Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Beyond the Chignon, Part 2: Reconstruction Era Hairstyles

"Scarlett dressed with more than usual care that afternoon for her trip to the store and the lumber yard, wearing the new dull-green changeable taffeta frock that looked lilac in some lights and the new pale-green bonnet, circled about with dark-green plumes.  If only Rhett would let her cut bangs and frizzle them on her forehead, how much better this bonnet would look!  But he had declared that he would shave her whole head if she banged her forelocks."  
 --Gone with the Wind, Chapter LIII

So following our look last week at Civil War hairstyles, this week it's time to tackle Reconstruction Era hairstyles in the second (and final) part of our Beyond the Chignon series. 

As the United States rebuilt from the Civil War and moved into what would be fondly known as the Gilded Age, it's no surprise that hairstyles evolved to match the glitz and occasional excesses of this period that brought us the bustle, Scarlett's trashy friends, and  the much-discussed ostentation of the Butler Mansion. 

But instead of me solely summarizing a couple of popular styles like I did last week, this time I'm happy to hand off some of the description duties to an actual coiffure expert from the period, Mark Campbell, the author of 1867's Self-Instructor in the Art of Hair Work, Dressing Hair, Making Curls, Switches, Braids, and Hair Jewelry of Every Description. After the jump, you'll find a slideshow of what Mr. Campbell assures us are "the latest and most fashionable European and American styles... indispensable to every lady's toilet."  As you'd expect from a book titled The Self-Instructor, the styles come complete with  full instructions, so you if you're yearning to try out the Promenade, the Shepherdess  or  any other fancy hairstyle, you can do so.  You'll find that and more Reconstruction Era hairstyle info below.

So as you can see from the slideshow, by the early Reconstruction Era hairstyles had become more varied and intricate than their Civil War counterparts. The dependable Historic Dress in America: 1800-1870 offers some additional insight on current trends in hair arrangement during the time:
"At this period (1869-1870) the hair was usually arranged in braids at the back and turned up and pinned close to the head, while the front hair was crimped, parted in the middle and drawn back above the ears, and the ends made into finger-puffs on top of the head. Curls were much worn, sometimes hanging in a soft cluster over the braids, but the favourite style was a long ringlet coming out from the braids at the left side and hanging down over the shoulder. For full dress occasions the coiffure consisted entirely of finger-puffs and small artificial flowers were placed at intervals through them."
--excerpted from Historic Dress in America: 1800-1870
So when Rhett refuses to let Scarlett "cut bangs and frizzle them on her forehead," he's not just flexing his muscles as a Victorian-era alpha male, he's also keeping her from embracing a very au courant hairsyle (oh the cruelty of it all!). But jokes aside, I'd like to leave you with one more image as our Beyond the Chignon series draws to its end. When I read the excerpt above in Historic Dress, I had a really hard time picturing a hairstyle made up of "finger-puffs and small artificial flowers." Fortunately, though, I was able to quell my curiosity (and perhaps yours too) by finding an image of the style from a 1876 fashion plate in Godey's Lady's Book:

And with that, we end our brave adventure into the complex world of Gone with the Wind era hairstyles. I hope we've successfully transported you Beyond the Chignon and that you can now make dazzling conversation at cocktail parties about the Waterfall, Cats, Rats, and Mice, and Mark Campbell's Self Instructor in the Art of Hair Work


  1. I love this series! Considering I don't care anything at all about modern fashion (I'd wear pajamas 24/7 if I could just to be comfortable), I find myself fascinated by historical hairstyles and fashions. One of my favorite sections in the book is when Scarlett is trying on dresses for the barbeque and the mental process she goes through to select just the right one and how she imagines Melanie will react.

    Thanks for including a picture of Scarlett here in my favorite screen shot in the whole movie. I love Scarlett's hair here, and of course I've always thought the red dress was to die for. So glad they went with this instead of the (inevitable) green dress MM describes in the book.

  2. Bluesneak- Oh that scene is one of my very favorite ones from the book too. The description of the dresses is just so pretty and I love Scarlett's catty inner monologue about what to wear in relation to Melanie.

    It's also just such a timeless scene by MM-- what girl hasn't, at some point in her life, stood in front of her mirror with a pile of clothes and gone through that intricate, agonizing decision-making process of picking THE perfect outfit? Sigh, I've been there before. :)


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