Figure 1.--Here we have a pair of portraits which we believe is a depiction of a first hair cut. Unfortunately there is no accompanying information about the boy. All we now for sure is that he is an American boy. The portrait is undated. We think it was taken in the 1890s, bby the late 1880s is possible. In the before picture he is wearing pants and a fancy fauntleroy blouse with a large floppy bow. He has short ringlets tied with ribbons. Image courtesy of the RG collection.
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 available on individuals includes:
We are not sure about the situation on the 18th century. Available paintings we have archived do not show boys with ringlet curls. We do note boys with single pig tails (quques). A complicating factor is the popularity of wigs until after the French Revolution.
Most boys in the 19th century wore various short hair styles. We note some boys with longer cuts including ringlet curls. This was a style mostly for ypunger pre-school boys, but some boys had their hair cut later than others. The earlier images we have are English, but after the turn of the 20th century the style began to be icreasingly common in America as well. We know a good deal about this because of the vastly increased number of images provided by the development of photography.
The famed English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning recalls how her father insisted in the 1820s that the curls of her younger brothers be cut and they be dressed in more boyish clothes. The boys were 9 and 11 years old at the time. I have no information on what the boys thought.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Pem's mother, was a doting mother and insisted on dressing her son Pen in dresses, kneepants with Pantalettes, lace collars and other fancy clothes during the 1850s-60s. In addition the boy had long shoulder-length curls even at 11 years of age. As a younger by he liked the attention, but as he got older he asked for more boyish clothes and to have his curls cut. His mother, however, was adament and he did not
have his curl cut until his mother's untimely death.
The two sons of the renowed Poet Laureat of England, Alfred Lord Teneyson, wore long shoulder length and tunics with lace collars as boys. I'm not sure what they thought of their clothes and hair styles as boys.
The sister-in-law of Mary Cassatt, the American impresionist artist, wrote to Mary and mentioned that her son Robbie wanted to have his curls cut so he could have short hair like the other boys. She decided against it. Mary's mother (Robbie's grandmother) wrote to Mary saying that she thought he should stay "pretty" clothes for another year. Mary Cassatt, who never married, was of course noted for her charming portraits of mothers and children. Her mother writes, "As to Robbie's curls, I should be on Mamma's side, I would want to keep him pretty a year longer, I wouldn't have the courage to cut them off--though I dare say he would like to be like Eddie and have short hair, as all little boys like to imitate their big brothers." [Hale, p. 76.] HBC believes that questions of hair and breaching were often matters of considerable discussion among 19th century families, both family discussions and letters. Unfortunately few of the oral discussions survived and biographers often do not count the issue of significant importance to include passages from letters. This letter, however, is a good example of the kind of family discussions which occurred.
One authors see in the riblet curl style the desire to emulate the preceived styles of English society, especially aristocrats.
A French boy who wore ringlet curls when he began school remembers having his curls pulled and being teased by a bully who he finally had to fight. He recalls that he was not the only boy wearing curls.
One contributor remembers reading a mention in a biography of an American woman who grew up about the 1890s of a Fauntleroy suit. She had several brother and I remember the line in the book, "...teaked Julian long ringlets. Julian was 7 and wore a Fauntleroy suit and long curls." A family photograph in the book shows Julian in a skirted Fauntleroy suit.
Here we have a pair of portraits which we believe is a depiction of a first hair cut. Unfortunately there is no accompanying information about the boy. All we now for sure is that he is an American boy. The portrait is undated. We think it was taken in the 1890s, bby the late 1880s is possible. In the before picture he is wearing pants and a fancy fauntleroy blouse with a large floppy bow. He has short ringlets tied with ribbons. In the second
he wears a suit with a sailor-styled blouse. He has a new short hair cut. We think these must be before and after shots of his first haircut.
After the turn of the 20th century ringlet cirls for boys began to become less common, but we still note quite a number of boys with ringlets before World War I, especially before World War I. After the War, ringlets become much less common.
The Sweedish diplomat and United Nations Secretary General wore long ringlet curls as a boy. One photograph shows him at about 7 or 8 years old wearing a white Fauntleroy-type suit with a huge white waist sash. I'm not sure what he thought about his curls.
The French impresionist painter Pierre Renoir had three sons. The boys wore smocks and long hair, although not ringlet curls. Curling a boy's hair was kess popular in France than in England and America.
The American author, Thomas Wolfe, described his long sausage
curls which he had to wear until he was 7/8 years old. The Wolfe family
was not even an affluent one and Thomas even sold papers as a
boy. His curls did not endear him to his fellow paper boys. As it became
increasingly rare for boys to be educated at home, mothers found it more and
more difficult to dress boys in fanciful styles.
The English author of the Winnie the Poo books) says in his autobiography says that he was 9 or 10 years old (in 1910) before he was permitted to have his long sausage curls cut. His son had curly over the hears hair, but not ringlets.
A HBC reader, Mary Catherine (VanTine) Fairbanks, has provide us some charming photographs of her father Lester VanTine and his fraternal twin brother Chester. The boys were American and they grew up in Pennsylvania. Their parent's ancestors were from Holland, albeit originally from France. Mary was told by her mother that the boys were dressed in the style that the Dutch had dressed their young children, but it looks more American to HBC.
Hale, Nancy. Mary Cassatt: A Biography of the Great American Painter (Double Day: Garden City, N.Y., 1975), 333p.
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