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Antebellum Beginnings

November 26, 2017

photo by an unidentified photographer, between 1860-1870

 

 

The guidelines for this fellowship dictate that I use the library’s Special Collections as inspiration for my performance. This collection includes topics as broad as the Civil War and Children’s Books and as specific as Whaling Journals, local newspapers, and private letters. Although I already have a basic framework in place for next year’s performance, I do not want to limit myself by searching for only hair-related texts. Instead, I will delve deeply into the collection, finding ways to incorporate narratives or themes that I find the most valuable, even if they do not specifically address hair as a topic.

 

Did I mention that the library’s collection is massive?! It is very intimidating, making it difficult to decide where to begin. Since my most recent personal work explores the Antebellum era and the Civil War, that seemed like a good place to start. My first hours in the library were spent looking at bound editions of Harper’s New Magazine from 1852 and fashion plates from 1850 through the turn of the century. I found that each edition of Harper’s Magazine also included two fashion plates depicting the latest styles for women.

 

 

 

Since the hairstyles depicted in these illustrations seemed extremely elaborate, I was curious to investigate the types of more casual hairstyles regular women typically wore. Harper’s Magazine also appeared to target a very specific demographic, i.e. neither women of lower economic status, nor women of color. The few depictions of African Americans I found in this magazine were cringe-worthy at best. Therefore, I chose not to share them here.

 

 

Included above are a couple of fashion plates I found in a book that compiled plates from over a 50 year period. Like the images from Harper's New Magazine, they seem to feature hairstyles that were quite elaborate.

 

photo produced by Mathew Brady's studio

photo produced by Mathew Brady's studio

photo produced by Mathew Brady's studio

 

Where do I look to find honest depictions of what women actual wore and how they styled their hair? The first place I thought of was the Library of Congress, which has an extensive digital archive of daguerreotypes, ambrotypes and tintypes. I was happy to discover that this collection includes what appears to be portraits of free women of color. I found many of these images fascinating, not only because of their honest depiction of what people looked like, the way they wore their hair, and the clothes they wore, but also because of the stories they implied. I wanted to know more. Over the next week, I will share more of those images and the stories behind them.

 

photo by A. D. Jaynes

photo by Francis Grice, ca. 1855

photo of Mrs. Ridgely Brown, between 1861-1865

 

In summary, according to the images I found, during this era women generally parted their hair in the center. Most women wore their hair either smoothed along the scalp and formed it into a simple bun in the back, had a bun in the back with ringlets framing their face, pulled back into a cascade of ringlets in the back or pinned up into two, symmetrical side buns.

 

Subscribe to HairStory this week to get updates on new posts! Follow my IG @bdavis_hair to see snippets of the latest research and share your own hair story.

 

Unless otherwise noted, photographs were taken by me.

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