Smack in between the Georgian and Edwardian periods was the fashion-forward and ideological Victorian era. Not only were there advances in science and technology during this time, but there were also small moments of rebellion. Many old photographs show women wearing bonnets, but there’s more to the story. Keep reading to see what was really under Victorian women’s bonnets.
Victorian Era Fashion For Women
The fashion during the Victorian era was quite unique and reflected how women were treated during that time. Although the women usually stayed at home, their clothing was more constricted.
Women typically wore corsets, tight sleeves, dresses with exposed shoulders, and wide skirts. Bonnets weren’t considered a staple in their wardrobe, but some Victorian women would wear them.
The Bonnet Trend
Fashion trends have been occurring for centuries and there were certainly a few iconic looks that women were drawn to during the Victorian era. Their fashion choices began to reflect the new era of independence for the fairer gender.
This was a time when women were starting to explore outside societal boundaries. Both in Europe and the United States, women wanted to push the envelope with styles that were considered a bit taboo.
Hiding Behind Modesty
During the 1800s, women were still expected to remain modest and dignified when it came to their physical appearance. While hats and bonnets may have seemed to help this, there may have been other purposes for them.
On their own, these now vintage head coverings seem a little impractical for the time period. This means women most likely didn’t wear them for how they looked.
Breaking Down The Bonnet
The most common bonnets were made from either straw or fabric, but poke bonnets were the more luxurious choice. These only showed the face of a woman and the shape was based on a bell-shaped hoop skirt.
Bonnets weren’t too large, but Victorian women were still managing to fit a lot under them.
Women Had To Act Sly
Since women were restricted with almost all of their personal choices, they had to create new ways to show their true selves.
Even though society pressured them to look and act a certain way, they still had some autonomy over their physical appearance. However, they used the bonnets as a form of protection.
What Women Were Hiding Under Their Bonnets
Bonnets weren’t simply modest fashion trends for Victorian women, but they were used to hide long hair. During this time, it was almost unspeakable for women to wear their hair long, especially without some kind of covering.
Their hair wasn’t simply past their shoulders, but many of the women who hid their hair had grown it down to the floor.
The Long Hair Trend
Something as simplistic as long hair may seem a bit trivial for women to be concealing under their bonnets, but it was necessary for the era.
Long hair started to become popular amongst women in the Victorian age and even some men, too. Maintaining long hair was a whole other challenge.
Vintage Hair Care Was No Joke
Having long hair during any time period requires a lot of maintenance, but there wasn’t too much information about hair care during the Victorian era.
Women wanted to make sure their long locks looked healthy and shiny, even though they couldn’t show them off in public. Some found new hair-lengthening shampoos and elixirs that were created to make their hair grow down to the ground.
Not Everyone Could Afford To Have Long Hair
Long hair was a symbol of both beauty and rebellion during the Victorian age, but not everyone could afford to take care of their luscious locks.
Women who came from a lower class were often forced to cut off their hair for money, which would be made into wigs or extensions for the upper class.
What Was Found Inside Hair Products
Keeping up with long hair is no easy task, so Victorian women needed to make sure their hair wasn’t getting tangled or knotted.
They turned to various elixirs, tonics, and shampoos that would contain ingredients such as egg yolks, soap, vinegar, rosemary, black tea, and even rum. These ingredients may seem over-the-top and it wasn’t proven if they actually worked.
Would Just Soap And Water Work?
All of the ingredients found in Victorian era tonics may seem a little strange today and some beauty experts of the time agreed.
According to an 1879 dress and etiquette guide, “Many heads of hair require nothing more in the way of wash than soap and water.” The guide believed hair could grow to the ground with nothing more than the essentials.
There Were Many Differing Hair Care Opinions
While the 1879 dress and etiquette guide thought women only needed soap and water, other publications disagreed.
Godey’s Lady Book wrote, “To cleanse long hair – beat up the [yolk] of an egg with a pint of soft water. Apply it warm, and afterwards wash it out with warm water.”
Meet The Sutherland Sisters
Since long hair became one of the top trends of the Victorian age, anyone who showed it off gained attention. In 1851, the world was introduced to seven sisters who came from a rural community in New York.
They lived with their father and grew up in poverty. He encouraged his daughters to get into showbusiness to make some money.
They Joined The Circus
While they initially wanted to be a singing group, that all changed after the Southerland sisters joined the Barnum & Bailey circus company.
Crowds gathered to catch a glance at their long hair. Each of the young women had hair that went down to the ground and in total measured nearly 40-feet long.
The Sisters Became Household Names
Seven sisters with some of the most outrageous hairstyles of the 1800s were sure to take the world by storm.
Their biographer, Brandon Stickney, wrote, “Though their shows – consisting of church music, parlor songs, and drawing-room ballads – received rave reviews, it was ultimately the girls’ hair that seemed the biggest draw.”
Move Over Kardashian Sisters
Almost two centuries before the Kardashian/Jenner sisters became global phenomenons, the Sutherland sisters were the “first celebrity models.”
They had a huge influence over Victorian women and many were growing out their hair to be just like them. Then, their father figured out a way to monetize his daughters’ fame.
The Seven Sutherland Sisters Hair Grower
It was only a matter of time before the Sutherland sisters started becoming a powerful marketing tool. Their dad came up with the idea to sell the Seven Sutherland Sisters Hair Grower.
The product was advertised to be able to help both women and men grow their hair as long as the Sutherland sisters.
What Was In The Sutherland Sisters Hair Grower
Some beauty experts started to question what was really inside the Sutherland Sisters Hair Grower, so an investigation was launched.
They found mostly witch hazel and rum with some magnesia, hydrochloric acid, and salt. It was never reported if this concoction actually worked, but the sisters sold about 2.5 million bottles.
At The Top Of Their Game
The Sutherland sisters had built a hair empire and were finally able to live the life of luxury. All the sisters made the covers of top magazines such as Cosmopolitan and The New Yorker.
They even settled back into their hometown and built a mansion with servants on every corner.
Auditions For A New Sutherland Sister
The Sutherland sisters wanted to ride their success as far as it would take them. The number seven carried importance for them, as that’s how they were known.
But that all changed in 1893 when the third sister passed. They tried to hold auditions to find a new Sutherland sister, but it wouldn’t be the same.
A New Hairstyle Changed Everything
While long hair was a way for women to feel liberated during the Victorian period, things started to change as the world headed into the 20th century.
The 1920s brought the flapper trend, which included the bold and dramatic bob haircut for women. It was a symbol of gender equality and women finally getting the rights they deserved.
Sutherland Sisters Lose Their Empire
The Sutherland sisters were able to have their 15 minutes of fame, but it came at a price. They ended up losing their fortune and went back to a life of poverty.
However, their daring long hair was one of the most important examples of women’s liberation during the Victorian era.
Breaking Barriers Before The Victorian Era
The Sutherland sisters certainly weren’t the first example of females breaking fashion and style barriers. Women were showing signs of wanting long hair during the Georgian period.
This age was even more repressed than the Victorian time. Restricted topics such as religion, social values, and the arts weren’t giving people the freedom they felt they needed.
Why Rapunzel Makes Sense
Women’s hair during the Georgian period was meant to look practically perfect. It was heavily styled with ringlets and curls.
One of the reasons why the Brothers Grimm’s story of Rapunzel was so popular was because she wore her hair in an outlandish way. It was so long that her prince could use it to climb all the way up her tower.
The Harshness Of The Victorian Period
Even though the United Kingdom was ruled by Queen Victoria during the Victorian period, society did not reflect this. While a woman was given all this power, women still didn’t have basic rights.
They were seen as only being good for marriage and were prevented from owning property and voting.
Seeking A Way To Escape
Victorian women were held down by all kinds of societal rules and laws that made it very difficult for them to live life.
They saw symbols such as Rapunzel or the Sutherland sisters as heroines who were searching for ways to escape from oppression. Long hair was much more than a style choice.
Keeping The Long Locks Away From The Public
Not everyone had the guts to grow their hair long during the Victorian period. Even those who did were almost always covering them with a hat or bonnet.
Privileged, upper-class women were some of the most common examples of those who were wealthy enough to keep up with their long hair.
Hair Was An Asset
Most photos from the Victorian era rarely show women with long hair. During this time, women were seen as assets. This even came down to their hairstyles.
Although long hair was sometimes frowned upon, it was actually quite common to see performers, models, and actresses wearing their hair down in public.
Social Class Determined A Lot
While it was certainly not proper for women in a higher social class to have longer hair, it wasn’t really appropriate for the lower class as well.
There just wouldn’t have been much outrage if someone from a lower class was seen doing so. This was also a time when the middle class began to grow.
The Photo Evidence
It would most likely be lost on those today that women grew their hair long during the Victorian age. The best evidence for this is through personal photographs.
Women would sometimes style their long hair with ribbons, flowers, or bows and made a lot of effort to make sure their hair was maintained.