** girls' hair bows

Girls' Hair Bows

Figure 1.--Hair bows are of course primarily associated with girls. They were particularly popular in the 1890s and reached enormous sizes. Hair bows were still very common in the 1910s.

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.


Hair bows in the late 19th century and early-20th century were most commonly worn by girls on top of the head and to a lesser extent at the back of the head. Here headwear was a factor. Normally girls did not wear headwear and hairbows. They chose one or the other. But we do see some girls wearing hair bows at the nape of their nck with hts. A good example is New Hapshire girls on a school trip in the late-1910s. Sometimes girls tied their hairbows in a perky bow at the side, or less commonly a bow on each side. A new style of pigtails appeared in the 20th century, to which generally smll bows might be added.


Generally we see girls with hairbows wearing one single bow, variously placed. These bows varied widely in size over time, even the single bows. Some were huge ans others were small and every size in between. Single bows are the primary convention we see in both the 19th and 20th centuries. The only alternative of any importance was twin bows, almost always placed on opposite sides of the head. When the twins bows were used they were almost alwaus matching bows in both size and color. amd they were mostly small or at least modertely sized bows. We have not noted the large bows being used. But so many girls are involved and fashion is sch a variable phenomenon, we ae not going o say t never occurred. We note multiple bows on elaborate hair styles, but this was so rare tthat in reaches unimprtance. Here we are relying on the very ample photographic record to make our assessments.


the size of hir bows varied over time. The bows we first see worn were rather small. Often they were just ribbons tied in the child's hair. This was the case during the 19th century. We see not only girls, but younger boys wearing amall hair bows. The invention of photography provides us substanial evidence for the first time. As the Century passed the size of the bow increased. By the turn of the Century girls were wearing quite large bow, even girls of highschool age. Some of these bows were massive, a major factor in portraits at the time. The huge hair bows were not the dominant type. but we see quite a few of them. By this time it was only girls wearing hairbows to any extent and only girls wearing the really large ones. This continued through the 1910s and into the 20s. The peak time for these hair bows, both in size and prevalence was eary nin the 20th century (1910s). This was cetainly the case for the United States, but we think most other countries as well. This seems to have affect headwear trends.


We are not I am not sure about hairbow colors. White bows seem to have been a particularly popular color for the girls. Colored bows seem to have been a lot less common. Perhaps colored bow were coordinated with a child's dress. In the available formal photographs, at least in the late 19th and early 20th Century, the white bows were by far the most common. But we se plenty of colors, both light and dark colors. The dark colors look black, but we suspect many were red ora variety of dark shaes of blue, brown, and green.


Hair bows have been tied in several different styled knots. I do not yet have adequate deails on the knots, but hope to add some information here as I acquire more information.


The bangs and the center hair pulled back and tied with a ribbon or a scrunchy is a common girls' style; however, modern girls probably would have their hair styled in a pageboy and not ringlet curls. A scrunchy is a wide ribbon that has an elastic sewn inside. Women and girls use them for ponytails, etc. When placed in the hair, the ribbon becomes scrunched up and pufed out, thus, the name.

Figure 2.--These American girls at about the turn of the century are pictured with their younger brother. Note that all three sport hair bows, although the boy's bow is much smaller than that of the girls.

Chronological Trends

We are not yet sure about the chronological trends concerning girls hair bows yet. We know that hairbows were worn by younger children in the late 19th century, both boys and girls. We are not sure just when girls even younger girls began wearing large hairbows instead of hats. Small hairbows could we worn with hats, but not large bows. We believe that this probably occurred in the 1890s, but are not yet sure. We do knowthat girls were wearing large hair bows by the turn of the 20th century. We had thought that this style was especially popular in the 1890s with girls some times wearing very large hair bows. This seems to have been the case in America. There appear, however, appears to have been differences from country to country. A German reader tells us that she believes hat hair bows in Germany were especially popular with girls in the 1920s. We are less sure about other countries.

Hair Bands

Most of the hair bands we notice appeared to be tied on to strands of hair so they seem to stand on their own. We note a few bows that were affixed on hair bands. This was not very common, but we do note a few examples. One such example is a Canadian girl. The hairbands we note in the early-20 century often had small bows attached. We also notice simple hair bands in the 1960s-70s.

Country Trends

we have not yet acquired information on girls' hair bows in different counties, although wehave notd them in the images we have archived. We know that there were very popular foe American girls in the early-20th century. And they could be enormous. Both girls and teenagers wore them. White was very popular, but we see colors as well. Hairbows were also popular in Europe, although we do not yet have a good idea of country trends. As far as we can tell, no country matched the american hair bow mania, but this is just our initial assessment. The chronologies in the various contries were similar, but not identical. A French reader writes, "French children normally wore light colored hair bows in the early 20th century. Normaly the fashion color for the bow was white or pink or less commonly a bow in another pastel color. My sister in the 1940s was was always dressed very smartly by our mother. She wore a hair bow almost every day. I remember her little friends. Most all of them also wore a hair bow. They were white or pastel colors. I noted photograph of a little French girl on HBC who was photographed in 1944 whearing a patterened (plaid) hair bow. These were not very commomn." We also note many German girls wearing hair bows. See for example German sisters in the 1920s.

Difficult Images

Some of the hairbow images are very difficult to interpret. The hairbows and long hair make the children look much like girls to modern eyes. Many boys wore long curls in the late 19th century, but hair bows were less common, particularly in America. Enough photographic images exist, however, to demonstrate that many boys did wear hair bows--at least for formal photographs. The challenge od identifying gender in these photographs is daunting. Often the clothing or props are ambiguous. Have a look at these difficult images and let me know if you have any insights. HBC has loaded some images here that we need help in assessing. Other images we believe we have identified the gender, but thought readers might find the analytical process instructive.



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Created: January 3, 1998
Last updated: 11:24 AM 5/24/2016