American Boys' Hair Styles



Figure 1.--This cabinet portrait appears tohave been taken in the 1890s. Center parts were fashionable at the time. The boy appears to have given it was a present to his teacher. The inscription on the back reads "To Mr. Chase from Clarence." Shown looking directly at the camera, he is smartly dressed, and stands with his right hand on a table while holding a hat in his left hand. Photographed by Dana, New York.

American boys have worn a wide range of different hair styles over time. We note styles varying from short buzz cuts to long ringlet curls. We have collected some information on many of these styles. Some styles like bangs are a recurring fashion over time. Others like ringlets had a relatively brief popularity. A range of factors affected hair stles, including fashion, social class, health as well as other fsactors. Hair styles varied over time just like clothing. American boys wore generally short hair in the early 19th century. Bowl cuts were common in frontier America. Hair styles by mid century had become longer, often worn to or even over the ears. Some younger boys wore long-shoulder length hair, often done in ringlet curls but there were various styles. After the turn of the 20th century, short hair became increasingly common even with younger boys, especially after World War I. Very short hair vecame popular after World War II, especially in the 1950s. Boys wore crew cuts or buzz cuts. Destinctive national styles began to decline in importanmce with the appearance of the Beatles in the 1960s and longer hair became stylish for boys. Since the 1980s, boys hair styles in the United States and Europe have been remarably varied, although not destinctive by country. After the turn of the 20th centuiry close cropped hair has become increasingly popular both in America and Europe.

Styles

American boys have worn a wide range of different hair styles over time. We note styles varying from short buzz cuts to long ringlet curls. Length was an important aspect of these different styles, but not at all the only important stylistic factor. The part was another important aspect of many styles. We have collected some information on many of these styles. Some styles like bangs are a recurring fashion over time. We note a variety of different styles for bangs as well as varying age connotations. Others like ringlets had a relatively brief popularity. There have been a variety of long styles as well as a variety of short styles. Short styles seemed very popular in the 1950s following World War II when many future fathers had their hair cut short during military service. These short cropped cuts do not seem to have been nearly as popular in the late 19th and early 20th century when many European boys had close cropped hair. Some styles like long sideburns in the 1950s were teen-age styles that parents did not permit for younger children.

Parts

The great majority of photographic images we have noted in which parts are destinct, show boys with side especially left parts, although center parts were popular during certain periods. We note mostly side parts in the 19th century. We note center parts were fashionable in the early 20th century. I'm not sure how common this was in other countries, but we see many boys at the time with center parts. It is side parts, however, that arte the dominant trend. Right parts are much less common. An American reader tells us, "I imagine my experience is rather common. My mother combed my hair was a younger boy and on special occassions would supervise or even pitch in even when I was well into primary school. It was always combed on the left which I never gave much thought to. The only variance was in the 1950s when I had a crew cut. Here there was so little hair at the sides and the rest of the hair so short that there wasn't much of a part to contend with."

Factors

A range of factors affected hair stles, including fashion, social class, health as well as other factors. Both bowl cuts and ringlet curls had definite social classs connotations. Low income families did not have the money for barbers so the bowl cut was an easy sollution. Ringlets were a rather complicated style, equiring time to both create ans maintain. It was well-to-do mothers that had the time on gheir hands to do the rignlets or the money to pay servants to assist. Mothers had a great deal of lee-way in the 19th century as to both hair and clothing styles for their children. Such matters were considered more of family matter than is the case with modern families. And family traditions could be very important. Social class tended to become a less important factgor as America became a more middle-class country with widely shared aflluence. The popular media which emerged in the 20th also help to standardize styles to the exten that mothers hsd less disgression in the 20yj century than they did in the 19th century.

Chronology

Hair styles varied over time just like clothing. We so not yet have much information on the 18th century, but we have considerable information on the 19th century, especially as photography begab to significantly increase the number of available images in the mid-19th century. American boys wore generally short hair in the early 19th century. Bowl cuts were common in frontier America. Hair styles by mid century had become longer, often worn to or even over the ears. Some younger boys wore long-shoulder length hair, often done in ringlet curls but there were various styles. After the turn of the 20th century, short hair became increasingly common even with younger boys, especially after World War I. Very short hair vecame popular after World War II, especially in the 1950s. Boys wore crew cuts or buzz cuts. Destinctive national styles began to decline in importanmce with the appearance of the Beatles in the 1960s and longer hair became stylish for boys. Since the 1980s, boys hair styles in the United States and Europe have been remarably varied, although not destinctive by country. After the turn of the 20th centuiry close cropped hair has become increasingly popular both in America and Europe.

Age

American boys at different ages have worn a great variety of hair styles. Short and long hair has been stylish for boys of all ages at different times. We have noted both fancy and simple cropped styles. Boys of all ages have worn cropped and short ut hair. Older boys as well as younger boys have worn long hir, although the fancier long styles like ringlet curls have mostly been worn by the younger boys. We note mostly short styles with longer gair worn by most boys in the 19th century. Short hair was the standard for most boys in the 20th centiry, althoufg pre school boys couls wear their hair longer. Long hair for older boys became popular in the 1970s and 80s. Af first younger boys continued to wear their short, being more subject to parental control. It was at first contreversial, but when teenagers turned into young adults, the longer styles became more acceptable.

Rite of Passage

We have found quite a number of rite of passage images of boys before and after their long hair and curls were cut. Sometimes this occurred at the same time a boy was breeches. Other mothers cut a boy's hair before or after his hair was cut. We are not even sure which was the most popular option. There seems to be no consistent pattern here, at least no pattern that we can identify. As far as we can tell, simply family traditions are involved here. We know of no regional, ethnic, or social-class differences. These images unless they are identified are a little tricky to assess. This is because in some instances they may be portraits of siblings, either fratenal twins ot siblings close in age. Thus we are not always sure precisely what we are dealing with. Even if tey are not rite of passage images they are very useful images showing period hair styles and gender and age differences. Here reader comments are always helpful.

Gender

Boys and girls normally wore destinctive hair styles. In fact, hair styles have commonly been more gender destinctive than clothing. Boys for many years wore dresses and since the 1960s girls have commonly worn pants and other boy styles. Now boys have been most associated with short styles and girls with long styles, but over time we have seen many boys wearing long hair and girls wearing short hair. What is relatively rare is mothers using the same hair styles for siblings. Notably when long ringlet curls were worn by boys, it is relatibely rare for mothers to do sister's hair in similar ringlets. That it not to say that mothers never did this, but as far as we can tell it was not at all common. I'm not sure about the family dynamics here. Perhaps more mothers wanted to do this, but fathers put their foot down. Perhaps it was essentially a decesion by mothers. Here we are not entirely sure. And as far as we can tell, boys and girls styles seem to fluctuate indepedently of each other. When short bobbed hair became popular for girls in the 1920s, we do not see any major shift for boys and when boys short hair styles became popular after World war II, we do not see any major shift for girls hair styles. The same is true in the 1970s when many boys wore long hair.

Family Trends

One important factor in assessing American children's hair trends is that while their were important national trends, there were also substantial variations from family to family. The family is a very important factor to consider. Hair styles for children were strongly influenced by the experiences of new parents as children. Making the family a very powerful factor. This was we think especially the case in the 19th century. Public education which became increasingly important after the Civil War was a factor in establishing fashion conventions. And after the turn-of-the 20th century mass media became increasingly important. At mid-century teen culture became increasingly important. Parents in the 19th century, especially mothers for the younger children, determined both hair and clothing styles, often without regard to developing conventions. Thus if mothers wanted short or long hair for their sons, that is what she had, regardless of popular attitudes. Thus we see wide variations. We note boys with short hair from infancy as well as boys with long curls even at school age. These variations only began to narrow in the 20th century. Mass media was a major factor, but so was the increasing importance of public education. At home boys did not fuss to much about their hair and clothes, but at school it was a different matter. They wanted to be like the other fellows. While mothers in the 19th century had great latitude about fashion for their children, there was one very significant constraint. That was social class and economics. Working-class mothers did not generally have the time or energy to do fancy hair styles for the children, especially the boys. Here it was the stay-at-home mothers with servants to help with the house work that were able to unleash their energies on the hair and clothing fashions for the children. These were the mothers that were able to do elaborate, high-maintenance styles like ringlet curls. And this was a family matter. There is only one convention that seems to have transended families. That was whatever the hair styles selected for the children, most families wanted different hair styles for boys and girls, even younger children. There are exception of course, but this is a very stringly held convention.

Associated Clothing

Some hair styles were associated are commonly worn with certain hair styles. Ringlet curls were commonly associated with Fauntleroy suits. This included Fauntleroy kikt suits. Actually most boys wearing Fauntleroy suits had short hair. But it is the case that more boys wore Fauntleroy suits with runglet curls than ny other outfit, especially after breeching. Many boys in the 1950s abd 60s wore crew cuts and other short styles with preppy clothing. Ringlet curls are often associated with Fauntleroy suits, although the suits were more commonly worn with short hair cuts. We have begun to develop hair style pages for various clothing styles and as we develop these pages will link them here. We have worked with the hair styles worn with kilt suits.

Boys' Hair Styles: International Trends

When we began HBC we initially focused on clothing. Hair styles was somewhat of an after thought as we realised that hair was also an important part of historical fashion. And at first we worked on hair styles in general rather than country trends. Thus iour American hair style section is very limited. Readers interested specificallh in American hair styles should note that a substantial part of the images and discussions in the general hair section comcerns America. So readers may want to consult this section. Over time, however, we do plan to expand the American hair style section as well.






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Created: September 27, 2002
Last edited: 11:45 PM 12/28/2014