Hair Bows: Chronological Trends

Figure 1.--Girls hairs bows in the early 20th century could be enormous. This American portrait is undated, but was probably taken about 1910.

We do not yet have a complete history of the use of bows as part of hair styles over time. The first hair bows worn by boys was in the 18th century. It wasn's a child's style, but an adult style. Latter when boys began to wear hair bows in the 19th century, it was a childs' style. Full chronolgical information is not yet available on the wearing of hair bows. We know that bth boys and girls wore hair bows in the late-19th century and early 20th century. We have been able to find little information on this, but it is easily recognizable in the photographic record. Girls were particularly apt to wear hair bows, in some cases quite large ones. But boys also wore hair bows and not just infants. We also do not at his time have any information on the manufacture of ribbons and changes over time. I think silk and satin were the main materials, and at this time am unsure about chronological availability of these materials in ribbons. I don't think that they were commonly available until cloth was commerically manufactured. Another topic that needs to be pursued.

18th Century

Hair styles in the 18th century could be extrodinarily elaborate. Women in the French court wore toweing hairdos with fruit, flowers, models, bows, anf nuch else added. Men wore enormous whigs. Americans perhaps do not have a full sebnce of this because the colonists wore more moderate hair styles. The really fancy hair styles wereof course worn by European aristocrats. The great bulk of the population was unaffected by such styling. Men's hair styles changed significantly in the 18th century. Men began wearing simplier wigs. One style was a wig with a pigtail. This style was first worn by soldiers to keep their hair out of their face. As wigs became less common, natural hair was also worn with pigtails. The pigtails were kept in place by ribbon bows. We do not know much about boys' hair styles in the 18th century. Boys at the time esentially wore the same styles as men, although age resulted in some diffeences. Boys of school age wore pigtails with bows like their fathers. Girls did not wear the pigtails and bows, only boys.

19th Century

We do do not have precise chromological information information on the 19th century yet. We do not know much about the early 19th century, largely because of the shortage of images. Photography had not yet been developed. We know much more about the mid- and late-19th century. We think hairbows may have been a fashion that developed in the late 19th Century. We don't recall seeing woman or girls wearing hair ribbons at earlier dates, in the paintings of children available in the early 19th century. Of course, photography while a very important source of information, it is not a perfect one. We are not sure to what extent it accurately reflected actual practices. Hair bows unlike hair styles were items that could be easily put on or taken off within a moment or two. We begin to see many more and larger bows in the very late 19th century. And here there is a relationship with long hair. The late-19th century was also a time when long hair became popular for boys. Boys wearing hair bows commonly also have long hair. complicatrion with hats. Large hair bows could not be worn with hats. Perhaps ribbons to some extent replaced hats or were worn in place of hats. Hairbows for boys were a reflection of the more important fashion for girls.

20th Century

Long hair for boys declined after the turn of the century, especially after the fitst decade of the 20th century. Some boys did wear long hair in the 1900s, in some instances with hair bows. This had become much less common by the 1910s and was rarely seen after World War I (1914-18). The trend for girls was different. As hair bows disappeared for boys, they seem to becone even more common for girls. The early 20th century seems to have been the peak time for girls wearing bows, especially the first two decades. We note girls wearing enormous hair bows. Much larger than the hair bows we saw in the 19th centyry. Boys hair bows always were small. Girl in the 19th century wore larger hir bows, but nothing like the huge hair bows we see in the early 20th century. We are not entirely sure about the colors of the bows because of the black-and-white photography of the day. White was a popular color, but we also see black and colored hair bows, but have no idea about the actual colors. We also see girls wearing hair bows after World War I in the 1920s. There were still some quite large hair bows in the early 20s. While hair bows were very common, the size of the bows gradually declined as the decade progressed. We see far fewer hair bows in the 1930s. Note that Shirley Temple at her peak as a child star with ringlet curls in the late-20s and early 30s did not wear hair bows. And no child stars had a greater impact on fashion than Shirley.


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Created: 5:26 PM 5/26/2008
Last updated: 1:01 PM 12/5/2015