English Boys' Hair Styles


Figure 1.--Robert Stowell was photographed about 1894 dresses in a Norfolk suit and pin-on lace collar. His mother gave less attention to combing his hair. Click on the image to learn more about Robert and his family. Image courtesy if the MD collection.

Short hair cuts appear to have become standard for English boys by the turn of the 19th century. Younger boys might be kept by their mothers in curls. Boys educated at home might be kept in long hair, if their mothers thought that stylish. The ringlet curls American boys wore in the late 19th century were less common in Britain. Boys would have their hair cut short before being sent off to school. Short back and sides were a common hair cut at English private schools. Some styles such as the British short back and sides were worn in many countries, although we often do not know what it was called in different countries. Acailable infirmarion on numerous individual boys provide a good overview on British hair styles.

Terminology

The Brirish refer to hair pats as "partings" and bangs as "fringes". A British reader adds, "Others may be ableto correct me but I have heard the term bangs used to long curled locks of hair on the side of the head." During the 90s there was a brief period where boys had longer hair and center partings, sometimes called curtains because of the effect it gave.

Styles

English boys have worn a wide variety of hair styles. Perhaps the the best known English hair style was the straight back and sides--a severe style. Younger boys wore longer hair, although here there were social class connotations. Long hair was more common for boys from affluent families. The length varied over time. Boys wore long hair both in tight ringles and in natural curls. Bangs were also very commonly worn by primary school age boys, especially the younger boys. As they got older they were more likely to wear hair styles with parts. Short hair styles continued to be popular into the 1960s when the Beatles and other inflluences begn to popularize longer hair. Boys might wear quite long hair in the 1970s, but shorter styles gradually became more popular in the 1980s. Very short almost shaved hair styles appeared in the late 1990s.

Parts

The great majority of English boys appear to have parted their hair on the left during the 20th century. We assume that the principal factor here is that right-handed people can more easily comb a left part on themselves and most people are right handed. Of course younger boys generally have their hair comb by mother. We are not sure to what extent this is an accepted convention or an optional matter of convenience. The great majority of English photographic images we have noted in which parts are destinct, show boys with left parts, although center parts were often common during certain periods. Many younger boys at the turn of the 20th century wore bangs and the parts are thus not very apparent. The imahe here is a good example of bangs without an apparent part (figure 1). When a part is apparent, it very commonly is a right part for girls and a left part for girls. Right parts are much less common for boys. I am not sure when this convention developed, but it seems rather commonly excepted at least by the turn of the 20th century.

Chronology

Hair styles are of course subject to chronolgical variations as styles change. Not infrequaently, styles seen as next to scandalous in one era are the height of fashion in another. The major factor changing over time has been hair length, but stylistic variations also change. We note mostly short hair in the 19th century, sometimes ovr the ears in the mid-19th century. Some younger boys, especially from affluent families had long hair for beginning school at about age 8 years.We note both curledand uncurled styles. Hair styles conginued to be mostly short in the 20th century. Short-backs-and-sides were common in the first hald of the 20th century. We don't notice the cropped haie styles that were common in Germany. Hair began to worn longer in the late 60s and we note boys with long hair in the 70s. Hre conflict with parents and schools prevented mny boys from wearibng their hair as long as they wanted. Hair styles became somnewhat shorter and more varies in the 80s. We note cropped hair skin-head stules in the 90s, but this style was less common by the ebnd of the century. Hir styles in the early 21st century were notable for their diversiy.

Information Sources

Some care has to be exercized converning the source of information converning hair styles. We note that thousands of postcard images exist of English children, especially after the turn of the 20th century. The children look to be mostly pre-school boys. We are not entirely sure how to interpret those images. Clearly the images show that some boys had long hair in the early 20th century. We believe, however, that this was a factor in their selection and thus the post card image are not a representative sampling. We think that perhaps long hair was not as common as the number of postcards suggest. In fact, we wonder just who these children were. Many modern parents, especially families that are affluent, might not want their children used commercially in this manner. Attitudes appaera to have been different. Thes children do not look to be from working class families, but rather from farily affluent familaies.

Age

Age of course is an imprtant factor in hair styling. Some styles are especially associated with childhood. These styles have varied over time and among countries. One imprtant factor is school. As long as a boy was at home, mother could style his hair rather much as she desired. This was especially true in the 19th century and early 20th century. Thus boys before they began school at about age 6 might have elaborate long hair styles, sometimes even curls and bows. Their hair was cut short, however, when they began school or they would be teased by the other boys. Another important age was 8 years. This was the age that many affluent parents sent their boys off to boarding school. Many until this age were school at home or at private dame schools wear teasing was not a great problem. Thus until after World War I you might see boys of 6 and 7 years of age with longer hair styles. If a boy was tutored at hime, then he might have elaborate hair styles even longer. While no so obvious today, there are still age-appropriate hair styles for boys. Perhaps the most popular is bangs.

Social Class

Some special styles have been reported by British observers. Mayhew in London Characters and Crooks, a fascinating volume of first-hand accounts of the poor and working-classes of Victorian London. He describes the fashion of the working-class coster-boys (street stall sellers) of wearing their hair long in front. It is interesting to note that these boys, though living on the bread line, were as particular about their dandyfied hair styles as the teddy-boys, punks or fashion-conscious child of the 21st-century.

"Coaster boys in Victorian London"

...They all of them delight in dressing ‘flash’ as they call it. They try to dress like the men, with large pockets in their cord jackets and plenty of them. Their trousers too must fit tight at the knee, and their boots they like as good as possible. A good ‘king’s-man’, a plush skull cap, and a seam down the trousers are the great points of ambition with the coster-boys. A lad of about fourteen informed me that “brass buttons, like a huntsman’s, with foxes’ heads on ‘em, looked stunning flash, and the gals liked ‘em’” As for the hair, they say it ought to be long in front, and done in ‘figure-six’ curls, or twisted back to the ear ‘Newgate-knocker style’ [the fashion for wearing a lock of hair like the figure 6 twisted from the forehead to behind the ear was then at its height.] “But the worst of hair is,” they add, that it is always getting cut off in quod [prison], all along of muzzling [hitting in the mouth] the bobbies.

One lad that I spoke to... was a tall stout boy, about sixteen years old, with a face utterly vacant. His two heavy lead-coloured eyes stared unmeaningly at me, and, beyond a constant anxiety to keep his front lock curled on his cheek, he did not exhibit the slightest trace of feeling. [Henry Mayhew, London Characters and Crooks, 1851, Reprinted by the Folio Society, 1996]


Gender

As a general rule English boys as did boys in America and other Europdan countries generally wore shorter hoir styles and their sisters longer hair styles. Very young boys might have long hair, but most boys geberally had their hai cut short at the time of breeching, some well before that. While this is a general rule, there are many instances of boys with long flowing shoulder-length hair, sometimes done in ringlet curls. This was especially the case in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As many portraits were done individually, we are often not sure how their sisters had their hair style. We note that in most, but not cases, that we habe observed, their sisters had their hair done differently. This sometimes meant a different style of long hair. In other instances their sisters had their hair cut short. As a result, considerable care has to be exercized in assessing the gender in unidentified old photographs.

Schools

Hair at school became a major issue in the 1970s, but hair was not always a major issue. Both boys an men in the mid-19th century war their hair relatvely long, often covering their ears. As far as we know it was entirely up to the boys and their parents as to how a boy wore his hair. Only in the late-19th century did short hair for men and school age boys become standard. We are not sure just how schools began to address the queston of hair. For boarding schools it was simple. The school simple brought in a barber and gave him instructions and billed the parents. The boys had nothing to say as to the style. For private day schools and state schools the issue of har was left to the parents. We are not sure just when the schools began to develop dress codes ad hair styling codes. We know this developed in the 1970s when long hair began o bcome popular. To wht extent it occurred earlier, we are not sure. Schoolboys tend to have short hair cuts in quite uniform styles as most schools forbided long hair or excessive styles. Gradually after waging hair wars, schools became to become more flexble on the issue. This occurred when younger masters started showing up with longish cuts. Actual rules varied from school to school. Hair color is another issue. Boys will usually earn a temporary exclusion if they turn up with died hair.

Individual Boys

HBC has information on quite a number of English boys and their clothes and hair styles. We have laded quite a number of images of images of English boys located on a wide range of topics. These images provide a wonderful view of boys' hair styles over time. We have only linked a few of those images here, but plan to make more connections as HBC develops.








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Created: December 20, 2002
Last edited: 5:09 PM 7/27/2013