Figure 1.--Note the long ringlet curls on this older American boy which his mother has lovingly laid on his lace collar so they would be clearly visible. The picture was probably taken in the early 1890s. Note the bows at the hem of the boy's knee pants.

Boys' Ringlet Curls

A ringlet as used in connection with hair styling is a curled lock of hair. It can also mean a small ring. Ringlet curls. The term was first used in English in the middle of the 16th century. A ringlet curl is tightly fashioned section of hair into rings or tubes of varying length--some quite long. This characteristic shape gave rise to the term "saussage" curls. Ringlet curls were used as a hair style in antiquity. I am not sure when the term ringlet curls was first used. We noted in as a particularly popular hair stye for women and girls in the early 19th century. Some younger boys in the early 19th century might also wear ringlets, but the style was most commonly worn by boys in the late 19th and early 20th century.



Figure 2.--Ringlet curls for children became increasingly popular in the 1850s. They were primarily worn by girls, but some mothers also liked the style for their sons. In many old images it is very difficult to assess gender.

Chronology

The fashion of ringlet curls for boys appears to have developed at about the same time that it did for girls. Ringlets were being widely worn by the 1830s. Mothers began tonface a difficult choice. Some mothers decided to cut their son's hair before breeching. Other mothers decided to delay cuting their boys' curls even after he was breeched. The style was most popular for boys in the 1880s and 90s after the publication of Frances Hodgson Burnett's clasic book, Little Lord Fauntleroy. The style was still common in the 1900s, but declined in popularity during the 1910s. I have little information on the 18th Century, but believe ringlets were not widely worn. This change markedly in the 19th Century when ringlets became the height of fashion, at first for girls, but eventually for boys as well.

Terminology

We have been told that the term 'sausage' curls is pejorative. I did not mean to use a pejorative term, only to describe the style. An alternative is "ringlet" curls. Does any one know what term was used in the 1880s-90s or have any comments on what term we should use? I have used the term sausage curls extensively in this web site, but will begin to switch--depending on the feedback from readers.

Class Differences

There does appear to be an element of social class concerned with styling a boys hair in ringlets. We do not, however, fully understand the class connotations. Most, but not all, of the boys appaer to have been from affluent families, although we have not noted it as commonly with the truely wealthy. It required a family where the mother stayed at home and had either time to devote herself to such aestic pursuits as curlong a boys hair. The afflient had sevants who would be assigned this responsibility. Clealy this was not a style for a mother who had to work or take in jobs like laundry or sewing. Likewise it was not practical for boys who had to work and quite young boys from poor families were still being employed in the late 19th and early 20th Century.

Prevalaence

We know of no study indicating how prevalent ringlet curls for boys were. There are substantial differences between countries and over time. The age of the boy was another fgactor. Ringlets appear to have been more prevalent in America than other countries, but even in America it was not common. The fact that it was a style most common among the affluent, in itself means that only a small fraction of boys wore ringlets. We note that even among younger boys, one is far more likely to find a boy in a dress with short hair then in short pants with ringlet curls. Also the popularity of the fashion was for a realatively short period. Most of the photographs of boys weating ringlets come from a relatively narrow time range, about 1880-1905. We note images outside this range, but the great bulk of such images fall within it.

Special Attention

It was not just boys from more affluent families that were likely to have ringlet curls. Another group of boys were yhose that were specially cared for by their mothers. Some of the boys were coddled childrn that were raised and schooled at home and their mothers did their best to prevent them from coming in contact with all but a select range of other children to avoid any rough influnces. These could be mothers who were raising their sons alone or had husbands who considered the children to be his wives demain--at least until the boys had reached a certain age and this this age varied from family to family. This outlook in he 19th and even early 20th centuries was reflected in clothing stores. Younger boys clothes was often sold in shops for ladies vclothing while older boys clothing was sold by gentlemen's outfitters. Specialized children's clothing shops were rare. This group might also include handicapped boys who at the time were schooled at home rather than being mainstreamed. Not only did they need special care, but school authorities and the other children at the time were often not very supportive.

Country Differences

There also appear to have been considerable differences between countries concerning ringlet curls. Many images exist of American boys wearing ringlets, yet relatively few such images for some other countries especially Germany. The style was seen as an English style in France. Ringlets appear to have been even more popular in America. Most of the pprtraits in the ringlet curls section are of American boys. Many American mothers in the 1870s and early 1880s cut, albeit reluctantly, their boys' hair short even while they were still in dresses. This became somewhat less common after 1885. French mothers were less apt to curl boys' hair. They often let it grow uncurled to shoulder length, but used hair bows to control it. Elsewhere on the continent mothers might curl a boys long hair.

Styles

Ringlet cirls were worn in many different styles. Probably the most popular style was bang at the front with a center part and then ringlets at the side and back. There were, however, many other styles. Some boys with ringlts had differently styled bangs at the front or even a center part all the way to the front. Quite a large number od variatiins and permutations were involved. Some boys had alarge curl or styled hear at the top with various numbers if ringlets.



Figure 3.--This boy has a center part hair style with thick ringlet curls. Notice the fancy Fauntleroy blouce. The photograph looks to have been taken in the mid-1880s and the boy is probably 6 or 7 years old.

Characteristics of Ringlet Curls

Mothers who curled their soms hair developed different styles. Unkike boys' clothing and fashion which were discussed in womens fashion magazines, styles for curling boys' hair do not seem to have been discussed in such detail. Creative mothers, themselves, however, developed many differet styles. Some mothers curled their sons' hair into long, think curls. Other mothers preferred a larger number of more slender curls. Other variations included the number of curls and many other factors like bangs and the treatment of the part and the rest the boys' hair.

Process and Hair Styling

HBC has collected some information about the process of curling hair with details about hair styling. Boys wearing curls had to endure having their hair done up just like their sisters. It is interesting to look at some boys before and after their curls are cut. These are boys who are unidentified, all HBC has is the images to go on. HBC has received mamy requests about ringlet curls. Espcially the mechanics of culing hair. HBC has only limited information on how hair was curled. We have noted, however, some interesting internet sites.

The Experience

A few writers recall the experience of wearing ringlet curls. Many recall with distaste the process of having their hair curled. Others recall how they liked the attention as younger boys, but began to have second thoughts as they got older. This was especially true if they were teased by other boys. One has to wonder how an active boy could stand all the bother of having his hair curled. I can recall as a boy, I didn't even like to take time to comb my hair. All the time devoting to hair curling must have really been an irritation. And then having to face other boys with more boyish hair cuts--must have been even worse. Many of these boys were sheltered in affluent homes, butbsome less affluent boys wore ringlet curls. Thomas Wolfe in the strongly autobiographical Look Homeward Angel writes, "Eliza had allowed his hair to grow long; she wound it around her finger every morning into fat Fauntleroy curls: the agony and humiliation it caused him was horrible, but she was unable or unwilling to understand it, and mouth-pursingly thoughtful and stubborn to all solicitation to cut it."

Making the Decesions

It was of course the parents that decided the hair styles of children. And in the 19th century parental roles were very different. The father was the primary wage earner and worked outside the home. Even in rural America, it was the father and the older mmal children who did most of the field work. As America industrialized and urbanized, the father worked further from hom and was away from the home for longer periods. It was the mother who was the mainstay of the home. In rural America she might keep a small garden and chickens around the home, but her main responsibility was the family home, cooking, cleaning, washing, spinning, nd of course caring for the younger children. It was the mother who made most of the decesions about the younger children, including how they were dressed and their hair styles. Fathers for the modt part allowed the mother to make the decesions for the younger children. This varied from family to family, but in most families, fathers defered to the mother concerning the younger children. As the children began to grow up, fathers began to play a greater role in their lives. Of course this is less true today (but has not totally disappeared, but this convention was pronounced in the 19th century. Mothers who kept their sons in ringlet had to decide on the style and how to maintain it. Eventually she faced several major decisions. Themost traumatic, of course, was when to cut their son's hair. Mothers as we have seen abovedecided on a wide range of ages, from about 4 years old to in some cases 11-12 years.Another major decision was whether his curls should be cut before or after breeching. Hereagain mother's decided on many different answers. Many had their boy's hair cut before hewas breeched as is demonstrated by many period photographs with boys with short hair wearngdresses and kilt suits. Many other photographs, however, testify to the mothers who kepttheir sons in curls while still in dresses. This is somewhat more difficult to determine because the gender of many children is not readily apparent. Some basic guidelines, however, areavailable to help determine a child's gender even when wearing dresses and long ringlet curls.


Figure 4.--Note this boy's (H. Christie) long tresses which have not been curled. His mother has kept him in a dress with elaborate work on the skirt and a very wide, lacey Fauntleroy collar. The picture was taken in the late 1880s. Also notice the fancy stockings. For a fuller discussion of this outfit, click on the image.

Boys' Attitudes

One can imagine what boys must have thought about wearing ringlet curls. If all boys were coifured with ringlets it would have been one thing. While it was not rare, boys in long ringlets were a distinct minority. This was in part because many mothers of modest means with the responsibility of a large family could not spare the time for putting their sons hair in paper curlers every night. Thus a boy in curls, especially an older boy had the appearance of a pampered little rich boy. Just the site to inspire rude comments from other boys, especially boys from less affluent circumstances. Little boys of course did probably not concerned about it, although boys being boys it is likely that they objected to the nightly drugery of having their hair curled. Some younger boys probably liked the attention and glowing cpmpliments from mother's friends. Older boys did have some definite ideas. This was especially true once they reached the age in which making friends their own age became increasingly important to them. Many men in their memoirs looking back remember their long curls with almost universal disgust. While many men comment on wearing curls as boys, there does not seem to have been any specific complaint about the details of the style chosen by their mother. It was just the long curls, looking just like those of their sisters that they objected to. The actual stylistic details seem to have been of little concern to the boy involved.

Impact

Some authors have wondered about the impact of wearing curls on the boy's psyche. Some have wondered which was more objectionable the curls or the elaborate outfits like Little Lord Fauntleroy suits or even the fashion of keeping younger boys in dresses. Available accounts suggest that while many boys objected to the fashionable tastes of their mothers, no real damage appears to have been done the children. There are countless examples of boys stylishly dressed and their hair fixed by their mothers who went on to become generals, admirals, fighter pilots, kings, presidents, corprate prsidents, writers, artists, and successes in virtually every walk of life.

Clothing

American boys with ringlet curls are best known for wearing dresses and velvet Little Lord Faiuntleroy suits. Curls with Fautleroy suits and kilts were in fact very popular before the tirn of the century. It was not just boys in kilts and Fauntleroy suits, however, that were kept in long hair and curls. Boys in fact wore a wide variety of different styles of clothing with ringlet curls. Many boys still in dresses and kilts wore ringlets before they were breeched. There were even Fauntleroy styled dresses for mothers who liked the Fauntleroy look, but did not think their boys were quite ready for breeching. Some mothers refused to cut their son's curls long after they were breeched and had passed into sailor and other boyish styles. It was particularly common for boys to wear sailor suits with ringlets--primarily because so many boys wore sailor suits. Boys after the turn of the century began wearing plainer suits than Fauuntleroy suits so many boys would wear these new styled suots with curls.

Gender Connotations

HBC is unsure at this time as to the gener connotations of ringlet curls. Today of course they are associated with girls. The connontations in the late 19th century are less clear. The available photographic record shows girls wearing ringlets. HBC notes, however, that boys with ringlet curls are rarely pictured wearing the same ringlet style as their sisters. Normally his sisters do not have the same ringlets. HBC's preliminary assessment is that ringlet curls in the late 19th century were more of a boys' fashion than a girls fashion. This is, however, a very preliminary assessment at this time. This changed after World War I (1914-18) when ringlets became increasingly a girls fashion, except for very young boys.

Hair Bows

Some addoring mothers not only kept their sons' hair long, but added the additional indignity of hair bows. Hair bows had become very fashionable for girls by the late 19th century. Some girls, even older girls, sported massive, often white, hair bows. Bows for boys hair were less common. As far as I can tell, it was not common in Britain or America. The fashion of hair bows for boys appears, however, to have been more common for French and other continental boys, especially boys still in dresses and long hair.

Age

Interestingly it was not the youngest boys who wore ringlet curls. Infants and even younger todlers often have only limited hair, in many cases not thick enough to curl ringlets. Thus for the most part boys did not have their hair curled until they were about 3 years old. Boys might wear ringlets for a few years. Most boys had them cut at about 5 or 6 years of age. With the popularity of ringlets during the Fauntleroy craze, some boys might wear ringlets longer, to 7 or 8 years. While most boys would have their curls cut by this age, it was not unknown for boys of 10 or 11 to still wear curls, in a few cases even to older ages.

Siblings

One decissin mothers had to make when they styled their son's hair in ringlets is how to tyle the hair of the other children. We think that some boys who wore ringlets were only children or came from small families where their mothers could lavish their attention on them. Older boys would have thir curls cut. Curiously mothers often did not do their sisters' hair in ringlets. There are a wide range of girl's hair styles, both long and short, that do not involve ringlets. If they did choose ringlets for sisters and brothers, the ringlets were normally styled differently. Presumably there must have been mothers who put their daughters and sons in identical ringlets, but we have not yet found any portraits showing this.

Rite of Passage

It was always a major rite of passage for a boy to finally have his curls cut and allowed to wear more closely cropped hair. While long hair for boys in the 1960s became very fashionable, it was certainly never curled. In previous years, however, long hair, even uncurrled long hair, was generally perceived as girlish. As a result many a boy looked for ward with great relish to have his locks trimmed. For many a doting mother, however, it was often a trying experience bringing forth gushing tears and the site of herdarling sons flowing curls falling to the floor. Many mothers would save the clipped curls as keepsakes. Franklin Roosevelt's mother, for example, kept her son's curls in a trunk with his baby dresses and other keepsakes as long as she lived. Some mothers saved only a lock or two some mothers saved them all. In some cases the cutting of a boys' curls was importalized by a photographic portrait.


Figure 5.--This boy's mother had his curls cut , but decided that he was not yet old enough to wear kneepants.

Relative Importance

One of the issues faced by many mothers was wether to cut their son's curls first or to breech him first. Mothers during the 19th century differed as to which should be done first. Some mothers opted to cut their son's hair but to continue outfitting him in dresses. Other mothers decided to breech their boys first, but not to cut his curls. Thus you have some boys in short hair wearing dresses and some boys with long ringlet curls wearing kneepants.

Sociological Insights

There is an extensive discussion in the HBC dress pages on why mothers outfitted boys in dresses during previous eras. Some insist that the reason was primaryly utilitarian, associated with an easy garment for caring for younger children. There is undoubtedly some validity in this, esprcially in the years before ribber pants, washing machines, and easy to wear boys' clothes. It is not, however, a completely satisfying reason. Why for example if this was the reason were older boys kept in dresses, some times boys of 11 and 12 years of age. Clearly more was involved. The fact that mothers curled boys hair is futher proof that more was involved. Dresses were considered children's clothes and not just girls clothes. Curls on the other hand, in the 19th Century were definitely a girls or woman's hair style. There was certainly nothing utilitarian about ringlet curls.

Personal Accounts

Curls made a strong impression on the boys who wore them, especially as older boys. Many as adults commented on them in their memoirs. Other information is available in the correspondence of the day or in some cases from avilable portrairts, even though actual cooments by the uindividual are not availanle. Many of the personal accounts we have are American or English. This may reflect the greater popularity of ringlet curls for boys in those countries. It may, however, just reflect HBC's greater familiarity with American and English sources. This question requires further investigation. Information is available on individual boys from several different countries.

Long Hair in the Modern Era

Long hair for boys became fashionable again in the late 1960s. The bangs Jacki chose for John John helped to popularize bangs, although she was critcised in many quarters for her son's hair cut and she eventually had it trimmed. Eventually of course the Beatles helped to popularize longer hair among boys themselves.







HBC







Navigate Related HBC Pages:
[Return to the Main hair page]
[Return to the Main curl page]
[Bangs] [Long hair] [Hair bows] [Caps] [Collar bows]



Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Introduction] [Activities] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Clothing styles] [Countries]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Boys' Clothing Home]



Created: May 15, 1998
Last edited: 1:54 AM 9/18/2013