The coiffures your ancestors sported in photographs are clues to their identities and personalities. Brush up on historical hairdos (and don’ts) with our visual guide to popular styles through the decades.
Every fashion era evokes a hairstyle, from the functional to the fanciful. In our lifetimes, Farrah Fawcett’s blowout, the Beatles’ bowl cuts and Dorothy Hamill’s sculpted wedge were coiffures that launched a thousand cuts. For our 19th-century ancestors, Queen Victoria and Gen. Ambrose Burnside were the hairstyle trendsetters. Just like today’s fashionistas, our ancestors wanted to emulate celebrities’ styles.
Looking at your family’s pictures with knowledge of the history of hairdos will help you determine dates for the photos—and give you more insight into why your ancestors fixed themselves up a certain way. An older woman or man with a youthful hairstyle might’ve been trying to keep up with fashion, while one who clung to the style of his or her earlier years was likely more conservative. A young woman with a mature style may have sought to look older. In the early 20th century, bobbed hair was often considered a badge of rebellion. Hair was also thought to affect a person’s health, so if you see a child or woman with shorn hair, it might be because she was ill. Cutting the hair was thought to help a person get well.