The author has graciously shared with readers of the Victorian Web this passage from the second edition of her Fashion in Costume, 1200-2000 (2000), published by A & C Black (Publishers) Ltd., which retains copyright. Readers wishing to obtain the book can e-mail the following address:

decorated initial 'W' omen's hair styles tended to reflect the lines of their gowns. As skirts were drawn back in the mid to late 1860s, so the hair was also drawn up and back to reveal the ears, for so long covered, but kept flat on top, with curls or a small twist at the back of the head reflecting the back interest on the dress. With the first bustles in the early 1870s the hair was lifted higher, sloping upward from forehead to occiput, then cascading to the shoulders in lavish twisted plaits (braids) or curls, or both, or occasionally worn in a chignon. During this period enormous quantities of false hair were used by the very fashionable, obtained, in Catholic countries, from novices entering convents, and everywhere from prisoners or paupers in workhouses; hair might fetch a good price, and peasant girls in Germany, Italy and France whose traditional headdresses hid the absence of hair found its sale a source of income; even middle-class girls in England or America, in need of cash, might sell their hair, as Jo March did in Little Women.

In 1876 The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine announced that the use of false hair was a thing of the past; the slim straight line of the cuirass body was enhanced by hair dressed to give a smaller, neat appearance, close and high on the head. A few curls might be arranged to fall from the back of the head to the shoulders in the evening, and the increasingly fashionable, closely-curled fringe favoured by the Princess of Wales might often be false; a false fringe would avoid cutting the front hair. These fringes were thick enough to support a diamond clip in the shape of a star or crescent for evening. The small neat hairstyle remained in fashion through the late 1870s and into the 1880s, when the hair was scraped up into a bun on top of the head. The curled ffinge was reduced to small tendrils on the forehead. By the 1890s it had disappeared altogether, and the hair was again dressed back from the forehead but fuller and softer, possibly over pads to give a more bouffant style, still with the twist or bun on top of the head.

Throughout the half century, bonnets and hats, apart from sporting styles, were lavishly trimmed, and hair was invariably decorated with flowers, jewels or feathers for evening. Indoor caps were gradually discontinued, by the 1870s worn only, perhaps, with a tea-gown or breakfast jacket and by elderly ladies; servants and country folk wore them well into the 20th century. The variety of millinery styles throughout this period was enormous, and it is only possible to indicate the main shapes, which were dictated by the hairstyles. During the 1850s bonnets became shallower and set further back on the head, developing in the early 1860s into the spoon bonnet, which had a >narrow brim close to the ears, rising vertically above the forehead in a spoon-shaped curve and sloping down behind to a very small crown, edged with a bavolet at the back. Bonnet strings (or ribbons) were wide, and often not tied but held by a brooch or pin under the chin, occasionally with a tiny bunch of artificial flowers. A curious addition to the bonnet between 1848 and 1864, appropriately called an ugly, was an extra brim resembling the front of a calash, made of half hoops of cane covered with silk and worn round the front as a protection against the sun; when not in use it could be folded flat. The most romantic-looking hat of the 1850s was a leghorn straw with a very wide brim dipping down at the back and slightly at the front and a high or low crown, trimmed with a lace or tulle veil, ribbons orflowers, or possibly all three; it appears to have been more popular in France and Germany, but was certainly adopted with slight variations in England and America for children's wear.

With the massive arrangement of hair at the back of the head in the late 1860s and early 1870s, bonnets had to be worn further forward, the front curving fronijust above the hair-line to behind the ears where the ribbons were attached, the back cut away to allow the hair to flow freely. At this time hats were also perched on the forehead; a pillbox shape is sometimes referred to as a casquette, a name also applied to a hat following the lines of the Scotch glengarry cap. The Lamballe bonnet or plateau (named after the Princesse de Lamballe) might be classified as a bonnet or hat - worn in the same way as the pill-box, it closely resembled it but was more oval in shape and tied on by strings under the back hair or chignon or, when curved down slightly at the sides, would have ribbons tied in a large bow under the chin.

Small-brimmed hats, slightly wider in summer, toques and tiny bonnets set on top of the head above the close, high-dressed hair and fringe, helped to increase height in the late 1870s and 1880s; crowns rose, with a flower-pot shape appearing in the late 1880s. Trimmings, arranged to give a vertical line, could be elaborate and even bizarre: small birds, feathers, feather wings, aigrettes, beetles, flowers, fruit and vegetables intermingled with loops of fancy ribbon, velvet and/or tulle. Fur decorated some winter hats, and toques made of sealskin became very popular. At the same time, for country and sporting activities, plainer and rather masculine hats were in vogue. Boaters, introduced as early as the 1860s, continued to be worn, straight or tilted, into the 20th century. The Fedora felt hat, similar to a Homburg, was named after the heroine in a play by Sardou in which Sarah Bernhardt scored a success. Yachting caps were worn for sailing or at the sea-side. The tam-o'-shanter, for country wear, was a soft, round, flat cap or hat with no brim and a bobble in the centre of the crown; in the 1880s it might be made of velvet, plush, cloth or crochet; a knitted version became usual later.

During the 1890s, bonnets lost favour with the fashionable although still worn by some elderly ladies, even after 1900, and for mourning with a long crape veil. Hats became wider-brimmed, worn high on the head over the fuller hairstyle; even toques were often quite large, draped or ruched in velvet, silk or tulle. Trimmings, ribbons, flowers and feathers still emphasized a vertical line.

Heels were added to boots in the late 1840s and the 1850s and to slippers between 1860 and 1865; on both they were small, 1-11 inches high, straight on the inner side and curved in from the back; the toe might be squared at the tip, rounded or pointed. Coloured satin or fine kid was used for formal slippers and boots, and kid, sometimes combined with cloth uppers in white, black or bronze for informal. Elastic-sided boots continued, but lacing on the inner side of the boot increased. The tops of boots might be decorated with bows or tassels, enchantingly glimpsed under the spreading skirts, passernenterie braid, ribbon or lace; for winter, little jackets of fur, fur and velvet, or sealskin, and full-length coats in broadcloth and moire' or velvet trimmed with Russian sable; for evening, coats with dolman or loose sleeves in rich fabrics richly trimmed, or sweeping full-length cloaks with shoulders adapted to contain the huge sleeves of the dresses and collars flaring out around the face. The restraint shown in men's dress was certainly not practised by fashionable and wealthy women, who had no hesitation in flaunting their wealth, both in lavish fabric and trimmings and in the extraordinary number of garments they required for different occasions and activities. [159-61]


Nunn, Joan. Fashion in Costume, 1200-2000. 2nd edition. A & C Black (Publishers) Ltd; Chicago: New Amsterdam Books, 2000.

Last modified 11 June 2001