Girls Hair Styles

Figure 1.--HBC has no nformation as to the provinance of this photograph. Based on the women's dresses, we would date it to about 1910. The girl's short hair shows that you can not assum that all children with short hair are boys. Click on the image for a fuller discussion.

Just as you can not assume that children with long hair are girls, it is also true that you can not assume that children with short hair are boys. What we want to do here is to assess stylistic and chronolgical trends associated with girls' hair styles. We want to assess styles like bangs, curls, parts, and other hair styles. Girls have generally worn their hair long, in some cases very long. We have, however, seen many short cuts as well. This of course has varied very widely over time and among vountries. In general. girls have had much more flexibikity than boys as to how they wore thei hair. We see long, medium, and short hair done in many different styles.

Gender Connotations

The children's hair styles are an important issue in assessing many old photographs whih are often unidentified. The gendr of the children is often obvioyus, but a boys in the 19th and early 20th century not uncommonly wore dresses, assessing the hair style become important in assessing gender. One factor is the hair part. Many boys wore bangs or other styles without disernable parts. When parts are discernable, left parts seem the most common. We notice that many girls seem to have center or right parts. This is our initial assessment and it needs to be confirmed. Here there are differences over time and among counties. Here we need to develop more information on these trends. We note numerous photographs of boys with long hair during the lte 19th and early 20th cebtury. Thus hair can be very confusing when assessing gender. One useful guideline is that in school potraits we believe that virtually all of the children with long hair are girls. What we often are confused about is all the girls with short hair. This became even more common after World War I in the 1920s when girls bgan bobbing their hair after World War I (1914-18)


Girl's hair styles are commonly more elaborate and more complicated than boys styles. This is a helpful clue when attempting to establish the gender of unidentified photographs. This was, however, not always the case. We see many boys with elaborate ringlet curls and many girls with short hair. we know that nobbed hair became popular for girls in the 1920s, but even in the 19th century we see girls with short hair. We are not sure if this tells us anything about the children involved suchg as they were less fashion concious. One especially important style for girls hair is hairbows, but here again they were also worn by boys.c

Short Hair

One HBC reader reports that in the early 20th century before World War I, short hair for a girl was not considered stylish. We have, however, seen girls with shorter cuts appearing in fashion magazines. We note, for example, a book about French fashions (Children's Fashion 1860-1912) which showed short hair for girls at the end of the 1880s and the beginning of the 1890s. A German reder reports, "This trend is supported by photos I have seen in books. And I have also seen a painting with girls and short hair from about 1900." This was not, however, the ominant trend which was for young women to have long hair. Here we notice that more girls than young women had short hair. HBC notes very large numbers of girls which had short hair, especially in school portrits. We are not entirely sure why. A reader provides some possible reasons for girls having short hair: practical, convenient, and to discourage vanity." Another reader agrees that it had to with lice. She also points out that it may have to do with tangled hair or some other event that made long hair impractical. HBC is not convinced that these were the only reasons, but we do believe that they are part of the reason. We do not yet have sufficent information to assess country trends. One significant factor may have been social class. We believe that working class girls were more likely to have short hair. This may be because their mothers had less time to devote to careing for their hair. Factors suuh as huygene and practicality may have been especially important to working class families.

Long Hair

Long hair was highly prized and considered to be very important to any young woman in the 19th and early 20th century. We note large numbers of portraits of girls who did have long hair, often with a right or center part. Clearly many girls, however, had short hair. I am not sure if that was a style seen appropriat for girls before they got older, or if there was some other reason for all the girls with short hair. A British reader tells us, "The only reason that comes to mind is hygiene - perhaps the girls with short hair had their heads shaved at some time because of head lice / nits? Still an occasional problem at schools nowadays, when I was at junior school in the late 1950's we had regular inspections by the school nurse looking for nits in our hair."


One style that girls have worn, although the popularity has varied over time has been ringlet curls. The popularity of ringlets has varied significantly over time and among countries. We believe that during the time that ringlets became most popular for boys, about 1880-1905, that they were less popular for girls. One major difference between boys' and girls' ringlets is that quite old girls even young women might wear them. Also girls, especially in the early 1900s might wear them with very large hair bows.



We note girls with a range of hair parts in the various styles worn. Some girls hair styles do not show an apparent part. Others show side parts. By far the most common were center parts or parts very close to center parts. While we have found boys with center parts, we note center parts have been much more common for girls. We have found large numbers of portraits showing girls with center hair parts. This of course was often with long hair, but girls also wore short hair with center parts. This was very common throughout the 20th century. A center part is often a very good indicator that an unidentified child in an old phootogrph is a girl, but there is no way to be absolutely sure. The popularity of the different parts has varied ovcer time and among countries.

Hair bows

It was for girls that it was most important to keep up with the latest style for hair bows. The memoirs of many well known women touch upon the hair bows they wore as children. The famous 1920s film star Gloria Swanson, for example, commented on the hair bows she wore. Her mother and grand mother appear to have believed that young Gloria had large ears. Althogh noted at birth, the impact of her large ears was not felt until she was old enough to have her hair styled. Swanson wrote, "While all the other girls my age were wearing teeny tiny hair ribbons, my mother made giant silk bows and poufs for me to hide my ears." It appears to have been less important to follow the latest styles of hair bows when doing a boy's hair. Even so, hair bows for boys have varied in size, color, knot, and position. Some of these changes have varied over time. Others have shown no clear time line change. Following these trends is complicated as they varied sometimes significantly in different countries. The custom of tieing bows in boys' hair, for example, seems to have been most common in France.


Long hair was a standard for beauty and styling for young women during the 19th century. Even so, we note many girls with short hair as well. This was the case throughout the 19th century. A good example is a young New York City girl in the mid 19th century. A major change occurred after World War I when bobbed hair for girls became stylish in the 1920s.


Some schools had regulations about both girls and boys hair styles. For some reason the schools seem to have given more attention to boys' hair, but this may be because we know less about girls' hair styles. The hair styles as well as the regulations have varied over time. There are also differences among countries. This is an interesting topic that we have not yet developed in detail. We do have a page on Russia.


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Created: September 10, 2001
Last updated: 4:14 PM 3/24/2009