*** sausage or ringlet curls country differences -- United States chronology

ringlet curls

Figure 1.--Understanding the chronology of the popularity of ringlets curls in America is somewhat complicated by the fact that photography did not appear until the 1840s and was still quite expensive in the 1850s. This changed substantially in the 1860s, but there are many more images from the 1880s and 90s. Thus the prevalence of images can not easily be used to assess chronological shifts in popularity. Here is an undated image, probably from the late 1860s or early 70s. The photograph is by the Manchesten Bros., Providence, RI. I believe that this is a boy. The fact that the child has a book is one clue that he is a boy. Image courtesy of the RG collection.

U.S. Boys' Ringlet Curls: Chronology

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.

The 18th Century

We do not have much information on the 18th century. We have not yet noted a boy wuth ringlet curls. We note an American boy wearing long curled hair. Ralph Earl painted Charles Mosley and his mother. His hair, however, was not done in ringlets.

The 19th Century

Rinlet curls were a popular hair style in the early 19th century, but more o girls than boys. While we do not note boys wearing ringlet curls in the early 19th century, we see many boys with ringlet curls in the late 19th century. Here a factor is the more limited availability of images from the early 19th century. The invention of photogrphy resulted in a vastly increased number of images being available by the mid-19th century. The rising affluence in America resulted in many women having both money and time available, both of which they lavished on their children. The ringlet curl style is strongly associated with social class. They were generally a style prevalent in affluent families in which mothers had planty of free time. The style was given a huge boost with he publication of Little Lord Fauntleroy in 1885. Actually the illustrations had more influence than the actual text. The 1880s and 90s abd very early 1900s were the peak of popularity for boys wearing ringlet curls. Only a small percentage of boys wore ringlet curls, but even the small percentage was a substantial number as reflected in the photographic record. And because the boys were modtly from affluent families, they were especially likely to be photographed.

The 20th Century

We still note boys with ringlet curls at the turn of the 20th century. There are numerous examples in the photographic record. Ringlets were not as common as in the 1890s, but still fairly numerous in the photographic record. Most of the ringlet images we note are in the 1900s. There was a major shift in hair styling trends during the 1910s. We see far fewer in the 1910s. Curls for boys declined sharply in popularity during the late 1900s and 1910s, esprecially with the advent of World War I. Short hair for boys, even younger boys, became increasingly stanfdard. We only rarely see boys with ringlet curls after World War I. Ringlets were rarely seen by the 1920s except short ones on the very youngest boys. And even these younger boys did not have the long ringlets worn previously. They became, however very popular with girls, especially with the advent of Shirley Temple. All liiitle grls wanted ringlets, or at least their mothers wanted them. The girls also wanted curls on their dollies. This essentially made ringlets a distinctively girls' hair style. By the 1930s we only see very young boys with ringlets.


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Created: April 9, 2004
Last edited: 7:16 PM 4/28/2008