5 Ways Hair Was Used in the 19th Century
They made it into jewelry
Jewelry made from human hair was popular in the 19th century. We may all be familiar with romantic tales and poems in which a man (or woman) would take a lock of their lover’s hair as a remembrance, or a token of love. Hair jewelry served a very similar purpose: it was as a tangible reminder of a loved one that could be kept close by being worn in a ring, bracelet, necklace or brooch. The relationship between the giver and receiver was not always romantic; hair jewelry could be shared between family members and close friends as well.
They used it for crafting material
Hairwork was a popular hobby amongst 19th century women, and was no more exotic than knitting or netting. In fact, women’s magazines such as Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine offered instructions and patterns on how to create intricate designs for jewelry and other hair crafts such as hair wreaths. Once a pattern was completed, the hairwork could be sent to a jeweler to finish and embellish.
They collected it for use in crafts
Although hair may have been clipped solely for the purpose of hairwork, it was gathered from a variety of alternate sources as well. Hair receivers were placed on dressing tables to collect loose hairs after combing, clippings from a haircut could be retrieved from the barber shop, or hair could be removed from a corpse for the purpose of remembrance or to create a memento mori.
They used it to enhance their own hairstyles
Hair extensions are not just a 20th century fad. Because women often wore their hair long in the 19th century, and because it was a renewable resource, hair could easily be found for sale for the purpose of enhancing and decorating one’s own style. Beyond wigs and toupees, the Eatons catalogue offered bangs, chignons, braids and more.
Hair jewelry could be purchased via mail order
Hair jewelry could also be ordered from professionals through the mail. Hair samples could be sent to jewelers or even department stores to be crafted into pre-designed items. This commercialization did not come without risks, however. It could be hard to tell if the hair sent in to make the item was actually used, rather than disposed in favour of more easily worked strands or even pre-made jewelry that matched in colour.