Chronology of Ringlet Curls

Ringlet curls have been worn by women for Centuries. Some little boys may have worn ringlet curls in the early 19th Century, but little information is available on this. The fashion of ringlet curls for boys appears to have become increasingly common after the mid 19th Century. The style became much more popular for boys in the 1880s and 90s after the publicatin of Frances Hodgson Burnett's clasic book, Little Lord Fauntleroy. We note quite a few American boys wearing ringlets curls in the photogrphic record during the late-19h century, even a few older boys. The style was still common in the 1900s, especially the early 1900s. The fashion declined in popularity during the 1910s, especially after World War I.

The 17th Century

We have no information on the 17th century at this time. We do know that wigs came into common use. The hair in wigs appears to have been cyurled, but not in ringlet curls.

The 18th Century

Little boys commonly wore long hair in the 18th Century as did adult men. I do not believe the style of ringlets, however, was not common for boys, except for very young boys. Many boys did wear long hair in the 18th Century, but it was not commonly curled. A good example is an American boy, Charles Mosley, in 1791. Charles has long curls, but they are not done in ringlets. A complication here is the wigs the affluent wore. There are many literary references to ringlet curls during the 18th Century. A typical reference, "Rape of the Lock Lord Petre, in a thoughtless moment of frolic gallantry, cut off a lock of Arabella Fermor's hair; and this liberty gave rise to a bitter feud between the two families, which Alexander Pope has worked up into the best heroic-comic poem of the language. The first sketch was published in 1712 in two cantos. The machinery of sylphs and gnomes is most happily conceived. Pope, under the name of Esdras Barnevelt, apothecary, says the poem is a covert satire on Queen Anne and the Barrier Treaty. In the poem the lady is called Belinda, and the poet says she wore on her neck two curls, one of which the baron cut off with a pair of scissors borrowed of Clarissa. Belinda, in anger, demanded back the ringlet, but it had flown to the skies and become a meteor there.

Figure 1.--Ringlet curls for children became increasingly popular in the 1850s. They were primarily worn by girls, but some mothers also liked the style for their sons. In many old images it is very difficult to assess gender.

The 19th Century

Hair styles for boys in the early 19th century were generally short. This was especially true after breeching. Even some young boys in dresses sometimes wore short hair. While some boys might have had long hair I do not know of any boys who had long curls. This began to change in the Victorian era. Girls and younger boys began to appear in ringlets about the 1830s. I am not yet positive about this, but believe this is the approximate time the style decveloped. Ringlet curls were extremely popular for women and girls in the early 19th Century. This is confirmed by both fashion magazines and artwork. Some doting Victorian mothers kept their treasured sons in dresses and increasingly as the century progressed, long-flowing locks. At mid-century, shorter hair styles were still the norm for older European and American boys, although long hair for even older boys was not unknown. Younger boys often did wear long hair and styling it in ringlets had become inreasinly common by the 1850s. The decission about a boy's hair style appears to have been primarily at the whim of the mother. Afluent mothers educating a boy at home could dress him as she felt best. Thus it was not unknown for quite old boys to be kept in dresses and long hair. The style of curling the long hair worn by 19th century boys into long ringlets is primarily assiociated with the 1880s and 1890s and was strongly influenced by Francis Hodgson Burnett's Little Lord Fauntleroy. Although the drawings in Mrs. Burnett's book may have been more influential than her text, which mentions the young Earl's hair only in passing. Of course Mrs. Burnett did not write her book in a vacuume. She must have known mothers with the same romantic impulses that motivate the way she dressed her sons. It was the publication of her book who took the style of long ringlet curls for boys from a fashion adopted by a few romantic mothers to a wide spread fashion craze affecting litterally millions of hapless boys of all ages. Ringlet curls were worn by boys before the late 19th Century, but it was in the late 19th Century that the reached the peak of popularity for boys. Romantically inclined mothers, influenced by English-American authoress Francis Hodgson Burnett, kept her sons in curls, a fashionable statement when wearing Little Lord Fauntleroy suits or other fancy clothes such as kilts.

Figure 2.--Although unusual for the 1910s, noted American author Thomas Wolfe's mother insisted on long ringlet curls. Mercifully an Uncle took him at 9 years of age to the barber for a hair cut.

The 20th Century

Ringlet curls for boys were not common in the 20th century, but we do see them at the very beginning of the century. We contunue to see American boys wearing ringlet curls after the turn-of-the 20th century, especially the early 1900s. Some mothers kept to the traditional practices well into the 20th century. Usually ringlet curls in this era were for younger boys, but some mothers might wait until a boy was 10 or even 11 before allowing him to have his long curls cutting. The fashion, at leasy for boys, declined in popularity substantially during the 1900s and was much less common by the end of the decade. World War I as with clothing and other soicialconventins was a major turning point. After World War I in the 1920s it was no longer a major style, although we do continue to see a few boys with ringlets. Some very young boys might wear natural curls until their first hair cuts, but this was usually onlt to ear length. Ringlets becae a girls style and became extrodinarily popular for girls when Shirly Temple began her famed movie career with her trade mark bangs. After this long ringlets virtually disappeared for boys.


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Created: April 24, 1999
Last edited: 9:20 PM 4/23/2008