Figure 1.--Frith's 1862 painting Railroad Station shows how people dressed to travel in the 1860s. A few children appear in the scene, although details are hard to make out in the available images. One appears to be a boy in a velvet suit with lace collar and ringlet curls.

Boys' Ringlet Curls: Individual English Boys

We have noted some instances of individual English boys wearing long hair. including ringlet curls, although our information about them is often very limited. Our infoprmation is most detailed of course on the children of famous people, but we also note portraits and photographs of unidentified children which provide us insights into the fashion of ringlet curls in England. As in America, we note considerable differences between families, as well as chronological trends. Our initial assessment is that English boys in the second half of the 19th century did wear ringlet curls, but it was not as in America. Quite a few boys seem to have had long, but uncurled hair.

Gainsborough Portraits (1750s-88)

Quite a number of children appear in Gainsbprough's portraits during the later half of the 18th century. Usually they were depicted with long uncurled hair. We have not noted any depictions of boys with ringlets. At this time the fashion was for men to wear wigs.

Reynolds Portraits (late 18th Century)

Reynolds was a contemprary of Gainsborough and also a brilliant portratist. We have so far acquired few images of Reynolds. The one image we have noted shows a boy with long, but again uncurled hair.

Beachy Portraits (1780s-1800s)

Sir William Beechey was the foremost portraitist in Britain in the late 18th and early 19th century. He started his career painting portraits of the landed gentry around Norfolk. He was appointed as the court painter to Quenn Charlotte. He painited the cream of Regency society, including Lord Nelson. His charming portaits of families provide wonderful glimses into Regency society, including children's clothes. We note portaits in the 1780s of boys wearing long, but uncurled hair. This was identical with French hair styles at the time. A portrait from the 1800s shows boys wearing shorter hair.

Lawrence Portraits (Early 1800s)

Sir Thomas Lawrence is one of the greatest English portratists. This child prodigy and largely self-taught artist became the fashionable portrait painter of his day. On the death of Sir. Joshua Reynolds in 1792, he was made principal painter to King George III, who knighted him in 1815. Lawrence is especially noted for his children's portraits for which he was unsurpassed in his day. His portraits of artistocratic or wealthy children provide a rich source of information on fashionable children's wear of the day. The Lawrence portraits that we have noted show both boys and girls with realtively short hair styles, sometimes covering their ears. We do not note ringlet curls.

The Barretts (1820s)

I have little information on how Elizabeth and her siblings were dressed as children. The boys as was the custom wore dresses just like their sisters when they were younger and had long flowing hair. Their mother apparently saw no need to dress the boys and girls differently, even after they passed 5 and 6 years old when English boys at the time were generally breeched. There is not a lot of information available on Elizabeth and her siblings. Her younger bothers (Occy and Sette) ages 9 and 12 years were aparently dressed in dresses and had long hair. Elizabeth was about 20 years old at the time, reportedly was very pset when her father decided that the boys should be breeched and have their hair cut. In one of her earliest poems, To A Boy, which was one of the shorter pieces attached to her 1833 translation of Prometbeus Bound, written when Sette was 11 years old and Occy 9 years old (two of Elizabeth's younger brothers) she had mourned the golden hair "long and free", now brutally cut despite her "bootless pray" that they should pause awhile ..."

The Lamberts (1825)

A rare portrait by John Constable, noted English landscape artist, shows the Lambert children (boys and girls) with short hair.

John Strange Williams (about 1830)

John. R. Wildman painted the Williams about 1830. John Williams wears a classic skeleton suit. As appears to be common in the early 19th century, the boy has short hair that has a very modern look to it.

Unidentified Family (1830s)

We note a watercolor painting of an English family in the 1830s. Although the family and children are unidetified, we believe tghey are English children frim the 1830s. The two oldest children wear identical dresses, but of different colors. The painting is notavle because while the children wear identical dresses, their hair styles are very different. We believe the boy wears shirt hair and the girl carfully styled curls.

Smith Portrait (1834)

Edwin Dalton Smith was an accomplished pre-Victorian portratist specialising in portrait miniatures. He was taught by his father, Anker Smith (1759-1819), who was himself a noted engraver and miniaturist. Smith lived in Chelsea (London). He exhibited much of his work from 1816-47. This means that his early work was pre-Victorian. He exhibited at least 66 works at the Royal Academy and an additional 13 at the Suffolk Street Galleries. Smith has left us some charming early 19th century portraits showing boys' clothing--although the small size does not provide the detail available in the work of other artists. Edwin’s skill in small-scale work is clearly shown in the extensive botanical work that he also did. He was for many years attached to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. A 1834 portrait shows a boy who has not yet been breached, but wearing short hair.

Holmes Portrait (1840)

James Holmes is best known for his portraits of Byron in 1815 and a splendid one of George IV, completed in 1828. Holmes was also the founder and first President of the Society of British Artists. We note a splendid water color on ivory that was exhibited in the Royal Academy in 1840. We do no know the identity of the boy. He has very curly haie worn down to his ears, but not done in ringlets. We wonder if it mihjt have been done in ringlets when the boy was younger.

Pen Browing (1850s)

Elizabeth Barett Browning and Robert Browning are two of England's most noted romantic poets. Elizabeth grew up in a priviliged, wealthy family. She had 11 brothers and sisters. Her mother dressed the boys just like girls in long hair and dresses. Elizabeth was very upset when her father had the boys' hair cut. After marring Robert they had one son, Pen in Italy. Pen was the light of Elizabeth's life. She spoiled him outrageously. He was schooled at home by Elizabeth and Robert. While not interested in clothes herself, she bought elaborate expensive outfits for the boy. Elizabeth kept Pen in dresses with the same flair as her romantic poetry even at 9 years of age and at 11 wore a tunic with lacey pantalettes. Robert was dubious about how Elizabeth dressed Pen, but apparently did not intervene. Until Elizabeth's untimely death, Pen wore long carefully curled hair. Pen did not object as a younger boy, enjoying the attention and compliments from his mother's friends. As an older boy he began to object, but with little success in the face of his strong opinioned mother who had very definite ideas on the subject.

Bromley Portraits (1850s)

The average English boy in the mid-19th century, as portrayed by Bromley, appears to have worn his hair down to his ears, sometimes even covering them.

The Tennysons (1850s-60s)

We note that the Tennyson boys in the 1850s and 60s wore long hair, but it was not done in ringlet curls.

Millais Portraits (1860s-90s)

Sir John Everett Millais was an English portrait and historical painter who worked in the second half of the 19th Century. He was popular in his day, but has been criticized by art experts for "sickly sweet portraits of children". His reputation as an artist is currently undergoing a re-evaluation. We note a number of children's portraits by Millais with boys from wealthy families in velvet suits and lave trim. One boy was reportedly so unhappy with his portrait that Millais had to paint over the velvet. The boys in the portraits tend to have have haor over their ears, some down to their shoulders. We do not yet, however, note any portraits of boys wearing ringlet curls.

Frith Painting (1862)

William Powell Frith was the son of domestic servants. He became a noted genre painter, renowned for his large-scale portraits of modern life subjects such as the railroad station. His renown was so great that he was awarded a commission to paint the Prince of Wales' group wedding portrait. He had some difficulty with the future Edward VII's German nephew Wilhelm. His work commaned high prices in the 1870s. His 1862 painting "Railroad Station" depicts a boy in a velvet suit and ringlet curls at London's Padington Station.

Harold Bates (1870)

A watercolor painting from 1870 shows Harlod Bate wearing intricalled done ringlet curls. He was 2 1/2 years old at the time and wears a blue dress or smock woth a small neck frill. We note that he has a large top curl in addition to his ringlets. This is a style we have also noted in America, at the time. It seemns to have been a destinctively boyish hair fashion. At least we have not yet noted it on girls.

Tissot Portraits (1870s-90s)

French painter James Jacques Joseph Tissot fled France after the French Commune in 1871 and lived and worked in England where he was widly popular. Modern critics consider his work insipid and sugary. Sugary it is, but it is also technically skilled and provides us marvelosly detailed windows into the life of the Victorian family--however idealized. His images provide fascinating glimes on the children appearing in all the static studio shots of the late 19th Century. We know of only a few of his paintings. One shows a boy with liong curly hair, but not done in ringlets.

Winston Churchill (1878)

Winston Churchill, the gruf, hard drinking indomitanle embodiment of the British people in World War II is hrdly the individual we would think of as a little boy wearing velvet suits and ringlet curls--but indeed he was. And in fact he wore ringlets several years before Little Lord Fauntleroy.

Henry Allingham (1880s)

Helen Allingham, a noted English water colorist, had her son Henry wear curls as a younger boy, but to my knowledge they were not done in curls.

Fisher Portrait (1880s)

Mark Fisher painted this unidentified boy probably in the 1880s or early 90s. The boy has shoulder length curled hair, but it is not done in ringlets.

Unidentified English Boy (1880s)

A British reader has forwarded us a portrait of a an unidentified boy photographed in the 1880s. He was photographed at Weymouth, Dorset. He is outfitted in a Higland kilt outfit with ringlet curls.

The Robartes (1885)

Anna Lea Merrit was a Victorian romantic painter, influenced by thePre-Raphaelites. She did some charming portraits of children and families as well as for the times some very daring works. Merrit in 1885 painted the eldest children of Thomas, 2nd Baron Robartes. The Robartes were a very wealthy family from Lanhydrock in Cornwall. The date 1885 is notable as it was the same year Little Lord Fauntleroy was published. The portrait is notable because it shows the variations among families. The older boy looks to be about 7 or eight. He wears a black velvet Funtleroy suit, but with short hair rather than ringlet curls. The youngest child in the white dress is not identified, but looks to be a boy who has not yet been breeched. He also has relatively short hair.

Charlie (early 1900s)

This photograph shows Charlie, but we do not know his last name. He wears a wool sailor suit with ringlet curls and a very destinctibe top curl. The photograph was taken in Leamington Spa, probably in the early 1900s, judging from the style of the card. Charlie's hair is done in slightly thick ringlets. There are no bangs. The most detinctive element of his hair is the very large top center curl formed from the hair on both side of the head. We have noted this style before, but not in such a large curl.

Henry Reginald Bacon (1903)

Henry Reginald Bacon had his potographed in Brightlingsea, Essex during July 1903. He wears a wide-brimmed sailor cap and long ringlet curls. He was 7 years old. He has a kneepants suit with military styling worn with an enormous Eton-style collar.


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Created: May 28, 2002
Last edited: 10:04 PM 7/29/2004