Tag Archives: Fashion

1850s Hair Dos and Don’ts

While you may think that hairdos in history aren’t really worth studying, they can actually tell us a lot about what life was like in the past. A hairdo can tell us about technology, through the kinds of products historical ‘dos’ required, or about fashion and making a statement, or about social class (whether you were rich or poor, powerful or powerless … ), and it can even be handy for dating historical paintings and photographs!

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A collection of unknown Ballarat women from the Gold Museum collection sporting a range of 19th century hairdos. Reproduced with permission from the Gold Museum.

For thousands of years, people have enjoyed using hair from their heads to decorate their bodies. Hair can be a very important part of someone’s identity; it can relate to religion, law (yes, there have been laws in history that have controlled hairdos!) or simply fashion, and, of course, hairdos are closely linked with humanity’s various and ever-changing ideas around beauty.

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Self-portrait of Queen Victoria, 1835. An image from Wikipedia Commons.

In the 19th century, hairdos for women in the British Empire (which included Australia) tended to follow the style of Queen Victoria, who reigned for 63 years. This powerful woman had a huge influence over all things fashion, and is even thought to be the bride who popularised the white wedding dress, which many women still wear today. Before her time, British women simply wore their best dress on their wedding day, whatever the colour. Fashions in both hair and clothes changed a great deal during her time as queen, as you can see here.

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The first known photograph of Queen Victoria, pictured here with her eldest daughter, c.1845. An image from Wikipedia Commons.

By the 1850s, Queen Victoria tended to wear her hair parted in the middle. It was either pulled back behind the ears (which would then be covered by a day cap/bonnet), or would be used to cover the ears when a head covering wasn’t necessary (at a ball, for example). Otherwise, she, like the millions of women in her empire during this time in history, covered their heads out of Christian politeness, and always when outside (providing they could afford it!). Not only did wearing head coverings out of doors keep your hair clean before the invention of the shower and hair dryer, they tended to protect you from sunburn. And back then, fancy ladies wanted the whitest skin possible – ‘Only peasants and natives have tans!’. Beauty ideals like these demonstrate how acceptable racism (and classism) was in the 19th century.

For men, the beginning of the 1800s saw the end of elaborate powdered wigs and a return to natural hairstyles and colours. A few decades later and beards and moustaches also came into fashion. A male fashionista of the time, Beau Brummell, led the way with these new, relaxed, natural hairdos, which got shorter and more controlled as the century rolled on. Hair styling products such as hair oil became popular with men during this time; however, they didn’t have the means to wash it out like we do today (with shampoo) until the 1890s. The first shampoos were powders, and it wasn’t until the 20th century that we saw the invention of liquid shampoos.

Most people’s washing habits in 1850s Ballarat mirrored those practiced in England; however, clean water (that which wasn’t polluted by goldmining or human waste near it … ) on the diggings was often hard to come by. Miners and their wives would pay a lot of money – particularly during dry summers – for buckets of fresh water taken from what was then called Yuille’s Swamp (now Ballarat’s Lake Wendouree). Bathing usually only happened once a week (typically on Saturday nights so the family was clean for church on Sunday), but that bath wasn’t for washing hair, and besides, you had to share the water with your entire family because it was so scarce!

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Photograph of an unknown man dubbed the “Chinese Giant”, 1870. Notice his long queue. Reproduced with permission from the Gold Museum. 

Of course there were many nationalities present on the Ballarat goldfields, which meant yet more hair styles could be seen around 1850s Ballarat. One of the most striking hairstyles common during this era was the ‘queue’ worn by Ballarat’s many Chinese miners. Back in China, it was compulsory for men to sport this ‘do’, which involved shaving the front of the head, and growing the back very long and wearing it in a plait. The Aboriginal people of this region – the Wadawurrung people – may have worn their hair differently to the Europeans and the Chinese; however, from the limited photographic evidence we have, many appear to have adopted European hairstyles by this time.

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Marcel curlers, also known as hot curling irons or hot curling tongs. 

An exploration of 19th century hair in Australia wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the fashion for hair artworks and even hair jewellery, which was commonly something a lady would give to her lover, or someone would make from the hair of a recently deceased loved one. You can see lots of examples of this curious practice here. Another weird habit of European women in the 1800s was the collecting of hair from a hairbrush to use as padding to create certain hairdos. Hair was collected in a ‘hair receiver’ and then moulded as required into a ‘rat’ to place inside a bun or to give hair volume. Lastly, the rather terrifying ‘Marcel Wave’ hair curler became popular towards the end of the century, even though it was very easy to burn your hair off while using it – it was heated in the fire before being applied to hair!

Links and References

A pictorial overview of Victorian hair styles: http://www.whizzpast.com/victorian-hairstyles-a-short-history-in-photos/

A series of videos on this history of women’s hairdos (Eurocentric): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rpGc2ylEgfQ&list=PLWpk-1VZu_yM5ms7Mm1wBirhm5G1UPOwZ

A brief visual history of men and women’s hairdos through history: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVr8W6HME4A

A video on the history of shampoo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEjeTYzZjzg

Horrible Histories on Incan shampoo…: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqWoWscljQs

A great history of hair from the Chertsey Museum: http://chertseymuseum.org/hair

A great BBC article on the history of the wedding dress: http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20140503-how-wedding-dresses-evolved

A woman’s life on the Ballarat goldfield: http://education.sovereignhill.com.au/media/uploads/SovHill-women-notes-ss1.pdf

The 1850s – Then and Now

During the Victorian goldrushes of the 19th century, people lived very different lives to those Australians lead today in the 21st century. We can understand these differences by taking a look at some examples of technologies etc. which highlight what has changed in our lives between then and now.

Do you think you could have lived in the 1850s? What listed in the ‘Now’ column couldn’t you live without today?

Then

Now

A meat safe (a fly-wire box which is covered with a damp cloth to keep food cool)

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Electric refrigerator

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Wooden, bone, paper and metal toys

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Plastic toys (plastic is made from petroleum or natural gas, and wasn’t invented until the 20th century)

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Humorism – the belief that illness was the result of an imbalance in the four humors (4 bodily liquids: blood, phlegm, black bile, yellow bile). Imbalances were thought to be caused by bad smells called ‘miasma’

Germ theory – the understanding that most illnesses are caused by microorganisms (bacteria, like viruses, fungi etc.) that spread easily if you don’t wash your hands or carefully manage sewage

A wash board and clothes mangle

A washing machine and tumble dryer

Newspaper, leaves, smooth stones or even your hand!

Toilet paper

Corset – a tight-fitting piece of structured underwear mainly worn by ladies to secure and train the torso

Bra – a complex piece of ladies’ underwear designed to support the breasts

Long-handled toasting fork – used to hold bread close to the fire to toast it

An electric toaster

Tooth powder often made of chalk, charcoal or bicarb soda – the wealthy used a brush, the poor used a finger

Tooth paste – made available once flexible metal tubes were invented in the 1890s

Pantalettes – long cotton ladies underwear that are secured with a button/ribbon

Cotton, elasticated underpants for ladies

Anaesthetics were being invented in the 1850s – before then only alcohol or cocaine were available to help with pain during surgery!

Modern anaesthetics to make either a small part or the entire body ‘fall asleep’ and not feel any pain during surgery

Phrenology – a ‘science’ that uses the shape of the skull to explain personalities and behaviours of people

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Psychology – a science that seeks to explain the chemistry, thoughts and behaviours of the brain/mind

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Dresses for babies and small children – including boys, who might wear a sort of dress until they were ‘breeched’ (a rite-of-passage that allows boys to start wearing pants – there’s a boy in a dress in this S. T. Gill sketch)

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Jumpsuits/bodysuits for babies (also known as ‘onesies’)

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Click on the S. T. Gill sketch to enlarge

Trains and boats

Aeroplanes and cars

Leeches and amputation were used to treat infections (this is a real 1850s amputation kit…)

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Antibiotics are now used to treat bacterial infections (this is the structural formula of penicillin)

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Flat (or ‘sad’) iron which is heated on the fire

Electric steam iron that you fill with water and plug into the electricity outlet in the wall

Newspapers, the postal service and the electric telegraph

The internet and mobile phone technology

A fob or pocket watch (a watch on a chain/necklace) powered by daily manual winding

A battery-powered wrist watch

Candles and gas lights (which were highly explosive and killed lots of people in their homes)

Electric lights

Life has changed dramatically in the last 160 years. In that time, we have popularised world-changing ideas like germ and evolutionary theory, and we invented amazing technologies like electricity, the car and the internet. How do you think it will change in the next 160 years?

Links and references

An article about the big ideas that have changed our world: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2008/jun/22/philosophy.plato

A video about the most important inventions humans have ever created: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SwPw2VchQGQ

Changes to life expectancy across the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jbkSRLYSojo

The impact of the Industrial Revolution: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhL5DCizj5c&index=32&list=PLBDA2E52FB1EF80C9

The way the Industrial Revolution fostered globalisation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5SnR-e0S6Ic&index=41&list=PLBDA2E52FB1EF80C9

Gold Rush Undies: Women’s fashionable underwear in the 1850s

Women’s Underwear

As there has been so much interest in our fashion blogs, we have decided to include another fashion post.

Cutaway diagram showing underclothes

Cutaway diagram showing underclothes

What did women wear under their beautiful dresses? The dressing regime of a lady would be seen as incredibly tiresome by today’s standards. Because the fashions came from Europe, the clothing would have been terribly warm and claustrophobic in the Australian climate. Let’s explore the stages of layering required to achieve the desired result for the fashion of the day.

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Gold Rush Babes: Children’s fashion in the 1850s

Children’s Clothing during the Gold Rush

Children’s clothing would depend largely on the wealth of their parents.  Those children fortunate enough to be born into wealthy families would have comfortable, high quality and fashionable clothing.  Poor children would have to make do with basic clothes that would be worn until they fell apart.  Social expectations of the time dictated that children, like men and women, should be modestly and neatly (as much as possible) attired at all times.

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Gold Rush Beaus: Men’s Fashion in the 1850s

Clothing and fashion for men during the Gold Rush

Men were very concerned with fashion and accessories in the 1850s, though perhaps not as much as their womenfolk.  Clothing was a sign of one’s class and status in society; it could tell you about a man’s level of wealth, respectability and their occupation.  But here in Victoria, as the gold rush was causing a shift in wealth and class, the distinction was not always so clear.

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Gold Rush Bell(e)s: Women’s Fashion in the 1850s

Background to Women’s Fashion in the 1850s

During the Gold Rush in Victoria most new immigrants arrived from Great Britain: England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.  They brought their ideas about dressing and fashion with them, and consequently many clothes in Victoria during 1850s follow the same lines as their British cousins.

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