When I first started this blog, I was an unemployed costumer attempting to create period gowns and costumes with very limited means. Although now employed, I still try to be as thrifty as possible. I am still "The Broke Costumer"!

In addition to posts about the outfits I make on a budget, this blog includes short research articles on fashion, history, accessories, styles, or whatever interests me at the moment.

I hope you enjoy my journey into the land of inexpensive costuming and short articles.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

What's Up With Your Hair?

Several years ago at a costume event, I was approached by a woman who asked me “What’s up with your hair?”   At that time, I had a blunt cut bob, not an "historical hairstyle".  I was at a loss for words and just walked away. A woman nearby overheard and asked if I had the Kyoto Museum costuming book.  I said I did, and she told me to look at a particular painting in the book.  When I returned home, I took out the book and found it.   The painting has a woman who pretty much had my hairstyle.  It is called  "Memories (Lawn Tennis)" by Fernand Khnopff.  Note the woman in white to the left. She looks the most comfortable of them all.
Let’s look at some of the reasons cutting the hair might have been necessary:

    1.  Illness.   For long illnesses, hair would become dirty and matted over time, and would be cut.  They also believed if the patient had a high fever, cutting the hair cooled them down.  In 1917, the Royal  Romanov children all had their heads shaved when they caught the measles.

Anastasia on the left, all the Romanov children on the right.


2.  Hair Disorders. Thinning hair, falling hair, bald patches, etc.
3.  Vermin.   Lice, bedbugs and other varmints.
4.  Damaged Hair.   When curling tongs were in vogue, hair became severely damaged from the constant use of hot irons.  Occasionally hair became scorched and often had an unpleasant odor that had to be masked with heavy perfumes.  It was not uncommon to have one’s hair reduced to a wool-like texture. 
5.  Becoming a Nun.  A wonderful nun has a blog called Ask Sister Mary Martha.  A novitiate asked why sisters cut off their hair.  Sister MM replied “cutting off all your hair in the most ghastly, freakish way with dull scissors became a way to show our humility before God, to give up the worldly. I don't mean it was a ghastly, freakish thing to do. I mean it was purposefully done in the most chopped up, lopped off fashion one could muster.”  Sister Mary's Blog
6.  Need for Money.   We are all familiar with the story of Little Women, wherein Jo sells her hair for money to send her mother to her ill father’s side.  Also, in the Gift of the Maji, the wife sells her beautiful hair to buy her husband a Christmas gift.  Victorian era hairpieces were getting larger and more complicated, requiring a need for hair donors.
7.  Punishment.  Various crimes, prostitution, shaming.

Now lets look at those who chose to cut their hair.

Bals des Victimes.   This is great subject matter and deserves its own blog post!  Here are the basics. 

The Bals des Victimes, or victims' balls, were balls that were said to have been put on by dancing societies for a short time after the Reign of Terror. To be admitted to these societies and balls, one had to be a near relative of someone (and prove it with paperwork) who had been guillotined during the Terror, which was a  period of violence that occurred after the onset of the French revolutionary war, marked by mass executions of “enemies of the revolution”. Some say the guests bowed to each other with extreme head jerkings, to reenact decapitation by the guillotine.

The symbolic outfit, the costume a la victime  for women, was a white Greco Roman style, with a red ribbon or string around their neck to represent where the guillotine blade sliced through their neck.  Red ribbons sometimes crossed the bodice, and occasionally were tied around bare feet. Women also wore red shawls to identify themselves as victimes

The hair of the victime was shorn short, almost ragged looking, as their family members had done to them, so they could be beheaded in a single clean swipe. This was known as the coiffure a la victime or coiffure a la guillotine. These fashion plates show the style of dress and short hairstyle. Those women who did not choose to cut their hair, wore it tucked high to achieve the same effect.
below left:  Croisures à la victime

Madame Arnault de Gorse by Louis-Leopold Boilly



This fad seemed to be short lived and the more attractive a la Titus hair style came into fashion.                                        
Madame Fouler (Henriette Victoire Elisabeth d’Avrange), comtesse de Relingue, with coiffure à la Titus, by Louis Léopold Boilly, 1810

Free from heavy wigs, men and women both wore a version of the a la Titus, similar to the busts of Ancient Roman Emperor Titus.  Even men who were bald and wore wigs, styled  it a la Titus.  Beginning in 1796, women started wearing their hair a la Titus.  This lasted until approximately 1809 with several variations. 

"The short, sometimes curly hair combed forward “a la Titus” (both men and women) depicted a masculine head.  On women, the ultra short hairstyle complements the feminine robe en chamise.  This gender bending style exteriorizes the wearer’s confidence in her intellectual prowess (the masculine head) and her sexual appeal (feminine body)”   Helena Gosilo and Beth Holgren “Russia-Women-Culture                                                                                      

Adventurous women like Lady Caroline Lamb wore short cropped hairstyles "à la Titus", the Journal de Paris reporting in 1802 that "more than half of elegant women were wearing their hair or wig à la Titus", a layered cut usually with some tresses hanging down.
From Ruby Lane, a miniature painting
Amalie Wolff-Malcolmi by
Johann Friedrich August Tischbein

1840s and 1850s

"Women shared fairly equally with men in running the Oneida Association, a Perfectionist community established near Syracuse, New York in 1848.  Almost from the start, they adopt the Bloomer costume and short hair;  they later take on "manly" work and invade the machine shop."  "Timelines of American Women's History"  by Sue Heinmann.

 Photo courtesy of the Oneida Community Mansion House.

In the 1850's, suffrage gatherings with speakers, who occasionally wore the bloomer costume ...."the loose trousers, even with a skirt worn over them, shocked many in the audience.  (Their) bobbed, short hair was also frowned upon"    "The American Victorian Woman the Myth and the Reality" By Mabel Collins Donnelly. 1986

"Dr. Mary Edward Walker was the only woman in her medical school class in 1855. Her medical practice floundered because few people trusted a woman doctor. Walker volunteered her service to the Union Army, but was not allowed to enlist, so she served as a volunteer. She was not allowed to serve as a doctor, either, so she served as a nurse—at first. Walker ministered to the wounded at the First Battle of Bull Run and worked her way into the position of a field surgeon's assistant. She was awarded an army commission 1863, but was still technically designated as a civilian worker. Walker was taken by the Confederacy as a prisoner of war for several months in 1864 and was accused of being a spy. She continued to serve until the end of the war. In 1865 Walker became the only woman ever to receive the Medal of Honor."   "Women in Medicine"   Mary wore her hair short and continued to wear suits until she died.


During the civil war, many women cut their hair and disguised themselves as soldiers in order to fight for their country.   There are over 400 documented cases of women fighting in the civil war.  Read more here

Frances Clayton was one such woman.

Sarah Emma Edmonds (Private Franklin Thompson)  fought for the Union.
Sara Rosetta Wakeman fought as Private Lyons Wakeman (right)

 Jennie Hodgers enlisted in the 95th Illinois Infantry under the name Albert Cashier. She was accepted as “one of the boys” and considered to be a good soldier. After the war she continued to live as a man.  "In November of 1910, Hodgers was hit by a car and broke her leg, and her secret was discovered. The local hospital agreed not to divulge her true gender, and she was sent to the Soldiers and Sailors Home in Quincy, Illinois to recover. Hodgers remained a resident of the Home until March of 1913, when due to the onset of dementia, she was sent to a state hospital for the insane. Attendants there discovered her sex and forced her to wear a dress. The press got a hold of the story and soon everyone knew that Private Albert Cashier had been a woman in disguise." Civilwar.org

Non-conformist, provocative and quick-witted, Henrietta Dugdale  (1827-1918)  was a pioneering advocate for the rights of Australian women.  She was an ardent activist, and still managed to have three husbands and several children.  She was a radical, free-thinking feminist. In 1884 she took office as inaugural President of the Victorian Women's Suffrage Society, convinced that the vote would help women achieve equal social, legal and political privileges with men. When she advocated reform of women's dress some accused her of sacrificing her modesty.  She devised her own version of rational dress, a homemade divided skirt with a tunic top which she wore without a corset. She cut her hair short.

 Augusta Zadow
Left,  Portrait of Augusta Zadow, the first woman Inspector of Factories. Taken from the Weekly Herald newspaper 17 July 1896 page 1.

Zadow spoke in favor of women's suffrage and was a supporter of the Women's Suffrage League

 These teen girls look like they may have been ill and had their hair cut off.

 A beauty with short, curly hair.



"As the century progressed, the New Women (1890s) who were deemed mannish in their quest for power and knowledge became increasingly associated with men’s hairstyles.  The new intellectual woman was visualized as plunging into science after having cut her hair short to be in proper context for Professor Huxley’s lectures. ....There is the manly young woman she certainly prefers short hair, otherwise she will not be so easily mistaken for one of the other sex, the height of her ambition.   Short hair is a great comfort, besides, how shall she persuade mankind to believe in her masculine power of intellect if her mighty brow be softened by feminine curls?"     "Representations of Hair in Victorian Literature and Culture" by Galia Ofek


In 1908, the modernist couturier Paul Poiret broke dramatically with convention when he chopped the models’ hair for the presentation of his collection in Paris. In France the short hair style was called mode à la garçonne, that is, the hairstyle of a man.

The very popular dancer, Irene Castle,  became a major fashion trendsetter, initiating the vogue for shorter, fuller skirts and loose, elasticized corsets. She is also credited with introducing American women in 1913 or 1914 to the bob, the short, boyish hairstyle.

By 1917, many in the “smart set” were cutting their hair short and, in a few years, the bob was attaining epidemic proportions. This style was supposed to represent the ‘New American Woman’: a busy, active and independent woman, liberated from old social customs.  By the 1920s, bobbing one's hair became more commonplace, and even glamorous.

Left, Clara Bow

Right, Louise Brooks


  1. Love all the info! Thank you for all your work in pulling it all together!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Very informative post, and I enjoyed all the pictures!

    1. Thank you! It was interesting to research :)

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Interesting info...but getting back to your introduction. Was the woman asking why your hairstyle did not match your period costume? Did she have an influence on you, because the pictures I have seen in your posts you now seem to coordinate your hairstyle to the period?

    1. Yes, I had on a bustle dress - however my accessories were steampunk - top hat with goggles, etc. I was not aiming for period Victorian, but I guess she thought I was. I just felt the tone of her voice was pretty rude, no matter what I was wearing. I now wear my hair as period as I can, but its longer now and I can do things with it!

  5. I could swear we came up with a bunch of smart comebacks if that ever happened again.

    1. LOL I am referring to the first time that happened....you were there :)

  6. This post rocked my socks! It sucks when people are horrendously uncouth, but on the bright side, I now know way more about historical short hair than ever before. Thank you!

    1. Thanks! I agree with you. I tried to turn a rude comment into something interesting:)

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.