Hairstyles of 1870: Curls, Plaits, and Twists

According to Peterson’s Magazine, hairstyles of 1870 were “not [any] less high upon the summit of the head than they were [the previous] … year; quite the contrary, only the chignon has disappeared.” Although the hairstyles might have been the same size in height, the back of 1870 hairdos were flatter and consisted of curls, plaits, or twists located at the neck. In fact, the back was often so low hairnets became fashionable once again, and in particular, “the variety [of nets] called ‘invisible’ … once more [were] called into requisition.”

Ornamentation of the 1870 hairstyles occurred at the front with bows universally worn at the time so that “no lady appears to fancy that her toilet is complete without one.” The bows often matched a woman’s dress and were made from wide ribbon with two loops, and arranged precisely as Alsatian women wore them. Sometimes the four-looped bows were narrower, but women found these four-looped bows “neither so pretty, nor so stylish-looking [as the more fashionable and wider two-looped bows].”

Parisian Hairstyles of 1870, Author's Collection

Parisian hairstyles of 1870. Author’s collection.

To create the new braided fashions of 1870, the hair was divided into thick curls, large plaits, or rippling waves with it falling low at the neck. Long switches of slightly crimped hair, in two massive plaits was also exceedingly popular and shown below. The plaits were attached to a comb that was placed forward on the head and were “long enough to extend straight back to the nape of the neck.”

To ensure the coiffure was stylish, it was noted that “this coiffure must be narrow, not extending beyond the natural width of the head. The braids must not taper, but be of the same width their entire length, [and they] must set closely to the head and be turned under squarely below.” Additionally, the hair was usually brushed back smoothly from the temples and sides of the face.

The styles shown below were also noted to be acceptable for home or on the street but were not to be worn for full dress. For full dress, a woman needed to add “a few flowing curls … mingled with the braided tresses, and a single rose, or a coronet … placed in front.” If afternoon wear was needed, a woman added, “a tiny bow of bright-colored ribbon on the left side of the braids, or a band of narrow ribbon around the head, with a bow on top, and flowing ends behind.”

New hairstyles for February. Author’s collection.

The hairstyles for March resembled early fashions of the last century with hairstyles resembling those “worn during the Regency and the end of Louis XIV’s reign.” The hair was waved in front with small curls, and at the top of the head, waved hair was mixed with ringlets in tier upon tier, and then worn long at the back. Hairstyle height also depended on the shape of a woman’s face and was arranged accordingly.

New Hairstyles for March. Author’s collection.

In Paris, the famous court hair-dressers studded “the head all over with exquisite little bows made of narrow gross grain ribbon, and fringed out at the ends [unless they were black]. The loops cross[ed] and interlace[d] so as to form a pompom; … [and cleverly created in ] effect … a pretty flower.” The bows were normally the same color as the woman’s dress and varied in size. Sometimes there were three bows and sometimes there were as many as five bows worn, but they were always scattered and arranged in an irregular fashion over the head. Also, popular were jeweled diadems or ribbon headbands worn at the front of the head, as shown in the illustration at the bottom of this post.

Besides faux flower bows, several other ornaments were used to decorate the hair. Precious stones were one item freely worn in the hair and arranged by the court hair-dressers in the Regency style, mixing “curls and plaits in an indescribable manner.”  Large butterfly bows made from velvet of faille were also very fashionable and at times velvet ribbon was plaited in with strands of hair.

“[Other times] the butterfly bow [stood] … up as an aigrette in the center of a round coronet placed at the side of the head … [or] a chaplet of Spanish jassmine [sic], light and delicate as a feather, with a butterfly bow of pink ribbon; on one side a crossband of pink velvet mixed with the plaits, and on the other side a spray of jasmine.”

New Hairstyles for March, Author's Collection

New Hairstyles for March. Author’s collection.

Parisian ladies, it was noted, were keen on fresh flowers and they carried “the passion of flowers so far as to wear none but natural ones.” To maintain the flower’s freshness, Parisian women cleverly adapted them.

“Small tubes of gutta percha filled with water, [and then] very ingeniously disposed and [hid them] … in the foliage [to the degree that Peterson’s Magazine noted] we do not despair of seeing ladies changing themselves this summer, through a new system of coquetry, into bushes of roses or honeysuckle.”

In April, Peterson’s Magazine, noted that there was no fixed rule for dressing a woman’s hair. “It is generally combed high in front, and arranged in such a manner as to call to mind the general aspect of the Marie Antoinette styles; but what diversity of details!” Hair was crimped, waved, and even made towering. So, “in short, everything is permissible; and a woman no longer depends on anything but her own individual taste.”

In May, the falling coiffures were once again noted and it was claimed:

“[Styles had] greatly change[d] the aspect of many faces: regular and well characterized beauties have gained by the change, but saucy-looking, irregular types have lost. These last acquired an air of gracefulness and youth by having the hair turned up to the top of the head instead of covering the neck. We would, therefore, advise ladies of this latter class to moderate the depth of their chignons.”

Hairstyes of 1870 - May

New hairstyles for May. Author’s collection.

By August, the hair descended down the back of the neck “in curls, or … merely waved and inclosed [sic] in an invisible net.” Chignons had also become a novelty but the chignons of the previous year that were worn off the neck had lost their vogue and in general chignons were said to be prettier with summer hats. Fresh flowers remained popular and women were advised to use either “a small button-hole phial, such as gentlemen employ, or wrap the stems in wet wadding inclosed [sic] in oil silk [to keep them fresh].”

The fall of 1870 began with braids back in vogue. Bows were made solely from long lengths of hair, and these hair bows were incorporated into the hairdos, although curls, waves, ringlets, and crimping also remained in style. Additionally, the hair continued to be worn smooth and pulled back from the sides so as to reveal a woman’s face.

Hair was also frequently worn off the neck and formed into a high knot or cluster at the top of the head. Sometimes these clusters were formed from large waves or ringlets, although mostly from curls, braids, or plaits. False hair was commonly used to add fullness and these false pieces were often mixed in with a woman’s real hair to add bulk.

The usual ornamentation — ribbons and bows — remained popular in the fall and winter of 1870 and were worn both at the front and at the rear of the head. Flowers were worn during the “winter, in conjunction with feathers, a cluster being placed at the base of two feather tips.” Additionally, when hair was exceedingly long, it was worn in plaits or braids, which fell down the back of the neck and is shown below. When the hair was shorter, a second braid might be attached to a ribbon or bow and a plait formed.

hairstyles of 1870 - October

New Hairstyles for October, Author’s collection.

As mentioned, the hairstyles of 1870 were not fixed, and throughout the early 1870s careless tendrils were also fashionable. Fashion books also encouraged a woman to wear what was personally becoming to her saying that she should not “be a slave to fashion.” Waist-length hair was not uncommon and was considered a sign of a woman’s femininity, and hair was almost always waved or curled and never worn just straight. However, there was still a sense of individuality in all the hairstyles of 1870 whether in America, England, or Paris.

Peterson’s Magazine summed up what they thought about the hairstyles of 1870 stating:

“Fashion is not immutable. As we have often remarked, it should always be adapted to each person’s requirements. Begin by being pretty, ladies, and never abandon what enhances your charms for the sake of being fashionable. Fashion is not so very despotic after all, but is every ready to accommodate herself to circumstances … every woman can become more or less pretty, and be, as a poet so felicitously phrases it, ‘the sunshine of the home.'”

Hairstyles of 1870, Author's Collection

Parisian hairstyles of 1870. Author’s collection.


  • Peterson’s Magazine, Vol. LVII, 1870, Philadelphia.

Oh hi there 👋
It’s nice to meet you.

Sign up to receive awesome content in your inbox, every month.

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Leave a Comment