Far-Out Friday: Hair Gone Wild — It Was A(nother) Victorian Thing

HairGoneWildA few weeks ago I wrote an article about another “Victorian thing” – Memento Mori.  In keeping with that theme, I ran across a piece this week that keeps popping up on various web sites entitled “Wily Whiskers”.  The nineteenth century, and specifically the Victorian Age, brought tonsorial changes for  males and females alike.  For the men that meant moustaches, sideburns, mutton chops, Van Dyke beards and more.

MuttonChopThe eighteenth century had its own styles as well – wigs were the way to go when one’s natural hair just wouldn’t do.  Even men, not to be outdone by the fairer sex, sported long flowing wigs.  At the beginning of the 1700’s the men actually had more elaborate hairstyles than did the women.  Near the end of the 1700’s in England, the transition to more natural hair styles may have been attributed to a shortage of flour and Prime Minister William Pitt’s attempt to tax hair powder.

18thCenturyHairDuring the nineteenth century men’s hair may have been shorter and wigs used less often, but by mid-century through the beginning of the twentieth, facial hair became more fashionable. Men of that time, from the everyday man on the street to politicians and soldiers, sported some of the most elaborate styles of facial hair.

In many pictures taken during that era, some men sport more hair on their face than on top of their head it seemed.  Some of the more distinguished officers who served during the Civil War had imposing faces full of hair.

Gen_Ambrose_BurnsideToward the end of the 1800’s more clean-shaven faces began to be seen, perhaps with the inventions of “razor machines”.  The German Kampfe Brothers patented their invention in 1880.  Blades were made of steel, they were expensive and needed to be sharpened often, and with continued use were prone to rust.abuelo_gaston2KingCampGilletteKing Camp Gillette invented a better designed razor in 1893, one easier to handle with less expensive blades.  When the razors first became available they sold for five dollars, this at a time when the average man’s monthly salary was forty to fifty dollars (in today’s dollars that would translate to around one hundred and forty dollars or more).  The Gillette Safety Razor Company was founded in 1902, and as they say, the “rest is history”.

GilletteRazorPatentGillette’s razors were advertised as “safety razors” – so safe that apparently even a child could use, if this 1905 advertisement is to be believed:

SafetyRazorAd_1905Maybe the invention of safety razors contributed to the clean-shaven trend at the end of the nineteenth century leading into the twentieth.  Men also began to flat-comb their shorter hair.  For women, the twentieth century brought more innovation and shorter hair, especially following World War I.

Hair_DryerThe first hair dryer had been invented in France by salon owner Alexandre Godefroy in 1890 – a metal bonnet was attached to a stove pipe which blew hot air.  A bit unwieldy and impractical for widespread use, but some women found other ways to dry their hair by attaching hoses to the exhaust end of a vacuum cleaner.  One 1924 Popular Mechanics article gave instructions as to how to make a hair dryer using vacuums and electric toasters.


Imagine having to rig up something like these contraptions to dry your hair!  But, hand-held blow dryers were on the way.  During the 1920’s models made of steel and zinc and weighing about two pounds came on the market, although not particularly powerful they only produced one hundred watts of heat.  By the 1960’s wattage had increased to five hundred.

BlowDryerThese modern-day conveniences are taken for granted today and we rarely see mutton chops on men these days – unless someone is an Elvis impersonator!  Still fun to look back though and see what our ancestors sported in the way of ‘do’s back in the day and the machinations they had to go through just to look good.

Oh, and going right along with the facial hair stories of this Far-Out Friday, in case you missed it earlier this year, you might want to check out the far-out story of Madame Moustache here.

Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!

© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2014.


Leave a Comment