American Boys' Hair: Families

Figure 1.--One of the most motable hair styles worn by bots were the long ringlet curls popular in the late-19th century. Most boys did not have ringlets. There were, however, vary substantial differences from family to family. Here we see an unidentified family in the 1880s that believed in keeping a boy's hir short right from infancy. There are theree children. The girl on the other hand has long hair, but note it is not done in tight ringlet curls like some boys at the time were wearing. The photographer was the United States Photo Co. without any city indication.

One important factor in assessing American children's hair trends is that while their were important national trends, there were also substantial variations from family to family. The family is a very important factor to consider. Hair styles for children were strongly influenced by the experiences of new parents as children. Making the family a very powerful factor. This was we think especially the case in the 19th century. Public education which became increasingly important after the Civil War was a factor in establishing fashion conventions. And after the turn-of-the 20th century mass media became increasingly important. At mid-century teen culture became increasingly important. Parents in the 19th century, especially mothers for the younger children, determined both hair and clothing styles, often without regard to developing conventions. Thus if mothers wanted short or long hair for their sons, that is what she had, regardless of popular attitudes. Thus we see wide variations. We note boys with short hair from infancy as well as boys with long curls even at school age. These variations only began to narrow in the 20th century. Mass media was a major factor, but so was the increasing importance of public education. At home boys did not fuss to much about their hair and clothes, but at school it was a different matter. They wanted to be like the other fellows. While mothers in the 19th century had great latitude about fashion for their children, there was one very significant constraint. That was social class and economics. Working-class mothers did not generally have the time or energy to do fancy hair styles for the children, especially the boys. Here it was the stay-at-home mothers with servants to help with the house work that were able to unleash their energies on the hair and clothing fashions for the children. These were the mothers that were able to do elaborate, high-maintenance styles like ringlet curls. And this was a family matter. There is only one convention that seems to have transended families. That was whatever the hair styles selected for the children, most families wanted different hair styles for boys and girls, even younger children. There are exception of course, but this is a very stringly held convention.


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Created: 4:34 PM 9/15/2008
Last edited: 4:34 PM 9/15/2008