Figure 1.--This American boy wears one of the many varied hair styles worn with ringlet curls. Note the small number of ringlets with the top knot style. The portrait here is undated, but was perhaps taken in the 1890s.

Boys' Ringlet Curls: Hair Knots

The most commpn way of styling the hair at a boy's forehead when wearing ringlets was bangs. There were, however, other options such as a front part. While these were the more common options, another option was a top curl, hair knot, or other piling of the hair at the forehead and top of the head. We see these top curls throughout the 19th century, at least when photography was available. The comination with ringlet curls seems most common beginning in the mid-19th century. As far as we can tell, this was almost entirely a boy's style. We do not see many girls with these top curls, with or with out ringlets, although in the the 20th century we see the related kewpie style.


We do not yet have any contemprary sources on this style, so I do not know what term was used to describe it. One of our HBC hair specialists tell me that I may be using the wrong term. He believes hair knot is the wrong term. The hair of the children in figure 2 looks to be curled and than pulled back and pinned in place with the hair bow. He finds it unusual that the hair is parted on the right and the bow on the left. Most boys have their hair parted on the left side including those wearing bows. He believes that the term hair 'knot' should be used when the the hair is twisted around and fastenned in place with hair pins. A better term is problly top curl.


Some boys had a large curl or styled hear at the top with various numbers if ringlets. I'm not sure what this style was all about. It looks rather strange and not particularly attractive, but apparently some mothers liked this style. The hair at the top took away from the ringlets, so these boys generally had fewer ringlets. This top knot style was also worn both with and without ringlets.


Most of the available images are undated, but look to be portraits taken in the second half of the 19th centuey and early 20th century. An assessment of just when this hair style was worn requires more research. We are not sure when it first appeared. The paucity of early 19th century images may reflect the fact that photography was only developed in the late 1830s and as a result far fewer images are available. We note boys in Dauguerreotypes, but ca not definitivelt date thwm to the 1840s. They would be at least as early as the 1850s. One example is an unidentified boy, perhaps from an Hispanic family. We note two Detroit brothers will top-rolled curls, probably taken in the late 1860s. Another example is Charles J.J. Carter in the 1860s. We note an Ohio boy wearing a top curl with a Fauntleroy suit in the 1890s.


We do not yet know in what countries this style was worn. We know it was worn in America. A good example is a Chicago boy probably in the late 1880s. We note another American boy, this one in the 1890s. Most of the examples archieved on HBC are American, but this is perhaps because our American archive is the largest. . We have also noted the style in Europe. We think it was particularly popular in France. The larger number of American image probably reflects the fact that most of HBC's historical archive is American photographs.

Figure 2.--The boy and his younger sister both wear hair knots. Only the older bother, however, as ringlets. HBC believes that the photograph was taken in the 1890s. HBC believes that the child on the right is probably the younger sister, but cautions that there is no definitive ecidence of that as younger boys in the 1890s still commonly wore dresses.


HBC has no written sources on this. Thus we can make no assessment on popularity. We believe, howeve, that it was probably no very popular with boys who had to wear it.

Clothing Styles

HBC does not have enough information to draw conclusions. Several of the available images show boys with this hair style wearing sailior suits. This is probably a reflection of ther popularity of the sailor suit rather than any connection between the two styles.


HBC believes that this hair style was used for both genders. Thus both a boy and his sister might have their hair styled with these hair knots. One available image shows a brother and sister with similar hair knots, but only the boy, who was older, wearing ringlets. It is not known if the mother thought that ringlets were more appropriate for her son or if the girl was not yet old enough for ringlets.

HBC believes that it is necessary to analize figure 2 carefully. The child on the right is probably the younger sister. The facial characteristics, the necklace, and the frilly dress all suggest that the child is a girl. This would substantiate that hair knots were worn by both boys and girls. The question is why her hair is not in ringlets. It seems a bit strange that the older brother would have ringlets, but not the younger sister. Perhaps she is too young to have enough hair for forming ringlets. HBC cautions that there is no definitive evidence that the child on the left is a girl. Younger boys in the 1890s still commonly wore dresses, although by the 1890s usually not so girlishly styled as this child's dress.


We mostly note younger pre-school boys wearing these top curls. A good example is an Ohio boy in the 1890s. He looks to be about three years old.


Several individuals wearing these top curls are archived on HBC. A good example is Charles Fox in the 1860s.


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Created: February 26, 2000
Last edited: 10:23 PM 11/22/2017