Amusing Hairstyles of the Past

By Heather Rockwood, Communications Manager

When I am taking a long drive, I find ways to amuse myself, such as counting how many log cabins I see or catching snatches of the mooing and neighing farm animals or singing songs at the top of my lungs. I’ve started to notice a similar tendency as I look through the MHS’s archival collection. My latest focus has been hairstyles of the past and how many different or repeated ones I can find.  A number of these styles made me chuckle, and I hope they also bring you a smile.

The only hairdo in this selection of styles that uses the subject’s actual hair and not a wig is A. Alfaro, who had his photograph taken in Washington, DC, on 28 June 1911. I love how the swoops of his hair above his forehead match the swoops of his elegant mustache.

Photograph of a man in a jacket and tie. The man wears a handlebar mustache.
A. Alfaro, by unidentified photographer, from the Dall-Healey Family Photographs

This engraving of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, shows an older man wearing a very long wig. Because I am a lifelong Star Wars fan, I can’t stop seeing Darth Vader’s helmet in this wig!

Image of a man wearing a long, white wig.
John Wesley, engraving by J. Posselwhite, from a print engraved by J. Fittler, after a miniature painting by J. Barry, from Portraits of American Abolitionists.

Caption: This wig, belonging to Henry Bromfield, came to the MHS with all its accoutrements. Wigs were a lot of work to care for and maintain, and they were made of human hair and horsehair. It took a lot of effort and expendable income to be in style!

Wig, unknown maker, England, 18th century, human hair, horsehair, silk thread, silk ribbon.

One of my favorite hairstyles of the MHS collection—featured in the recent Our Favorites exhibition―is Lucy Flucker Knox’s wig, which could rival Marie Antoinette’s wigs. The part that amuses me with each new viewing of the image is how the hat defies gravity in its precarious perch atop a towering hairdo!

Lucy Flucker Knox, Robert Morris, Silhouette, circa 1790.