Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Victorian hair

My grandmother, Emma Patterson, was born in 1891. When I was a young girl in the 1960s and 1970s, she impressed me as being old-fashioned, but until recently, I hadn't realize just how last century she truly was. Take, for instance, her opinions about hair.

 "The first time I cut your hair," Mom used to tell me, "you were only about two years old. I thought I'd broken your grandmother's heart. I don't think she ever did forgive me."

I always accepted the story without much thought. I knew Grandmother loved long hair. When I visited her, she used to show me her photo album and point out her long hair. She'd describe to me how much she loved braiding her hair, and combing it out at night. This photo of her from that album was taken in 1910, when she was around 19 years old.

But why did long hair for girls matter so much to her? In looking for the source of her beliefs, I learned that my grandmother's ideas about hair were Victorian. In the Victorian era, a woman's hair was a "thing." Feminine identities were very much tied into long luscious tresses, the longer the better. Grandmother was in her 30s when the Roaring Twenties, and bob-style hairstyles came along. She'd just never adapted.
The other day I came across this picture, taken around 1959, when I was about two years old. I'm wearing a dress Grandmother sewed for me. I've seen the picture plenty of times before. All at once, though, I truly noticed my bowl-cut hair style and it clicked. This must have been it, the first hair cut that shocked and appalled Grandmother. To be honest, I see her point. This hair cut would look bad in any century.