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 curling a boy's hair. The affluent had servants who would be assigned this responsibility. Clearly 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.
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, but have begun to aquire some basic information as our arquive expands. There is no doubt that ringlet curls for boys were more common amnong the wealthier classes. It was a time of fashionable, formal dress. This was in part to show off affluence. The late-19th cenyury is commonly called the gilded age, a term coined by none other than Mark Twain. Fashion and hair styles were a form of gulding, A beautiful exterior coating. It was the well-to-do that could best afford dashionable dress. And had the time or money to afford help needed for such frivolus actovities as curling boys' hair. And of course this shows off best in the photographic record, because the well to-do could more easily afford to have portraits taken. And before the tirn-of-the 20th century, almost all photography was studio photography. Prices came down as the phoographic industry expanded. Middle class parents could also afford portraits, although unlike the wealthy, it was not a trifling expense. And for the working-class it was a consideranle expense. This for the same reason that ringlet curls for boys were lease likely for working class boys, sowere the ability to afford studio portraits.
When we began working on ringlet curls, we assumed that it was a style most prevalent in wealthy families. We have now begun to revise that assessment. We can in fact think of very few wealthy families in which boys wore ringlet curls, at least beyond the infant stage. These families in the public eye and thus how the children were dressed and their hair styled is also well known. We also were surprised when assessing our art archive how few boys wore ringlets in painted portraits. A portrait by a known artist wasquite an expensive undertaking and thus these portraits present a good cross section as to how wealthy children were dressed and their hair styled over time. Our English assessment turned up very few boys wearing ringlet curls who had portraits painted.
We are leaning to the opinion that most, but not all, of the boys appaer to have been from affluent families, but not necessarily wealthy families. It required a family where the mother stayed at home and had either time to devote herself to such aestic pursuits as curling a boy's hair. The affluent had servants who would be assigned this responsibility. One of the reasons that ringle curls were popular during the late 19th century was the same reason that fancy oitfits like Fauntleroy suits were popular--it was a way of demonstrating the families social position and affluence. The truly wealthy had not need for such ostentaious demonstrations. The meerly affluent were much mlre interested in establishing as well as improving their position. This may explain why ringlets may have been more common in affluent rather than wealthy families.
Some middle class mothers also did their son's hair in ringlet curls. Here it may have been more diffiucult because a certain level of affluenmce was needed. Thus middle class mothers with out hired help, woukd have had much less free time on her hands. Here an exception may be middle class families that had fallen in influene and economic circusances. Some mothers may have been determined to fix ringlets on their sons to keep up appearances. A good example here may be the author Thomas Wolfe, whose mother, much to his disgust, did his hair in ringlets until he was 8 years old. Also consider the fasinating television studies done in recent years assessing homes and households in a realistiv way. The middle class mothers involved had a great deal of trouble just with basic household chores--let along spending time doing their son's hair in ringle curls. In the "1900 House" the mother even had some hired help.
Clealy ringlet curls were 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. Working peopl did not have the time or money for such afivolus fashion. And they were less likely to have studio portraits taken. Thus we have next to no mages of working-class boys with ringlet curls. It is of course not possible to aassess social class with any certaintly from a portrait, but is is possible to make some bassic assumptions. And with the advent of the snapshot at the turn-of-the 20th cebtury, assessing social class become easier. Another issue is country differences. The second half of the 19th century saw the rise of a new industrial power--the United Atates. By the end of the century, the United States had bcome the world's leading industrial power, exceeding the production of either Britain or Germany. And not only did American output exceed tht of the European industrial powers, but wages paid American industrial workers and living standards exceeded that of European workers. This set in motion a the massive Europen emigration to the United States. Thus more American workers could afford photographic potrait, more thn was th case of European workers. And this we have images showing American boys from either working-class or lower middle-class with ringlet curls.
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.
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