** boys hair styles : side parts -- country trends United States America

American Hair Parts: Gender

Figure 1.--Here we have three unidentified children. The oldest and youngest children are clearly boys. Notice the side parts. We were at first unsure about the middle child. Many boys that age in the 19th century wore dresses and other skirted outfits. And many girls had short hair. The middle child here wearing a dress looks like a boy and has short hair. The center part, however, strongly suggests the child is a girl. Center parts were a strong, but not infalable suggestion that the child is a girl. Given that the baby has a side part and thus must be a boy, it is difficult to imgine that the middle child would have had a center part if she was not a girl. A complicatiin is that it is not an clear center part, but off set a little. Girls' center parts were commonly square down the middle, imprtant in combing long hair. The studio is Haring Photography in Massillon, Ohio.

The other basic parting alternative besides the side part is a center part. This is the less common alternative, at least for boys. It was the standard part for girls. This was true in the 19th and 20th century and continues to be the case in the 21st century. It was very common for girls as it was an effective way of dealing with long hair. A center part is the single most valid indicator that the child in an unidentified old photographs is a girl. Ot is, however, not absolute. We do see boys with center parts. This was usually during brief periods when center parts becme fashionable for boys. While overwealmingly associated with girls, we do see boys with center parts. During certin periods, however, it was very popular for boys as well, even boys with short hair. Of course in the 20th century we can identify the gender by the way the children are dressed. In the 19th century this was not always the case which is why knowing the gender conventions of center parts is such a useful tool. Of course it is not a perfect indicator and can cause some misidentifications, but in combinatio with other indicators it can be a powerful tool in correctly identifying gender.

Ambiguous Images

We have found countless images that we are just not sure about because the names are not noted on the back of the portrait. This was not possible with eraly photogtraphic processes (Dags and Ambros), although notes could be enclosed in the protective cases--most American portaits (1840s-50s) had protective cases. Unfortunanely, few such notes have survived. But with the develoment of the albumen process (CDVs and cabinet cards), names could be esily written on he back (1860s). Most parents did not bother to do this, so we are left to guess about gender based on the image alone. One of the most reliable clues is the hair parts, side parts for boys and center parts for girls. This was a fairly reliable clue, but hardly infalable. And mamy prtraits are ambiguous. The portrait here is agood example (figure 1). We will archive images here and invite readers to try to assess the images. A major problem here is that younger children are often not obviously boyish or girlish in appearance. And in the 19th century boys might have curls and girls might have short hair and not just bobed hair. Some girls had hair cuts that we would today associuate with boys' styles. Further complicating all of this, many younge boys might wear skirted garments, although girls at the time did not wear pants other than pantalettes.

Likely Images

We have also archived countless images showing the very clear and wide acceptancve of gender conventions in hair parting. While the individuals photographed are often not named, the gender involved is usually very obvious, certainly very likely. This can be assessed by a combination of facial features, clothing, props, and other indicators. All of which are confirmed by the sizeable number of images that do have names written on the back. As discussed above, there are certainly ambiguous images, but it is possible to get a good idea of gender by hair parts and the otherr indicators. Of course assessing gender when the names are not available is not prefect, but it provides a level of accuracy that is certainly useful for the purpose of out HBC website. There are a few complicatiions. We note some boys for fashionable reasons with center parts. These are, however, school-age boys and there is no doubt about their gender. Another issue is babies, at least babies that have enough hair to part. We have no idea to what extennt the gender conventions were followed with babies. But as we primarily pursue childhood fashions and not baby fashioins, this is a also not a major issue for our weebsite.

Confirmed Images


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Created: 8:13 PM 4/13/2016
Last updated: 7:59 AM 11/16/2021