Figure 1.--Rinfglet curls were usually worn at alength a little below or above the shoulder. Some mothers, however had their own definite ideas.

Ringlet Curls: Length

Mothers who curled their sons hair developed different styles. Creative mothers, themselves, however, developed many differet styles. Lengths were, however, somewhat more standard. I think this is because the general preference was for long, shoulder-length ringlets. There were differences in length. Some mothers curled their sons' hair into long ringlets. Other mothers curled their son's hair into shorter ringlets. I do not think, however, that fashion preferences varied so widely. I think the variatiins in length was primarily a reflectiin of a boys' age. Younger boys simply didn'y have hair long enough to form long ringlets. As a result, the boys with the longest ringlet curls were older boys. Presumably many of these boys were old enough to have formed definite ideas about these hair styles--especially long ringlet curls.

Figure 2--This American boy in an undated photograph (circa 1885) taken in New York City sports slender, long ringlet curls carefully on the boy's lace collar. Note the kind of curled bangs the boys wears. He looks to have had the hair on the top of his head or even his forehead bangs styled

Style Conventions

Ringlet curls were worn at various lengths. The most common was just below shoulder length so that the curls would lay on a boy's shoulders. This of course depended somewhat on a boys age and hair type. While most were worn longer than shoulder length, there were many varied lengths. There does not seem to have any perscribed fashion established for the length. Rather it was more up to just how long the boys hair was. There does not seem to have been any major discerable trend over time. Mothers seem to have liked the ringlets to fall down to the boys' shoulders. It does appear to have been a gradual decline in the length of the ringlets after the turn of the century. This is probably because it became less common for boys to have long hair so some mothers may have criopped them a bit. At the same time it was becoming less common for boys to wear dresses.

Determining Factors

Concerning the question of length. I think this was primarily a question of a boys' age. A little boy could not have long ringlets. By the time a boy was 5 or 6, a boy was old enough to have ringlets falling down to his shoulder and longer. I do not think a older boy ever had his curls trimmed so they didn't get to long, but I could be wrong about this. We have no contemporary sources describing this, but our sources of informtion are limited. Another possible factor is the type of hair. One source reports that the hair of children with blond or fair hair grows slower than children wih darker hair. We have not yet confirmed this to be a fact, but believe it is. Thus some of the images of boys with short ringlets may be fair hair boys whose hair grow slowly, rather than a fashionable style that the mother had selected.

Specific Lengths

HBC notices boys wearing ringlet curls in several different lengths. A few boys wore extremely long ringlets and some boys short ringlets well above the soulders. The most common lengh, however, was ringlets worn at shoulder or slightly over the shoulders. It is interesting to study old photographs. In so many of them, mothers have carefully laid a boy's ringlets so they would be clearly visible in the photographs. Clearly the length of these curls were very important to mothers of the era. It must have been a matter discussed by these adoring mothers with friends and female family. Hopefully we can evetually discover letters from the era which contain such references. We do not fully understand whether the length of the curls was a style and that the hair was cut to achieve that style. The length for some boys may have been detrmined by the length to which his hair grew.

Forming Curls

I believe that boys' curls were not normally shortened. They were allowed to grow until they were finally clipped for a boys first hair cut. I could be wrong about this, however, boys hair could apparently grow quite long (figure 1). This was espeecially true of the older boys wearing curls. Mothers would, after sheading a tear or two, then save the clipped curls as a treasured keepsake. Elenor Roosevelt tells of finding Franlin's curls and other keepsakes after her mother-in-law died. Franklin reportedly cried as he looked over the items his mother had saved.

Figure 5.--This boys wears a sailor suit, but his mother has declined to cut his ringlets, worn at a length above the shoulders. I do not have a date for this image, but it appears to reflect a slight tendency for shorter ringlets after the turn of the century.

Visual Impact

One factor that needs to be mentioned in any discussion of ringlet length is that the ringlets after curling were much shorter than the uncurled hair. Curling the hair the effect of making a child's hair look shorter than it actually was. The act of forming spiral ringlets has the visual affect of shortening the hair. HBC is not quite sure precisely what the ratio was and it in fact differed, depending on how the ringlets were styled. A boy with shoulder-length ringlets, however, would have had hair well below shoulder length.

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Created: November 28, 1999
Last edited: 8:29 PM 5/2/2005