One of those books that you keep on the bookshelf forever…Flawless!” -Chicks, Rogues and Scandals

“In a sweet Victorian setting, Beauty and the Beast is retold in a two and a half hour read that will have your heart doing somersaults the whole time.” -Book Ink Reviews


© 2015-2017 Mimi Matthews

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9 Comments on "A Simple Coiffure: Basic Hairstyles for Victorian Women of Moderate Means"

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Wendy
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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

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

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

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