Cutting A Boy's Curls

Figure 1.--This photograph appears to be a boy, despite the ringlet curls and hair bow. The child was photographed in 1909 in a white tunic suit.

One of the most significant day of a boy's life in the late 19th and early 20th century was the day he was allowed to have his curls cut. Mothers of the day differed on whether it was preferable to cut a boy's curls before or after breeching. Some thought it was more important to breech a boy first while others though cutting his curls more important. Other mothers both breeched and cut a boys curls at the same time.

Breeching and Curls

The different order for breeching or cutting curls was a decissiin handled by different families in a number of different ways. Mothers had to decide on both the order and the age. If there were brithers they had to decide on a set age or dressing the boys alike. Both breeching and cutting curls might be done at a young age. Other mothers decided to dekay the process for several years.

Hair Bows

Perhaps the mother of the child pictured here tied on the large hair bow to celebrate the occasion. I do not know if he normally wore hair bows or just what occasions were considered appropriate for them. This boy looks to be an age that he would would have been ready to begin school. Certainly he woukld not have gone to school, especially an American school with a hair bow. Perhaps he was being schooled at home. Interestingly, the hair bows used by American mothers were generally somewhat smaller than this boy wears. Really large hair bows were often used by girls' hair. The ones used for boys were generally smaller. Hair bows were much more common in France. French boys often wore them with long, but uncurled hair. Hair bows were also employed in other European countries. The number of avaialble images show that the practice was not unknown in America as well.

Who Did the Cutting

We are not sure just who did the cutting. The work of curling the boys hair was as far as we cam tell entirely done by the nother or female household help in the home. Just who finally cut the curls is an open question. We have virtually no information addressing this topic. The task fell to both mother and father and there were differences from family to family. As mother was primarily responsible for the younger children, it seems likely that in some cases it was she who actually cut the boy's curls. But this was a wrenching decesion for many mothers who were lothe to accept that their little boys were growing up. Thus in some homes it fell to father to do the cutting. We are not entirely sure how this was decided. It must have been a matter of discussion between the mother or father. Here there are few actually records as these were oral dicussions rarely carried on in letters. Some of this discussion was probably in private. Some may have been done with the child present. Presumably the boy may have been allowed to pipe up himself on the topic. Often a decesion was mutually reached. In some cases, mothers were adament on the subject of cutting a boys curls. Some boys who has determined mothers like Elizabeth Barret Browning or who lost their fathers likev Thomas Wolf might have particularely difficult times. We think that often it was the father who dud the curring, bith with or without mother's approval Some fathers actually wirlded the susors. Some may have taken the boy to the barber shop. To this day, the barber shop is a male enclave. It is usually the father who takes the boy there.

Figure 2.--This photograph appears to be the same child as photographed above, perhaps 1-2 years later.

Individual Boys

One HBC contributor believes the boys here photographed in a white tunic during 1909 may be the same boy. The fact that the dog looks somsimilar does suggest that it is the same boy. He looks to be about 6 years old in the first photograph and perhaps 7 or 8 years old in the second. The first photograph shows a boy with a cubbier face. It might have been the very day that his curls were cut. If it was, you can imagine the anguish his mother must have faced when she had to cut his curls. By 1909 long ringlet curls for boys were becoming less fashionable than was the case earlier in the decade and especially in the late 19th Century.

I'm not sure what the date is of the second photograph. Usually childern thin out as they get older, explaining some difference in the boy's face. Both photographs show the boy wearing a white tunic suit with knicker pants and long black stockings. They certainly look like the same child. The dog confirms that it was the same family. HBC can't be completely positive they are the same child, even though they it certainly looks like the same child. They could, however, possibly be sister and brother or even brothers.

The white tunic suit show here was a popular style in the 1900s and 1910s, especially in the years before World War I (1914-18). They were normally worn with knicker pants which were designed to show just below the hem of the tunic jacket. The suit this boy wears has sailor styling. Other tunic suits had Russian blouse or Buster Brown styling. While sailor tunics were worn with a wide range of hair styles, Buster Brown tunics were often worn with Dutch boy bangs. It was primarily a boys' suit, but girls also wore them, although not as commonly.


Mothers varied a great deal on just when they decided to have their sons' curls cut. This might be done while the boys wer wearing a great variety of garments. A variety of images exist showing boys before and after their curls were cut. Some of these images shows boys before and after breeching as well with barious types of outfits.


Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Return to the Main curls decesion page]
[Return to the Main curls page]
[Return to the Main hair bow page]
[Return to the Main tunic suit page]
[Introduction] [Artist] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Clothing styles] [Events] [Hair]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Boys' Clothing Home]

Created: May 9, 1998
Last updated: 10:37 PM 9/12/2010