36 thoughts on “SNARK WEEK: Girls Did NOT Wear Their Hair Unstyled

  1. My claim to fame is ensuring every female cast member in our (very) community theater production of A Christmas Carol did something with their hair. It could be a simple bun, but it wasn’t down. The girl with the very cute pixie cut got a mob cap. The budget was like $3, so don’t hate on the mob cap. Her hair was “done.” Again, I blame this blog as a source of information.

    1. Greetings from another community theater designer. Good for you! I went to a (community) production of Christmas Carol last year that was a mess. I know the costumer and had to wonder at some of the things she put on that stage (e.g., men in modern jackets but w/ the lapels turned up or otherwise “altered”). The hair was just as bad. Thank you for making the effort.

  2. This drives me insane! Long, down hair just looks wrong with historical clothing. Not that the historical clothing is always much better…

    1. It does look wrong (beachy hair with a corseted bodice–yuck) and it’s such a lazy way of telegraphing age, social status, or whatever the filmmakers want to tell the viewers. I don’t like the implication that I’m too dumb or ignorant to figure out such details myself.

  3. Can people really not grasp that the whole point of a biggin, fortunate or unfortunate, was to keep the hair clean and out of the way by covering and containing it?

    Also, who also thinks that those biggins in Wolf Hall and All is True will have been constantly falling off? You can’t park a loose linen hood thing on flowing locks and expect it to stay there. Which is yet another reason why historical people didn’t do that.

  4. One of the worst cases was Mathilde in 18th cent. French film Ridicule where she played the non-corrupted ingénue (vs the whicked whigged court), all in long hair and bangs strolling in the fields….depressing!

  5. I started paying more attention to historical hairstyles when I started having to design hair for community theater productions. I still have a lot to learn, but BOY did I start noticing some egregious howlers. I always wonder how much is laziness and how much is the director telling the hair designer, “No, I don’t care about HA, I want all the unmarried females to wear their hair down.” or some such nonsense.

  6. Juana of Castile and Aragon was Catherine of Aragon’s elder sister. Her son became Carlos V/Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Typo?

  7. Am I correct that Anne Boleyn had her hair up and bound for her initial, flamboyant, journey along the Thames by barge to the Tower at the start of her coronation festivities – but then wore it loose to her waist for her state entry into the city two days later and then again for her actual crowning in Westminster abbey? I also remember seeing a contemporary sketch of her by Holbein, which showed her coronation banquet, where she sits in state and wears a crown but, from what I recall, she clearly has her hair flowing free and loose. Do you think that this was in representation of the virgin Mary and spoke of her fertility (she was quite heavily pregnant at the time from what I’ve gathered) or do you think it was more for romantic aesthetics, creating a more ‘Arthurian’ feel to match her lavish robes/gown, as well as for the practicalities of the crowning itself?

    1. Yep, that’s part of that late 18th century/early 19th century naturalistic trend whereby it looks like girls mostly DID wear their hair down and either curled or just natural.

  8. I’m curious about whether the unstyled hair for younger women might be more accurate in the case of Little Women than in some of the other examples, at least for everyday? The March family is based on Alcott’s own somewhat eccentric, Transcendentalist upbringing, and I know that in some of her later books (Eight Cousins, if I recall correctly) she has characters do things like eschew corsets and tight-fitting clothing, so being out of step with fashion might not be too surprising. I’m afraid I don’t know enough about the history of hair in that period to say with any confidence, though, just curious!

    1. You’re right there, although as I ranted in my review of the most recent Little Women, Meg specifically is described as putting her hair up for her wedding, so I’m guessing Meg and Amy would be more on-trend.

      1. That’s very true! And if everyone else’s hair was historically accurate, having certain people in period movies wear their hair unstyled deliberately for character reasons (like Jo March, or the Renaissance women deliberately styling themselves after the Virgin Mary) would stand out more!

  9. You should snark Camille for the young and dishy Colin Firth, too.
    I have my hair in a ponytail, and I’m trying to calculate the sexual message of it.

  10. I have to disagree somewhat with your suggested (and we’ll-researched) source of this trend. I don’t think most costume/hair-dressing designers look at history with that level of nuance and knowledge of period sources.

    I am almost certain that “hair down for young ladies” comes rather heavily from Pre-Raphaelite inspiration, where the long, flowing hair was ALL about sexuality intertwined with purity. The Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic absolutely shaped the designs and visual style of early silent films and once it was established in the movie industry, it just became convention as a visual shorthand.

    1. Ditto to Tanya’s point. This hairstyle is now SO ingrained as a “visual shorthand” that I think anything else looks wrong to the layperson. As someone said on a different post, “not excusing, just explaining.”

  11. I would agree with the comment above that a lot of this is probably 19th century imagined ideas of what the medieval era was like. But that just shows a lack of research, or reliance on one’s own impressions rather than actually looking at period sources or good secondary sources.

    It’s weird also how many contradictory ideas we always seem to have about past eras, particularly medieval. They had terrible hygiene! But also crazy hairstyles! Except when they didn’t care about doing anything with it! Also they thought dumb things like the earth is flat! Haha weren’t they stupid.. Erm, no. We know more than them, but take them out of the chain of human history and we would not be where we are. Also, just from a practical thing–is anyone thinking about all the tangles that would be happening in those girls’ hair? There’s a reason most parents today also still do something with their kids’ hair.

  12. As someone with very long hair, I cannot imagine leaving it loose in an era before showers, detangler, wet brushes, and de-frizzing products. I have tried different periods’ alleged hair care methods, and I can tell you they are pretty much all on history’s trash heap for a reason. I call bullshit on the idea of anyone who didn’t have a personal dresser running around with free-flowing hair if they could possibly help it.

    1. Or anyone with children! I’ve spent heaven knows how long combing food, snot, leaves, and head lice out of my children’s flowing locks and I have unlimited access to hot running water, electric lights, and moderately toxic chemicals to help.

  13. The difficulty with using portraits to judge how hair was worn, is that they are formal images and not everyday life. A quick search I have made, turned up several portraits of young pre-teen girls and one on the cusp with their hair long, down and actually rather messy. I have thought that the putting up of one’s hair was one of the steps into adulthood for a young girl (and adulthood did start earlier than today), as being breeched was for a young boy. So I wouldn’t object to any girl under twelve or thirteen with their hair down, but after that would begin to wonder.

    1. Exactly. Especially for those very young girls, I doubt they had it done that way every day.

  14. There were very practical reasons for tying back and covering your hair in the days of cooking over open fires and smokey great halls. Women made a virtue of necessity by turning their head kerchiefs and caps into fashion statements. Loose hair, except under specific circumstances, like a wedding, meant dirt poor or slutty.

  15. “…but the front part IS pulled back, contained, and accented with a bow…” So the American Girl Samantha doll has a historically accurate hairstyle, ha ha! But would Felicity have worn her hair back in a ponytail?

      1. Yes, I have seen quite a lot of hairstyles for 19th century young girls (I mean, I have seen then in period journals, not personally) where the hair is left loose in the back, maybe curled a little. But the front part was always styled and braided or otherwise put up. There was usually a bow involved somehwere.
        Also, they were usually quite clearly smart hairstyles, for some unusual, dressy occasion. Definitely more often the hair is braided in some way, especially for everyday outfits.
        One thing though – little girls with loose, shoulder-length hair do turn up in journals on occasion. So maybe they could get away with it as long as their hair didn’t grow very long. But I still wouldn’t call it “unstyled”, as the hair is quite clearly neatly arranged, maybe curled a little, and often with bangs.

  16. I don’t know if this could be a future snark post, but how about waking up in bed and the hair is perfectly styled? This always bugs me when watching Elizabeth in PoC – wouldn’t it be historically accurate across all times/periods that your hair is messy and needs to be styled after getting up in the morning? Just putting that here given the topic of long locks.

  17. Sorry to be “that person,” but–

    If girls and unmarried young women never actually did this IRL back in the late 19th century, then why are there so many images of them depicted with their hair down, but fully dressed (not déshabillé) and in everyday settings?

    Renoir painted scads of girls and even young women with hair loose, with only the front part pulled out of the eyes and secured at the crown, and with the hanging part not even looking particularly well-combed– such as this 1880 portrait of 8-year-old Irène Cahen d’Anvers, sister of the girls in “Pink and Blue”:


    or this 1894 portrait of 15- or 16-year old Julie Manet, daughter of the painter Berthe Morisot and niece of Édouard Manet:


    Being part of a family of artists (and later a painter and diarist), Julie Manet was frequently depicted in paintings and photographs, and by her teen years was usually shown with this same loose hanging hair, as in this photo contemporary with the Renoir portrait:



    And Renoir at least once depicted a young– but presumably married– adult woman with long, loose hair cascading over her shoulders, in this 1876 painting:


    While the young mother is wearing a coat with a fur collar and cuffs, her light-colored hair appears to be falling loose over her shoulders as well.

    And it’s consistent with the woman’s hairstyle in this 1873 painting by Édouard Manet, which depicts 29-year-old Victorine Meuret, his frequent model (and a painter in her own right), as another woman out in public with a child:


    And then there are photographs of women with similar hairstyling, like Annie Oakley, who always wore her hair pulled back but hanging loose in back– as in this photo dated to the 1880’s, when she would’ve been in her 20s:


    Sure, Oakley was a stage performer with a “Wild West” image (and short hemlines), but there are quite a few photos of other women– possibly carte de visite photos– with the same hairstyle from that era:



    So while I certainly wouldn’t say having loose flowing hair was commonplace, everyday styling in this era, it would appear to be at least somewhat more prevalent IRL in at least some eras, and somewhat less of a movie cliche than is the conventional wisdom here.

    1. To be fair, “loose” and “unstyled” aren’t necessarily the same thing. The photo of Annie Oakley, for example, shows her with fashionable bangs and pulled-back hair, which could be called styling.

      Good points, though, especially the examples on adults!

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