** sausage or ringlet curls country differences -- United States chronology 19th century








U.S. Boys' Ringlet Curls: Chronology--The 19th Century

Ringlet curls were a popular hair style in the early 19th century, but more for 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 photography 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 mostly from affluent families, they were especially likely to be photographed.

The Early 1800s

We know from literary sources that some boys did wear ringlet curls in the early 19th century. We believe, however, that it was less common than in the late 19th century. America in the early 19th century was much more rural and not as wealthy as the late 19th century. Fewer mothers had the leisure time to devote to rather frivolous activities such as curling their sons' hair. This is, however, difficult to assess beause until the 1850s we do not have a significant photographic record. Even the 1850s photographic record is limited because of the still rather signifgicant cost of a photographic portrait. There were of course paintings. These images suggest that few boys had rngletvcurls in the eraly 19th century. The number iof these portraits, however, are rather limited in comparison to the very extensive number of photographic portraits that began to appear in the 1860s.

The 1830s

We are not sure how common ringlet curls were in the 1830s, especially for boys. We do note one portrait of a boy, Thomas Sully, about 5-years old with ringlet curls im 1839. Thomas came from a fashioable Philadelphia family in 1839. We think that curls for boys were less common in more average families which at the time were predominately rural. Of course the number of images was very small. They were all paintings and drawings. Only with the advent of photography in the 1940s do we get really large numbers of images.



Figure 5.--

The 1840s

Photography appeared as a new industry in the 1840s. We thus have more images than ever before, although the high cost means that the numbers were more limited than the rest of the decade, but still far loswer than a painted portrait. We have found a few portraits of boys with ringlet curls, but the number of available images that we have archived is still too small to make any valid assessments. We have collected a few examples and are steadily expanding pur collection. Ringlets for boys do not seem as common as they were later in the century. We suspect this was in large part an economic matter. For the most part, ringlets especially for boys was a styled mostly seen in realitely well-to-do families--or famuky with such prtensions. America was still a very rural country and the wealth that would be generated by industry had not yet had a major impact. We note an unidentified American child, probably in the late-1840s with ringlet curls. We are not sure, however if the child is a boy or girl. We note another Dag of an unidentified American boy with ringlets. Notably in families with both boys and girls, one gender was often chosen for the ringlets. We are not entirely sure how the choice was made. A good example is the Noyas children, we think in the 1840s. A problem we have here is that we can not yet defrentiate between 1840s and 50s Dags. Ambros on the other hand only appeared in the mid-1850s. So the styles we see in ambros can help differetiate the 1840s and 50s Dags. Our ininial assssment is that ringlets were less common for boys in the 1840s than subseuetly in the century. We believe thar ringlets are a rough indicator od economic expansion. Ans as indusrtrailization was just beginning in the 1840s there were not yet a lot of families that could engage in such rivilous activity, at least for boys.



Figure 6.--This a quarter plate ambrotype portrai of four boys (presumavly bothers). Thie portrait is nicely tinted with a peripheral ring that is iridescent and toning on the edge. Looking at the photograph you can see that the two younger boys have matching cut-away jacket suits and the two older boys havev lighter colored sack suits. This complementary dress is also seen in their hair styles with the younger boys having ringlet curls. They look to be the same age, about 6 years old. The portrait is not dated, but was probably taken in the late-1850s. Click on the image for a more detiled assessment.

The 1850s

We note boys weraring ringlet curls as early as the 1850s, but this probably ocurred earlier. Many of the dags we have found are difficult to date. Some were taken in the 1840s. Ringlets seem more common with Ambros which mean the mid-50s to the early-60s. We have found a number of boys wearing ringlets. We think that social class was a factor here. America was still a largely rural country in the 1850s. And the wealth that enabled women to endulge their fashion interests had omly begin to be created. We have, however, found a few portraits of boys wearing ringlets. This should not be seen as suggesting that ringlets were not as common on the 1850s as later in the century. It should be remembered that the number of 1850s photographs (Dags, Ambros, and tintypes) were a small fraction of the torrent of albumen prints (CDVs and cabinent cards) that appeared in the 1860s. While the number of portarits of boys with ringlets may be relatively small, the proportion does not seem to be radically different than the 1860s. We have not yet found a boy who looked older than 5-6 years wearing ringlets in the 1850s. Of course this is almost enirely visual estimates. It is very rare to find the various photographic types prevalent in the 1850s with actual ages noted. Unlike the CDVs and cabinet cards prevalenr in the 1860s, the Dags, Anmbro, and tin-types taken in the 1850s did not have paper fronts and backs on which inscriotions could be written. This we have to rely on age estimates during the 1850s. Boys tended to wear their hair rather like men, down to their ears, in some cases even covering their ears. Doing the hair in ringlet curls was much less common. We think that social class was a factor here. We note ringlets done at various lengths, both short and long ringlets. A good example is a New York boy. We note, for example, a Louisville boy wearing ringlets in the 1850s. We have an undated image of an unidentified boy with his grandmother. We believe the portrait was probably taken in the 1850s, but it could have been taken in the late-1840s. We also note Elisha Dickerman who had his portrait taken about 1850. We note an unidentified American boy with short ringlets in the 1850s. Note that his sisters do not wear their hair in ringlets. We have many images in which we care not sure about the gender of the child with ringlets. A good example is a younger child with ringlets in the late-19th century. We see boys with ringlet curls wearing a range of different garments, basically all the differnt garments worn by younger boys. We note both skirted garment and pants or pantalettes being worn with ringlets. We have only a few images so we do not yet have a full inventory of the various garments boys wore with ringlet curls. The skirted garments include both dresses and tunics. We note one boy weaing a plaid dress with a round white ruff collar and plain white pantalettes. The dress has a fairly wide collar. Pantalttes were still very common in the 1850s. And unlike subsequent decades they are not worn with just a little showing at the dress or tunic hem. Many of the boys wear pantalettes with skirted garments. We also notice boys wearing blouses that look like dress bodices including colarless blouses and pants. We see the cut-away jackets that were popular in the 1860s. Of course as it is difficult to differentiate between portarits taken in the late-1850s nand early-60s, the time line is blurred.



Figure 7.--We see both boys and girls wearing ringlet curls in the 1860s, but we see more and older girls with ringlets. We also see women with rblet curls. Ringlets were very fashionable for girls and women in the 1860s. This Currier and Ives drawing published about 1862 shows girls of different ages. The younger child does not have enough hair for long ringlets like her sisters.

The 1860s

The CDV format was introduced to American in the early 1860s. The lower cost and ease of making duplicated quickly made it enormously popular. We thus have many more photographic images from the 1860s than the 50s. This leaves with a massive photographic record of both hair styles and clothing. We note, however, relatively few images of boys wearing ringlet curls. The general trend was for shorter hair styles than the 1850s. We note some boys wearing ringlet curls, but a very small proprtion of the portraits of boys we have found. Most tend to be primarily very young boys. Ringlets were much more popular for girls than for boys throught the 60s. We see boys with ringlets, but we see many girls with their hair done in ringlets. The photographic record represents a way of assessing this, perhaps an imperfect one, but still a very helpul indicator. While we can't quantify it with any precession, we can say that ringlets were not common for boys. We believe that the photographic record represents a fairly accurate indication that ringlets were not very commo for boys. The portion of the population not well covered by the photographic record were the very poor. The falling prices for portraits in the 60s meant that the coberage was wider during the 50s. And the fact that the poor were not likely to do their children's hair in ringlets means that the photographic record covers most of the boys that would have been likely to wear ringlets. We are not saying that no boys wore ringlets. We have noted portraits of boys wearing ringlets, but except for the very young, it was a very rare hair style for boys. And because we have only a few images of boys with ringlet curls during the 1860s, we can not yet say much about the various styles of ringlet curls. It is also difficult to assess age trends. Another important factor is affluence. Ringlet curls for boys or girls required some effort and more affluent families had a greater capacity for devoting the time or vhiring help to help with such matters than the working class. And by the 1860s we are beginning to see many Americans from very humble riral backgrounds improving their circumstance.



Figure 8.--Here we see two little girls and their brother. They all wear cut-away jackets. Their names are Charlotte, Johnie, and Maggie. It was a 1894 cabinent card from Chicago which was copied from a portrait originally taken in 1871. The studio was J. B. Wilson.

The 1870s

Most American boys in the 1870s wore shorter hair than in the 1860s, but we still see some boys with hair cuts that extended their hair to their ears, especially during the early-70s. We do not see very many boys with ringlet curls in the 1870s. As far as we can tell, it was not very common. We note some boys wearing ringlet curls, substantially more than the 1860s, but still a very small proprtion of the overall photographic record. Generally speaking the trend was toward shorter hairs in the 1870s. Men and boys at mid-century tended to wear their hair long, even over their ears. This was much less common by the 1870s. Photography was well established in the 1870s so the photographic record is probably a good indication of the relative popularity of hair styles. We tend to see more girls with ringlets than boys in the 70s. This was especially true of school-age children. We do, however, as in the 1860s see a few boys wearing ringlets. And we see a general trend to differentiate the hair styles of brothers and sisters. The photographic images we have found of boys wearing ringlets tend to styles different than those worn by their sisters. This these, however, needs to be confirmed because family images are rarer than individual portraits. A good example of an individual portrait during the 70s is Frank Tuche. On the previous page is an unidentified Providence boy, probably from the late 1860s or early 70s (figure 1). We notice Robert Stanley Mitcheson. about 1870 wearing a Highland kilt outfit with ringlet curls. The photograph is by the Manchesten Bros., Providence, Rhode Island. I believe that this is a boy. The fact that the child has a book is one clue that he is a boy. He also can be identified because he is wearing a suit jacket. We also an unidetified Philadelphi boy. He has his hair done at the front like a short cut, but ringlets in the back. We notice Andrew Richardson with ringlets not quite touching his sholders in 1875.



Figure 9.--

The 1880s

Ringlet Curls appear to have become very common in the 1880s, although only a minority of boys wore them. 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. There are of course numerous images of boys wearing ringlet curls with kiltsuits, Fauntleoy suits, and even sailor suits. This American portrait is undated. We would guess that it was taken in the late 1880s, but the early 1890s is a possibility. All we know is that the boy had his portrait taken in Philadelphia. He wears a kilt skirt, but not with a matching jacket which was the commom practice. Note that his velvet jacket could have just as easily been worn with kneepants making a Fauntkleroy suit. In fact we doubt that jacket was ourchased without a matching kilt skirt or kneepants. his could be a child prodigy or maybe just a boy about to have a recital. We are just beginning to develop information about recitals during the late 19th century. He looks pretty confident and ready to perform. He seems to be a bit old for curls and a bodice kilt. I think prodigies were often dressed younger than the actual age in order to promote their prodigy status. A portrait of the Powell children in 1886 demonstrates the family conventions. Here it is the boy's hair done in ringlets and the girl's hair done in other styles. This was not always the case, but it was a common approach.



Figure 10.--Ringlet curls were very poplar for little boys in the 1890s. Some older boys also had ringlets, but they were most common for pre-school children. This is Ralph Stanley Thompson from Corunna, Michigan. He was 3 years old in 1894.

The 1890s

The popularity of ringlet curls in America continued in the 1890s. We notice large numbers of boys with ringlets in the photograohic record. The popularity may have been even greater in the 1890s. And there may be more older boys wearing them. While we see large numbers of boys wearing ringlets in period portraits, they were still a minority of the boys. There seems to be a strong social-class factor involved with ringlet curls. The amazing economic expansion of America in the 1890s may in an important factor in the popularity of ringlet curls. Like fncy clothing such as the Faunteroy suit, rnglets curs were a status symbol, we suspect more for mothers than fathers. We are not yet sure as to the relative popularity during the decade. We note a range of styles. Boys commonly wore ringlets with Fauntleroy suits or blouses, but they were worn with many other outfits as well. A good example is the yonger Harrison boy about 1890. The outfits worn with ringlets were quite varied. Louis G. Martin wore ringlets with a military uniform. We notice a rare image of an unidentified boy wearing ringlet curls at school. We notice Ralph Benton who just turned 12 years of age had his portrait taken wearing ringlet curls with a sailor suit in 1896. Ralph was born in Germany.









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Created: 1:00 AM 10/26/2006
Last edited: 2:24 AM 11/28/2020