Long Hair: Shoulder Length

Figure 1.--Gainsborough's Blue Boy is one of the most widely recognized paintings. A companion piece, Pink Boy, is less well known. The paintings were executed in the 18th century but portray 17th century dress.

Boys have worn different styles of long hair. These styles have been worn in both historical and modern eras. Contemporary boys do not seem to favor long hair, but the styles are less rigid than before and more open to personal choice so long hair is occcasionally seen in the 1990s. Boy's hair has been worn long during various eras. One style has been long uncut hair. In some cases the hair was worn shoulder length. There have been several historical periods in which this style was fashionable. Long hair was popular in the 17th Cebtury, but short hair became the norm through most of the 19th Century, until the book Little Lord Fauntleroy popularized long flowing locks. Many mothers liked to curl their son's long hair. Shoulder length hair was most popular in the late 19th Century (1885-1910) during the Fauntleroy craze. After another long era of short cropped hair, even crew cuts--long hair reappeared in the 1970s.

The 17th Century

Long hair was stylishly worn in the 17th century. European monarches including France's Sun King (Louis XIV) and the English Stuarts wore long hair--the famous Cavilers in the English Civil War. They wore elaborate silks and satins with lace, the inspiration for Francis Hobson Benett's Little Lord Fauntleroy in the 19th century. Aristocratic boys such as those depicted in Gainsborough's Blue and Pink boys, painted in the 18th century, wore long hair just like their fathers. The hair was worn long, but uncurled. The Gainsborough painting, The Blue Boy, portrays Jonathan Buttall, the son of a successful hardware merchant, who was a close friend of the artist. The work was executed about 1770 during Gainsborough's extended stay in Bath before he finally settled in London in 1774. The artist has dressed the young man in a costume dating from about 140 years before the portrait was painted. This type of costume was familiar through the portraits of the great Flemish painter, Anthony van Dyck (1559-1641), who was resident in England during the early 17th century. Gainsborough greatly admired the work of Van Dyck and seems to have conceived The Blue Boy as an act of homage to that master.

The 18th Century

Many portraits of boys during the 18th century show them wearing long hair. This does not, however, appear to have been a specifically juvenile style. Adults commonly wore long hair, or commonly wigs. This was a prominent difference in that boys were less likely to wear wigs than boys. Social class was a factor here. Given the cost of wigs, the affluent were more likely to wear them than those of modest means. In the aftermath of the French Revolution (1789), the wearing of wigs disappeared in the lat 1790s.

The Early 19th Century

Some written records mention younger boys wearing long hair. Most bnoys, however, had short hair cuts. The lack of photographic images limits our ability to assess the extent to which long hair was worn in the early 19th century.

Late 19th Century

Long hair was revived in the 19th century by Bennet's book, Little Lord Fauntleroy. As a result, Little Lord Fauntleroy suits in both skirt and knee pant styles were fashionable for a boy's part dress for a generation. These outfits were actually not an inovation, the fashion illustrated in Mrs. Bennet's book were in fact, fashions that had been worn by European boys for some time. The book, however, greatly popularized the style in America and also Europe. Although not dealt with to any extent in the book, Reginald Birch's illustrations in Little Lord Fauntleroy prominately featured the hero, Cedric Erol, with long shoulder-length hair. This created a sensation along with the famed velvet suits. Many but not all mothers delayed cutting their boys' hair to complete the Fauntleroy effect. Long hair for small boys was not unknown in the early and mid-19th century. Birch's illustrations, however, greatly increased the popularity of long hair for boys, at least among mothers, and increased the ages at which such long hair styles were worn.

20th Century

Boys commonly wore short hair during the first half of the 20th century. Some younger boys had long hair in the 1900s, but much fewer than in the 19th century. American boys might wear ringlets, but not always. An example is an unidentified American boy. But this was rarely seen after World war I (1914-18). Most boys had various short hair styles. Bangs were popular for younger boys. Parts varied with center parts popular in the early 20th century, but most boys returned to side parts after Wirld War I. After World War II especially short hair was very popular. Longer cuts did not become popular until the late 60s. Here the Beatles were very influential. Long hair was very popular in the 1970s. Hair styles were quite varied in the 1980s. Short styles began to become popular again in the 1990s.

The 1970s

Propelled first by Elvis Presly and then the Beatles, boys moved away from short hair in the late 1950s and early 1960s. By the 1970s, many boys were wearing long hair of all lengths--including shoulder length long hair. American boys led the way here, but the fashion soon spread to Europe. The fashion did not, however, spread to Japan. Long hair for American and European boys. boys became less fashionable in the 1980s. It is rare in the 1990s to see boys with very long hair, but styles are not nearly as rigid as they once were and hair of many different length and styles are observable in the 1990s.


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Created: January 25, 1999
Last edited: 2:04 AM 2/22/2007