Countless images exist of American boys wearing ringlets. The photographic record suggests that ringlets appear to have been more popular in America than any other country. Most of the portraits in the ringlet curls section are of American boys. We note boys weraring ringlet curls as early as the 1850s, but this probably ocurred earlier. Ringlets appear to have become much more common in the 1880s. Many such hair styles were worn in association with the Little Lord Fauntleroy craze which began in 1885. The ringlet style for boys appeared earlier, but after the publication of Mrs. Burnett's book, it was worn by more boys, including some older boys. Many American mothers in the 1870s and early 1880s cut, albeit reluctantly, their boys' hair short even while they were still in dresses. This became somewhat less common after 1885. The ringlet style for boys continued into the 20th century, but by the 1910s was increasingly less common. Another factor which needs to be considered is possible regional differences. We are not going to pursue the ringlet curl fashion in America in detail on this page. This is primarily because the main HBC ringlet curl section is almost all based on American images and information and thus would be redundant to relicate a new American section here. HBC suggests that readwes interested in the American ringlet curl fashion simply go to the main HBC ringlet curl page.
American brothers did ringlet curls in many different styles. Here mothers showed themselves highly imaginative in the styles they created for their son's hair. The different styles were primarily a matter of the two basic ringlet styling elements: the front styling and the ringlets themselves. The two basic choices for the front were bangs or a center part, although here were other alternatives and many variations. The ringlets themselves were also endlessly varied. They varied in thickness, length, placement, and other factors. Ringlets curl styles varies in a variety of other ways. Some mothers added hair bows. This was a particularly American touch. A far as we know, these different ringlet styles did not have specific names. This was in part because they were almst always done at home and not by a hair stylist. Thus we can also use basic descriptions to describe the various styles.
There is no doubt that ringlet curls for American boys were enormously popular, at least with mothers. Actually ringlets were not as unpopular with boys as one might imagine. This was largely a matter of age. Younger children crave the attention of their parents. And ringlents required a lot of time and attention. Of course as boys got older, the poinion of their peers became important. Less clear is just why mothers liked ringlets so much. It was probably the same reason mothers luje to dres boys in cute outfits. Another issue iswhy ringlet curlswere so popular in America. . The popularity of ringlet curls in America is easily documented by the ampel photographic record. Countless images exist of American boys wearing ringlets. Ringlets appear to have been enormously popular in America. Most of the portraits in the ringlet curls section are of American boys. I am not sure why this was. Of course our American archive islarger than for any other country, but the relative appearance of ringlets is even more notable than the absolute numbr of photographs. We suspect that may be related to the tremendous economic expansion of America after the Civil War (1861-65). Large numbers of Americans with very humble backgrounds made a lot of money in the country's industrial expansion. And average incomes exceded European levels. Many newly well-to-do Americans were anxious to show their success and influence. And fashionanle clothing for themselves and children were one way to do this. Hair styling was another way. The idea was to emmulate how they thought wealthy people in the Northeastern cities and Europe dressed. Some mothers were so impressed with their handiwork that they wanted a record preserved for prosterity. And this meant that they needed a back or side image, sometimes both. A few mothers had a portrait take of the back, but this was not very common and of course a little expensive. It also wa not as pleasing visually as a portrait without a face lacked appeal. Another alternative was posing the child by a mirror. Tiseems to have been a little more poula because it include the face along with the back.
We are not sure when mothers began doing boys' hair in ringlet curls. We believe this occured in the early-19th century, but are unable to assess it in any detail because there is not yet photographic evidnce. We note boys weraring ringlet curls at mod-century, but it surely ocurred earlier. We note, for example, a Louisville boy wearing ringlets in the 1850s. While we know very little about the early 19th century, we know a great deal about late-19th century. Ringlets appear to have become much more common in the 1880s. Ringlets for boys seem especially popular in the 1880s and 90s. A factor here was the publication of Mrs. Burnett's book Little Lord Fauntleroy (1885). Many such hair styles were worn in association with the Fauntleroy craze. The ringlet style for boys began muxh earlier and was aell-establish convention for younger boys. After the publication of Mrs. Burnett's book, however, ringlets were worn by more boys, including some older boys. Many American mothers in the 1870s and early 1880s cut, albeit reluctantly, their boys' hair short even while they were still in dresses. This became somewhat less common after 1885. The ringlet style for boys continued into the 20th century, but by the 1910s was increasingly less common. We plan to eventually link the many images of American boys with ringlet curls in various HBC sections here so we can more easily observe the historical progression, but this will take some time to accomplish.
We notice American boys wearing ringlets with a wide variety of outfits. There were certain outfits that were especially common. This seems to be basiclly the garments that were most common for boys, at least boys from the affluent families that were most likely to do their sonms hair in ringlet curls. A major factor here was it is only families in comfortable circustances that could afford the time and money for such a frivolus activity as doing doing such a fancy hairdo for a boy. We are sure that more was nvolvedthan economics. We supect that mst working-class families would have no desire to bdo this even if they had the mooney. herewe arethinking primarily about the fathers. We are no so sure about the mothers. Fashion affects mothers of all sicial classes. We believe that working-class fathers were less fixated on fashion. What we see is primarily Fauntleroy suits, but other common garments were kilt suits, Fauntleroy blouses, and sailor suits. We see boys wearing many other grments, but the bove four were by far the most common. Notice that dresses are not one oif the most common. Some boys wore ringlet curls with dresses. This was not the very young children as they often did not have enough hair to be curled into ringlets. There is also a problem with udentifying boys before breeching. Also a small number of available portraits are identified, probably something like 5 percent. Thus we are not altogether sure who the children are in dresses. Other skirted garments were only for boys, kilt suits and tunics. Once breeched, gender is clear because in the 19th century, girls did not wear trousers. Thus no matter how girlish a child in ringlets may look, if the child is wearing trousers, he is a boy. And we see these boys in many different outfits, including Fauntleroy suits, sailor suits, and regular suits. The stereotypical image is that Fauntleroy suits were associated with ringlrt curls. Actually obly a fraction of boys with Fauntleroy suits wore ringlet curls. Probably mpre boys wore ringlets with sailor suits because the sailor suit was such a popular style. Now we are not sure about the early=19th century, but once photographic was well established we do not see all that many boys weariung ringlets with dresses. Dresses were more common in the early-19th century, but ringlets were not, at least for boys above the todler stage. Kilt suits seem more common in the second half of the 20th century. We believe that the photogrphic record was a fairly good reflection of trends for families in comfortable circumstances, less so for working-class familes, especially the less affluent sector.
Another factor which needs to be considered is possible regional differences. We believe that ringlet curls were especially popular in the South before the Civil War, a least among the wealthy planter class. Here we know ringlets were popular for girls and young women. We are less sure about boys. A factor may have been the ready availbility of servants because of slavery. Ringlets are time consuming to do, so servants to assist with the process may have been a factor. The whole question of regional differences, however, is a topic that we have not yet begun to address in detail. One aspect we do notice is that the fashion was very widespread and not just one found in the major cities. We note boys in the fashionable major cities wearing ringlets. We also note boys with ringlets even in small towns of rural states. A good example is an unidentified Amercan boy in Independence, Iowa about the turn of the 20th century.
Ringlets were mostly worn by pre-school American boys which would mean up to about 6 years of age. Some boys older than age 6 worn them, mostly boys who were schooled at home. The age range varied somewhat over time. The age was affected when the public school system became more established in the late-19th century. Most boys would have their curls cut before they began school at age 6 years. There were exceptions such as a Catholic boy in the 1890s, but they were mot very common. Another factor was the increasing economic affluence as American industrialized. This may have affected the number of boys wearing ringlers more than affecting the age which they wore them. Many images of American boys wearing ringlets are archived on HBC. A good example is an Ohio boy who looks to be about 3 years old in the 1890s. Family images are particilarly useful because they help define when the children in the family had their curls cut. We note an unidentified boy with ringlets in the 1850s while his school-age older brothers have short hair cuts. We also note a New York boy who looks to be about 6 years old in the 1850s.
Ringlet curls were primarily a girl's style, except for very young boys. We note great variations over time in the popularity of ringlet curls. Boysat times have also worn ringlets, even school-age boys. It seems that the time that ringlets were most popular for boys (late 19th and very early 20th century that they were less common for girls. This was especially true for individual families. We note some mothers doing the hair of both their sons and saughters in curls. The more common option was, however, if boy's hair was don in ringlets that the girls' hair was styled differently. The idea apparently was so the boy's hair would stsand out better and perhaps so that he would not see it as a girl's style. Here the ahge and gender distribution in any goven family would affect hair styling and the alternatives open to mother. We note similar trends in Europe, although ringlets were never as popular there as in America.
One interestng question concerning ringlet curls is what the rest of the family is wearing. Family images provide insights in all kinds of fashion topics and hair styling is one of them. And as the style was most common after the invention of photography, we have an ampel photographic record to assess family trends. Generally speaking if a boy's hair was done in ringlerts, than his sisters had different hair styles. Brothers of the same or similar ages might have ringlets, but rarely brothers and sisters. We have seen some briyhers and sisters with matching ringlets, but it was not very common. Generally only the boys had hair done in ringlets, unless the boys in the family were older boys, than the girls might have ringlets. We generally note the older brothers with short hair, but long enough to comb. In a few instances we see close croped hair, especislly duing the 1890s, but most we see hair styles long enough to comb. This was sffected primarily by the fashionable trends of the day. Motther's styles also varies, but after the mid-19th century we see fewer adult women wearing ringlet, it became more of a children's or youth style at least for girls.
Ringlet curls were a style for childrn from affluent families. This does not mean just upper-class or rich families, it als means middle-class families in confortable circumstances. This is relatively easy to assess by the way the child or family is dressed. Boys with ringlet curls are lmost lways well drsednd in group potraits with well-dressed family members. We don't think this meant that working-class fmilies had different fashion tastes. In fact at the time it was the elites of society that set the fashion trends. Middle class and working-class families tried to emiulate, but only middle-class families could aford to do so. Hair styling was different as this did not involve the purchase of expensive clothing and/or fabrics. Ringlet curls only required time and it took a good bit if work to do them. At the time modern hir products were not available. Working-class mothgers were less likely to have the time to do this. Some had to work. And they could not afford to hire domestic staff to assisst with household chores like the upper-class or affluent middle class. One child might be doable, but commonly at the time families were larger. It is notable that ringlet curls were more common in america thn any other country/. This is clearly observeable in the photographic record. There are an emense number of portraits of American boys with ringlet curls. Ringlets like fancy clthes like Fauntleroy suits were away that families could show off their material success. The photographic record shows that many more American boys had ringlet curls than boys in in any other country, in fact more thn all of Europe to gether. Of course the United States was a large and growing country, but not as large as the modern population. The European population at the turn of the 20th century was five times the population of North America (primarily the United States). We believe that the large number oif Anerican boys with ringlet curls in the photogrphic record reflects the economic vibrancy of the United States nbd the higher income levels in the United States compared to Europe, including the most prosperous Western European countries (Britain, France, and Germany). This is often missed in American school textbooks because the editors are more interested in demonstrating poor living conditions than the act that standards of living in Americ were the highest in the world.
Not all boys had hair that could be done into ringlet curls. The process required straight long hairs. This ruled out boys with naturally curly hair. This frustrated mothers who wanted to do theur son's hair in the popular Fauntleroy styles and long ringlets. They could work with the natural curls, but they could not do the long ringlets. A good example is Indiana boy Edwin Carter.
We are not going to pursue the ringlet curl fashion in America in detail on this page. This is primarily because the main HBC ringlet curl section is almost all based on American images and information and thus would be redundant to relicate a new American section here. HBC suggests that readwes interested in the American ringlet curl fashion simply go to the main HBC ringlet curl page.
HBC has a number of images of American boys wearing ringlet curls over time, many of which are dates or that we can reasonably assess the dates. Some of these images are on separate pages for individual boys. In other cases they are just images posted on a page discussing a style or garment. Here we have chronological links to these pages.
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