Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Hair Art in the Victorian Era

One of the most coveted types of jewelry in the Victorian era was hair jewelry. And yet, when I bring up the subject to my friends, often their first reaction is, "Ewwwww!"

So I've decided to explain hair jewelry more fully in hopes that you all can see how cool it really is.

First off, remember that back in Victorian times, photography was still new and expensive. Having your portrait drawn or painted was also expensive unless you had a family member talented enough and willing to do it for free. Therefore, an easy alternative method of creating mementos for friends and family was to give them a lock of your hair.

Hair is one of the most durable parts of our bodies (hair has been found intact on Egyptian mummies) but it is also one of the most renewable and expendable parts. So naturally, if you wanted a lasting memento of someone, hair was a good choice.

Also, a favorite mourning accessory was hair jewelry made from the deceased loved one's hair. When Prince Albert (Queen Victoria's husband) died in 1861, Queen Victoria went into deep mourning. Since she set the fashions, mourning clothing and jewelry became the vogue.

Victoria and Albert

And don't forget that the American War Between the States, which occurred from 1861-1865, also increased the use of mourning accessories. So hair jewelry's popularity was given a boost in the Victorian era.

Now when I say "hair jewelry," you may be thinking of a locket with a lock of hair in it. Nope, I'm talking about real pieces of jewelry made from hair. In fact, hair could be made into scads of items such as framed portraits, landscapes, and wreaths... earrings, necklaces, and bracelets... cuff links and watch charms... and more!

I was checking out the Hairwork Society and was impressed with some of the awesome pictures they had. For instance, here is a picture from a hair scrapbook. Apparently this scrapbooker had locks of hair from all her family - or maybe these are her friends.

Even more impressive was this picture of a family-tree-hair-bouquet.


Hair braiding and weaving was a fine art, originally confined to the professionals. You cut your hair and sent it off and the professionals would create whatever you wanted from it.

But hair jewelry became so sought-after that many women learned how to create it themselves. Godey's Ladies Book and other magazines of the time even provided instructions for making hair art and jewelry. Here's some designs Godey's provided in their December 1860 issue.

Of course, in order to make these creations, the hair had to be prepared properly. Godey's recommended boiling the hair in soda water and then carefully drying it "but not too near a fire." The hair was then sorted into strands of even length. Braiding the hair was complicated and often required a special braiding frame or table. Then the creation was boiled again and dried again before being ready to use.

If you want to research the process in more depth, I thought this was a great article.

A quick Google search for hair jewelry brings up some stunning samples, such as these below.

And lastly, just for fun, here is a vintage piece of hair jewelry that my mom found on Ebay. There are two hair colors in this pin - I wonder if an 1860s mother wore it because it contained her children's hair?

So ... ever feel like tearing out your hair? Don't let a hairy situation get the best of you - save your hair and make some art with it!


  1. What an amazing post! I knew about the Victorian hair art~but not to this extent! Thank you for sharing!

  2. You're welcome! Glad you enjoyed it!

  3. I love everything I read here :) You have so much knowledge and obviously a passion for this era. I am sure at some point I was in a museum and saw some of these, must have been at the V.& A. fascinating, thanks for sharing :) T.

  4. This is fascinating! I didn't know anything about hair jewelry. I found the scrapbooker the most interesting! There's both a "neat" and a "yuuch" factor. Your photos are wonderful. Chris

  5. Thanks, Chris and T. I love bringing history to life for people!

  6. That is amazing information, and very interesting jewelry. Great post!

  7. Wow I love your site! I had heard about hair jewelry but didn't know it was so intricate. Your clothes are beautiful too...I remember my grandmothers pics and she wore clothes like this.:)

  8. yes, it is a great post. I'm your latest follower, Jan

  9. Thanks Jan and Willow Stone Designs! I'm glad you liked it.

  10. this is really interesting, learn something new every day, hair jewerly, they were quite creative back then

  11. Here is an interesting ad I came across.