Monday, January 16, 2012

How To Do A Civil War Hairstyle

By popular demand, I'm going to do some blog posts on creating hairstyles for the 1860s. Since I have long, thick hair, I wanted to use someone else for a model - someone who had a shorter, more modern hairstyle.

However, my sis also has long thick hair, and Mom's hair is very short. No one in our family has a nice, shoulder-length style for me to play with! Just when I thought there was no one to pester, a good friend with formerly long hair surprised us today by coming for a sleepover with a new haircut! She graciously offered to be a model for my blog post (and a fruit coolatta from Dunkin Donuts as bribery didn't hurt!).

So here is our wonderful model Merrianna with her beautiful titian hair as a my demo! Though I did this hairstyle for Merrianna (while she slurped her coolatta! :D), you can easily do it on yourself with some practice.

My materials

The lovely model (and the bribe!)

I started by parting off a front section on each side.

Then I put the back section into a nice smooth ponytail.

I twisted the ponytail into a bun. This is where having some gel, hairspray or good old-fashioned pomade would have made the job easier. But hey, it turned out pretty well anyway!

Since her hair was nice and clean and slippery, I used hair clips to secure it. If you absolutely need to, you can use them too. But since they weren't around in 1860, it's better to use something goopy on your hair to make it stay put (which they did do) and then use those big authentic hair pins instead. However, the clips worked fine for our demo.

Next, I took one of the side sections in front and twisted it. You can twist it under, towards your face. Or you can twist it up, away from your face. Both styles were used, so you'll have to decide which fits your face shape the best. Thin hair typically looks best if twisted up and away from the face.

Twist the hair all the way to the end. You can braid it, if you prefer. Start the braid near the top of the ear, not at the front scalp-line.

Braided or twisted, take the piece of hair and wind it around your bun. It doesn't matter if it's not long enough to go all the way around the bun. If you're using hair pins, pin it against the bun as you go. If using clips, do the same thing.

Take the other front section and do the same thing with it.

Here's generally how it should look. Isn't this a lovely do? It should be quite secure as well, especially if you used plenty of hair spray and gel.

Here is a drawing of Queen Victoria with the same general hairstyle. If your hair is long, you can loop the braid or twist lower, like she did.

If you are reenacting a lady at home, you can leave your head bare if you like. However, ladies often wore caps or nets during the day. So here's how to put on a net.

First, put it around your hands and make sure it's fully opened.

Hook the bottom under your hair-do.

Pull it forward and adjust around your face.

Ta-da! Ain't she cute?

This hairstyle also looks good with a cap.

And a bonnet!

Next time, I'll show you our demo pictures of how to vary this for a ball hairstyle. For now, I'll leave you with a final cute photo op we just couldn't resist:

Thanks, Merrianna!


  1. I have very fine, thin hair and my bun is very small. Any good suggestions for my situation?"

  2. Sheila, I hope to find a thin-haired model for a post as well. But meanwhile, I would suggest this same general hairstyle as above, but put a fake bun over top of your own bun. This was quite authentic - ladies often wore fake "back hair" to augment their own.

  3. Hi Heather,
    I just wanted to drop by and let you know that you have been awarded the Versatile Blogger award! You can read all about it here:


  4. I'll give this a try! Do you have a tutorial for that lace cap?

  5. I haven't done an official tutorial yet - one of these days! The basic foundation is an old lacy hanky that is folded diagonally. Then a strip of lace is added across the top, with some ribbons and trim.

  6. my hair is short and is everything. curly, wavy, amnd straight mixed together. i am goin to a cicil war reanactment at the end of the summer. i dont know what a good hairstyle would be for shortish wavy,curly, straight hair.

  7. Garrette, there were short-haired ladies in the 1860s too! Though it was not common, a woman might cut her hair for a variety of reasons. Check out my Pinterest board for pictures of some styles that short-haired ladies wore back then.

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  9. Excited to see your hairstyles for formal Civil War era Ball. Thank you for your website with such useful, time period accurate information.