* ringlet curls : styles

Figure 1.--Note the long ringlet curls on this older American boy which his mother has lovingly laid on his lace collar so they would be clearly visible. His ringlets are done without bangs. Note the boy's ceter part.

Styled Curls: Different Styles

Ringlet cirls were worn in many different styles. Probably the most popular style was forehead bangs at the front with a center part and then ringlets at the side and back. There were, however, many other styles. Some boys with ringlets had differently styled bangs at the front or even a center part all the way to the front. Quite a large number of variations and permutations were involved. Some boys had a large curl or styled hear at the top with various numbers of ringlets. Some boys in ringlet curls also sported forehead bangs. Mothers who curled their son's hair developed different styles. Creative mothers used great ingunuity in developed many differet styles. Plase note that I have little actual information on the different types of ringle curls. I have compiled this information based on an analysis of available images. If any HBC visitors have any historical information or insights, I'd be very interested in it. Unkike boys' clothing and fashion which were discussed in womens fashion magazines, styles for curling boys' hair do not seem to have been discussed in such detail. The styling of women's hair, however, was discussed in great detail. Given the interest of women in hair styling, this must have been an issue discussed in women's fashions magazines. Probably there were many articles advising women on hair styling. Probably women just used the prevalent styles for themselves and girls for their sons. The information in fashion magazines was presumably used my mothers in styling their sons' hair, even though there may have been little information, specifically about ringlet curls for boys.

Figure 2--This American boy with his sisters in an undated photograph (circa 1885) was taken in New York City sports slender, long ringlet curls carefully on the boy's lace collar. He does not seem to have bangs. He looks to have had the hair on the top of his head or even his forehead bangs styled

Ringlets without Bangs

Ringlets with Top Knot or Curl

The most commpn way of styling the hair at a boy's forehead when wearing ringlets was bangs. There were, however, other options such as a front part. While these were the more common options, another option was a top curl, hair knot, or other piling of the hair at the forehead and top of the head. They were done with ringlets, although the top curls lin=mied the the hair availavle to form ringlets. Thus the number and thicknes of ringlets were affected. The hair at the top took away from the ringlets, so these boys generally had fewer ringlets. These top knot style were worn both with and without ringlets. It was most common to see them with runglets, bur we have found sonevboys with too knotsw that did not have acoomoamying ringlets. We see these top curls throughout the 19th century, at least when photography was available beginning in the 1840s. The comination with ringlet curls seems most common beginning in the mid-19th century. As far as we can tell, this was almost entirely a boy's style. We do not see many girls with these top curls, with or with out ringlets, although in the the 20th century we see the related kewpie style. We notice this style mist commonly in America, although our larger American arcgive may be a factor. We are not sure what this style was all about. Or even what it was called. It looks rather strange to us today and most would not consider it particularly attractive. Obviously some mothers at the time liked the look. We are no bsure what the fathers thought.

Ringlets with Bangs

Probably the most popular style of ringlet curls worn by boys was one with bangs at the front with a center part at the crown of the head that could often not be seen in frontal portraits. Ringlets then descended at the side and back. Rather than have the center or side part come all the way out to the forehead, various arrangements of bangs were used--both standard straight bangs and a variety of alternative styles. While the ringlets curled were fairly standard, although their could be variations in diameter and length, what to do with the front and top of the hair was much less standard. Different mothers came up with a variety of different styles, such as bangs--some using considerable ingenuity.

Figure 3.--This American boy in an undated photograph (circa 1885) taken in New York City has bangs and elaborate ringlet curls, but a rather plain bow. Note the length and thickness of this boy's curls. Click on the image for a full view. If you have any thoughts for dating these images, please let me know.

Standard bangs

Standard bangs or what we might call a Dutch boy cut staight accross the forehead was one option. (Does anyone know if this cut got its name because this was a popular hair style in Holland.) This was a fairly simple approach. It was usually associated with a cebter part, but the center part ended well before the forehead so the hair could be combed forward into bangs which were then cut straight across the forehead. In some cuts, the bangs are cut straight across ghe forhead and then tapered slightly at the side. Note that until the turn of the century it was not common to style boys hair in bangs after his curls were cut. Nor was it the most popular way of styling girls hair. Thus it was not used as widely for boys as other treatments.

Curled bangs

Some boys had instead of regular straight bangs at the forehead, the traditional style with ringlets, wore their ringlets with curled bangs. Mothers appeared to have curled the boys bangs rather than having them fall straight over his forehead. This seems to have been less common than other styles, but several available images show this style. There were several different ways in which the bangs could be styled or curled. Some mothers were very imaginable in this regard. This was a particularly fancy style and not very common, at least based on the small numbers of photographic images available.

Fill in bangs

Another common way of dealing with the boy's center part so it did not emerge at the forehead was to to divide the part before reaching the forehead. The part could be separated at different points, thus varying the area between the separated part. A tuft of hair would then be combed forward in the area between the two branches from the center part. This center area of bangs could also be adjusted providing further variations for the creative mother.

Figure 4.--This boy has long ringlets with a side part. Notice how his front bangs have been styled into a curled sweep.

Ringlets with Sweep Front

Some boys were styled with a sweep or wave of hair at the front. In some case the sweep was highly styalized and in others in was a simple sweep to one side. Either way it was a significant contrast to the bangs style where the hair fell straight down over the forehead. This could be styled with a side part and the wave would be swept of from the part. This was to become a standard feature of boys' hair curls in the mid-1950s, without of course the ringlets.

Back Curls

Most ringlet hair styles we have noted were rather formal styles and had the ringlets done at the side and the back of the boy's head. We have note a few boys who had their hair styled more informally, but with ringlets at the back of the head. Sometimes they are very difficult to see. We find this curious as most mothers were very proud of their son's ringlets, even laying them on the boy's shoulder so they would show for best affect in the portraits. We wonder why go to all the trouble of doing ringlets if they are not very noticeable. An example here are the Gulick twins in Nebraska, probably during the 1880s.


Most ringle hair styles were done with a basic symetetrical approach. Perfect symetry requites the use of a center hair part which was often desguised by front bangs. Many ringlet hair styles had a side part. Using a side part unless two side parts were used, the resulting hair style could not be symetrical. Often mothers attemoted to work around this in an effort to achieve some degree of symetry. Less common were hair styles that were markedly non-symeterical. In a few occassions this was taken to thec extremne and all of the curls were on one side.

Figure 5.--Scandadanavian boys also wore long ringlet curls at the turn of the century. This Swedish boy is Dag Hammarskjold, the future United Nations Secretary General. Note the hair bow, a feature not very common with American boys.

The Ears

The standard rinlet hair style for boys usually cover the ears. This was, however, not always the case. Sometimes the ears were allowed to peak out and sometimes the entire ear was left uncovered. These uncovered ear styles are no common, but they were worn. HBC knows relatively little about these hair styles, especially country or gender connotations. HBC also is unsure about the chronolical trends.

Hair Part and Curls

Many boy wth culed hair had distinct parts. This was the most common way of dealing with a boys hair when it was curled. The parts were usually center parts, but side parts also existed. I'm not sure if the side or center pats had any significance as to gender. One might have been used more for girls than for boys, but I am not sure about this. Available family images show the whole family in late 19th Century America with center parts, so it does not appear to have been a major factor. The part was a major stylistic feature of a boys hair with ringlet curls. This probably is related to forming the curls. The easiest way is to sinply comb the hair down from a central part. A side part would complicate this as more hair would be available on one side and it would vary the lengths of strands to be curled. The poor boy might look a bit lopsided.

Unkempt Look

Most of the boys with ringlet curls had very carefully styled hair. A few images, however, show boys with inglets, but rather untidy hair. This is a little surprising as one would think that a mother who went to the trouble of curling a boys hair would also be very insistent that his hair be perfectly done, especially for a formal family portrait.

Back Styles

There were also various ways to style the back of the hair when wearing ringlets. Less information is available here because the boy was rarely photographed from the back for a formal portrait. As a result, understandably much less information is available on the back of the head in the ringlet curl hair styles than the front. There are, however, a few such images as some mother wanted to make sure there was a complete record of their sons's curls preserved in all their glory before they were cut. Thus a few photographs exist with the boys' back to the camera. HBC believes boys with ringlets are the only ones known to be photographed with their backs to the cametra. The back of a boys' hair style varied as to the style of ringlets and the characteristics of the individual ringlets.

Figure 6.--This American boy in the 1870s wears ringlets with a hairbow. This style was more popular in France.

Hair Bows

Some mothers added hair bows to the long hair of their children. Relatively small bows were generally chosen for boys, unlike the sometimes huge hair boys often worn by girls. White hair bows appear to have been the most common, but colored wars were also worn. Hair bows seem to have been a popular style in France, but American, English, probably Italian, and Scandinavian boys also wore hair bows. This was most common for uncurled hair as the bows were used for the utiliarian purpose of holding the boys' hair in place as well as for stylistic affect. This practice seens most common in the late 19th Cebtury, but continued into the 20th Century. Generally boys with ringlet curls did not also wear hairbows. I'm not sure why this was. Americans who did not seem to object to ringlet curls and dresses for boys, never enthusiastically embraced the addition of hairbows. There were, however, some exceptions and almost always American boys with hair bows wore them with ringlets. The image of Dag Hammarskjold is a notable exception. Even some American boys wore ringlet curls with hairbows. The number of images, however, showing boys in ringlet curls and hair bows is a very small number of the available images.


There were not only different styles with ringlet curls, but the ringlets could be varied in diameter and length. Some mothers curled their sons' hair into long, thick curls. Other mothers preferred a larger number of more slender curls. Other variations included the number of curls and many other factors like bangs and the treatment of the part and the rest the boys' hair. In part this was determined by an idividual boy's hair, especially how thick it was. But again mothers' preferences were also an important factor.

Additional Information

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Created: November 24, 1998
Last edited: 1:44 AM 8/4/2020