Civil War Tresses

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A Lady's Hair- Her Crowning Glory
In public, it may be worn down, but must be confined. Loose hair, straggling fly-aways, and frizzies were not worn by a well-dress lady.
The most popular "do" of the day was to part the hair down the center and arrange it so the widest part of the style is at the ears and the remainder extends down the back of the head to about the hairline.
A variation of this style that was popular with younger women (15 - 40) is to confine the hair at the nap of the neck in a chignon wide-bun or with a snood / hairnet.
Also popular:
Ringlets - ages 15 - 40 (especially for balls and dances)
Short blunt haircuts were popular with 15 - 22 year olds
REMEMBER: All styles had two things in common, (1) the hair was parted down the middle and (2) no bangs.

Hats and Bonnets may be worn in Church, on trains, in carraiges, on boats, and when walking or horse riding. Most women did not wear hats or bonnets in their own homes (other than Church which was considered to perserve modesty during the Mass.) Hats were worn, however, whenever a lday went visiting, traveling, shopping, or to Church.

Nineteenth-century fashion magazines kept women not only abreast of the latest fashions in clothing, but of the most fashionable hair dressings, as well.  Whether her hair was long, curled or cascading, a woman's hair has always been a potent factor in her beauty.   The often-admired 'crowning glory' may be rendered almost a disfigurement if disposed unbecomingly, while a tasteful and careful dressing of the tresses, even though they are not very beautiful, will lend a decided charm to a plain face.

Many of the potions and tonics recommended by various fashion magazines were concoctions that could be made at home.  For example, one popular general-purpose shampoo was simply made from pure white Castile soap that had been dissolved in warm water.  This was a favorite because it left the hair smooth and glossy. 

Another homemade shampoo was made by dissolving a cake of pure olive oil soap in a quart of boiling water.  It supposedly had a similar effect as the Castile shampoo.  Then, after shampooing, Victorian ladies believed that rubbing an egg into their scalps would stimulate the glands, keep the hair and scalp healthy, and remove dandruff. 

(Warning, try these remedies at your own discretion and risk!)

To Create Shine: Rub Vaseline on the hair and brush well.

For Oily Hair: Mix 4 ounces Bay rum, 2 ounces tincture of cantharides (see definition below).   Rub a little into the hair and scalp daily. 

For Induce Hair Loss: Mix 8 ounces cologne, 2 ounces spirit of camphor, 2 ounces tincture of cantharides (see definition below). Apply thoroughly to the roots of the hair at night.

To Reduce Hair Loss: Mix 2.5 fluid ounces tincture of cantharides (see definition below), 2.5 ounces Jamaica rum, 1/2 ounce glycerine, 2 drachms sesqui-carbonate of ammonia, 20 drops oil of rosemary, 9 ounces distilled water.  Shake mixture well and use fingers to apply evenly to the roots of the hair.

Danger of Early Baldness: Mix 8 grains sulphur of quinine, 1.5 drachms tincture of cantharides (see definitiion below), 2.5 drachms tincture of rhatany (see definition below), 1 ounce spirits of lavender, 1/2 ounce glycerine, 8 ounces alcohol.  Apply at night and morning until new growth of hair is established.

To Keep Hair in Curl: Mix 1 ounce borax, 1 drachm gum Arabic, 1 pint hot water, 2 tablespoons spirit of camphor.  Apply cold and moisten each strand before rolling it up.

To Lighten Hair Color: Washing dark ends of the hair with bi-carbonate of soda which will often bring out whatever light tones the hair may posess.


1) Catharides: "A toxic preparation of the crushed, dried bodies of the beetle Lytta vesicatoria once used as a counter-irritant for skin blisters and as an aphrodisiac."

2) Rhatany: "The dried root of a variety of South African shrub, formerly used as an astringent." 

Many manufactured hair-care products were available on the market as well.  Most often, makers of these products promised some sort of "cure-all" in one product.  For example, "Edwards' Harlene" promised to restore hair, promote hairgrowth, and prevent fall-out.  It advertised that it was, "Used everywhere.  The certain proof that is has no equal."  But yet, another  product, "Hall's Vegetable Sicilian Hair Renewer", was advertised as being able to prevent baldness, eliminate dandruff, stop itching, and restore gray to its original color and vitality.

Of course, the most adamantly prescribed beauty treatment for the hair was vigorous brushing.  Using a stiff brush supposedly kept the hair soft and shiny, while a soft brush used on the scalp was believed to stimulate hair growth.

Braiding and curling the hair was a Victorian favorite, but these styles took some extra work.  To achieve curls, one could have heated tongs over an oil lamp, then, after rubbing the tongs vigorously on paper to test the heat and to remove any soot, wrapped sections of hair around the tongs to create a curl.  Unfortunately, this method also tended to cause burned fingers and fried hair, as well as the curls.

Some Victorian women might have spent any amount of money, time, and effort to keep theirr "crowning glory" thick, shiny, and beautiful.  After all, as the 1860's book entitled, "Human Hair:  Its Management n Health and Disease", stated:  "The greatest ornament to the human form divine is, unquestionably, a fine, luxuriant, healthy growth of hair...It is to beauty of woman, the chief auxiliary." 

By today's standards, Victorians were extremely entimental, and mementos of their loved ones were held very dear.  Victorians longed to keep a connection with their dearly departed loved ones, and hair art was a popular way to achieve this feeling.  Hair was lightweight, but at the same time, it was pliable and
tough, and it could be woven and braided into jewelry--brooches, bracelets, and necklaces--as well as into wreaths, or pictures placed into shadowboxes.  For example, when Prince Albert died, Queen Victoria clung more tenderly to a bracelet that contained not only a portrait of him, but a lock of his hair as well. 
 Hair was not only used in mourning jewelry, however.  It was often woven by mothers who then placed it inside a special locket and gave it to their daughters, or sometimes, young women would present suitors with a gift
of this type.  It was not uncommon for the hair of several members of a family to be woven in this manner, then enclosed iin glass, framed, and hung in the front parlor for all to see.
Women often decorated their hair with ribbon, flowers, feathers, and fancy hairpins. Placing ribbons and small jewlery in one's hair for a ball was common since women did not wear hats at dances or balls.


Lavendar Water--Take spirits of wine, 1 pint; oil of lavendar, 2 ounces orris root, 1/2 ounce. Keep the mixture two or three weeke and then strain it through the thickness of blotting paper. It will then be ready for use.

Violet Cold Cream.— Huille violette, one pound; rose-water, one pound; wax and spermaceti, each one ounce; otto of almonds, five drops.

Violet Cold Cream, Imitataton.— Almond oil, three-quarters of a pound; huille cassie, one-quarter pound; rose-water, one pound; sperm and wax, one ounce; otto of almonds, one-quarter drachm. This is an elegant and economical preparation, generally admired.

Tubereuse, Jasmine, and Fleur d'Orange Cold Creams are prepared in a similar manner to violet (first form); they are all very exquisite preparations, but as they coat more than rose cold cream, perfumers are not much inclined to introduce them in lieu of the latter.


To View Civil War Era hairstyles most commonly worn by women, click on Tin Types.

Tin Types

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