Friday, August 21, 2009

Hairstyle Tutorial: A 1909 Edwardian Coiffure

At long last, a tutorial showing you how to create a popular 1909 hairstyle, a sort of modified "Grecian" look.

As always, please click on the images for larger-size versions

This coiffure's front silhouette is wide, with large-ish puffs to each side, rather flat on top. From the side it looks large too, because the back hair is gathered into a big coiled bun. The style came into being, so newspapers of the day reported, in response to the ever-increasing dimensions of fashionable hats. The wide, flat coiffure was necessary to balance the contraption on the top of one's head. The Pompadour hairstyle of the earlier Edwardian era simply didn't have the width needed, and the high top would be squashed by the hat.

Photo: the circa 1909 coiffure I wore to this summer's Edwardian picnic; focus on the hair, not my silly expression.

Below I offer both a tutorial for creating the hairstyle on your own, and afterwards some historical background on Edwardian hair trends, and leads to period articles that describe how to put this sort of coiffure-- and other popular styles -- together!

A Tutorial: Creating the Coiffure

I have bobbed hair with a bit of a shag cut and a few bangs on one side, so this tutorial assumes that you do not have lots of hair to work with. If you do, you can make your own coil of hair for the back section of the coiffure rather than use a hairpiece, and if you do not want too much puffiness at the sides, you will have enough hair to create the look without resorting to hair rats to hold out the sides. If you want a fuller style, long hair or not, you will need a pair of rats. Details on those below.

Photo: my model style, a very restrained version of the popular coiffure. From the Photo Detective site.

  • Your hair, preferably at least a day after its last wash
  • 25+ hairpins of the loose type, not the tightly closed type
  • a pair of hair rats (how to make covered below)
  • a clip-on ponytail (about a foot long) hairpiece in as close to your hair color as you can get
  • 1-2 hair bands to hold a ponytail
  • Tight-hold hairspray
  • comb
  • brush
Make the Hair Rats

Hair rats are pads over which the hair is smoothed and which give it a puffed-out silhouette. Rats have been used for ages; and were very popular during the Edwardian period, having been extensively used to make variations of the Pompadour coiffure.

Rats seem to look, typically, like a long sausage or a slightly flattened sausage.

You can make a rat with a hairnet into which you stuff pieces of stockings, but the more accurate method is to stuff the hairnet with well-washed combings from your own hair. Victorian and Edwardian women kept hair-receiver containers just for this purpose. It took me several months to get past the (to me, considerable) ick factor, until I realized that many hairpieces are made with real hair, and that this hair is mine, and well washed. After that, it took me about 4 months to save enough hair from my brush to make the ratts.

When you have collected three good hanks of hair the size of your fist or so, divide the amount in half, wash it very well, and dry it.

Then wad one half up and stuff it into a hairnet, wrapping the hairnet opening around it until it's all held tightly and won't fall out. Shape it into a slightly flattened sausage; mine came out about 6 inches long. Do the same with the other half of the hair. Voila: a pair of rats.

Assembling the Coiffure

Here below is an overview of the steps you will take to create the look:

So, here we go.

First, comb out your hair.

Then, pin one rat to the side of your head as in the image above. You will need five to eight pins: pin through the rat and deep into your hair, pinning all four sides of the rat with at least one pin each. Pin well, because you do not want the rat to slip.

Above is the rat pinned in place.

Pin your bangs or front-most hair towards the other side of your head to keep it out of the way.

You will next smooth sections of your side hair up and over the rat, tucking the ends into the top back of the rat. Take a section, as in the image above, and smooth it around and over the rat. Tuck the ends under the rat as well as you are above. Pin right there at the tuck to hold it; you may need more than one pin if your hair is slippery.

The image above shows two sections of hair that have been smoothed and pinned into place. You can see that the back of the rat has yet to be covered.

Spray a little hairspray on the results if you are happy with them, and if your hair seems to need it.

The image above shows one rat completely covered; over my forehead is the front hair pinned out of the way.

The image above shows the side hair tucked under the rat. You may have to look closely to see some of the pins.

Next, take the front hair that has been pinned out of the way, and coil it or tuck it as best you can into a sort of smooth puff that integrates with the rat. This is not necessarily easy on first try.

Now, place the second rat on the other side of your head, and repeat the process.

The above shows the resulting effect. Depending on how you set the rats, you can get a much wider effect. Here, I set them fairly far back, so the side puffs are quite restrained. For the picnic, I set them closer to the front and so had a much wider effect.

Now for the back hair. You may not have much left. I did not. I combed it and gathered it into a small ponytail on the back of my head and secured it with a hairband. This little lump will hold the ponytail hairpiece.

Comb out your ponytail hairpiece.

Open the jaw clip and clip it to your own ponytail. The hairpieces I have seen have great big, long jaws, so they create quite a large lump. This is good.

Then, coil the hairpiece ponytail around the jaw into a large bun, and pin. It may take five plus pins to do this, and that is fine. You want a good hold.

Next time I make this hairstyle, I will pin create my own ponytail farther up the back of the head and set the hairpiece farther up too, since most Grecian coiffures featured the bun set almost parallel with the back crown of the head...a better hat support.

Above you see the bun pinned in place.

Spray with hairspray to hold the coiffure in place.

Above you see the final coiffure from the side. Again, I would have set the bun up quite a bit higher, and on the day I went to the picnic, it WAS up higher. The image below shows how the more correct coiffure looked after a day at the picnic. A little messy, but intact!

1909 Coiffures: Some Historical Background and Leads to Period Styling Articles

"New Coiffure Is Flatter", read a Sunday headline in the New York Sun, in December, 1909. "The Exaggerated Pompadour No Longer Modish". This and similar headlines all year long all announced a great change in ladies hairstyles after the relatively long reign of the tall, poufy Gibson Girl pompadour with which we nowadays often associate most of the era. That coiffure and its variations were created by smoothing the hair over sausage-like rolls, rats or specialized supports made of wire or other materials.

Photo: The offending early Edwardian pompadour could actually be a sweet hairstyle, as this happy young lady shows. Do click the source link to see the full set of portraits of this delightful young person. (Hugh Mangum photographs: N489.)

Here is how the Sun put it in that somewhat snarkily penned article:

"[T]he average having much to try her patience, for a coiffure revolution has been sweeping over fashion's world, and last year's false hair is languishing in the bureau drawer or being made over at the hairdressers. For one blessing women may give thanks. The exaggerated pompadour and the innumerable boldly false puffs which have distorted the feminine head in recent seasons and have been raised to the nth degree by the type of girl or woman prone to extremes are likely to disappear from the horizon." The article goes on, "The sides are flattened, the top is flattened, and any protuberance that asserts itself is at the back..." ("New Coiffure is Flatter". The Sun, December 12, 1909.)

Newspapers agreed that new hats revolutionized -- and that is the term that was thrown about -- revolutionized the hair landscape.

"The new fashions are partly the result of the semiclassic influences in the present modes and partly a response to the demands of the new millinery. The mass of hair extending out from the back of the head above the neck is to fill in that great cavern which exists under the brims of many of the new hats.

The pompadour in a modified form still holds its popularity. It is much lower now in front than of old and very broad from side to side. The hats are also responsible for this development.

For faces of a certain type the hair is parted in the middle and brought back in a softly waving mass on each side to the heavy puffed rolls behind. The style is new and very popular..." (
"Fashion's Commands in Coiffures"; San Francisco Sunday Call, 1909.)

In general, it appears most 1909 styles (other than the modified pompadour, seem based on a pompadour that has been squashed and split. The hair is now parted, as described above, in the middle, "Madonna" style, and sometimes the side, and is waved out from the sides of the head, while the back hair is arranged in a large mass or masses, nearly parallel with the crown of the head.

Photo: a typical sample of the middle-parted style, which the site Photo Dectective, out of Britain, calls the "Hatpin hairstyle".

Some newspaper articles averred that rats or hair cushions to hold out the sides were quite out, replaced by freshly washed, fuzzy, hair backcombed to give the width, and wisps smoothed over for a finished look. Other articles suggested the familiar rats.

As one might expect, within the broad outlines of this silhouette, there were lots of variations. Articles commonly noted that ancient Greece provided the ultimate fashion source, and at this time high waists, slimming lines, and Greek decorative patterns were indeed high fashion. Styles with names like the Psyche knot featured bandeaux wrapped around the head and Grecian-styled combs and hair jewelry seemed quite popular.

Photo: "Greek Coiffure in Vogue", published in The Sun, describes modish new styles.

There were coiffures described as a "turban", constructed usually of long hairpiece switches that were wound round and round the head and in and out of combs, for a sleek wrapped result.

Other modish, fancy styles required the "flat as a pancake" top and wide sides, with a fall of puffs at the back, achieved sometimes with small pre-puffed hairpieces, sometimes with a woman's own hair waved using the Marcel process or "water-waved". Read about the latter, uncomfortable-sounding process on in the very fine article "The New 'Unstudied' Coiffure", from the The Morning Examiner, Utah, Sunday, April 4, 1909. Yet other styles, like the Billie Burke, were named for celebrities.

Particularly style-conscious writers tended to deride the old fashion, as fashionistas so often tend to do, while articles tuned more, dare I say, to reality, suggested modified styles. These articles are particularly fascinating as they address the needs of readers of all ages and features, suggesting options and using ordinary-looking women as models, something we rarely see today in the popular press, except in Good Housekeeping type magazines, perhaps, or articles specially self-consciously focusing on real women.

Photo: An illustrated article from The San Francisco Sunday Call showing modified styles for all kinds of women.


For this article I have focused mainly on two resources: daily newspapers and portraits. The articles in particular are lots of fun to read and some are tutorials for making particular styles! I also referred to a costume text for some sense of trends.

"Arranging the Hair: Widely Different Effects Produced by Different Coiffures"
New York Tribune (New York, NY), April 25, 1909.
Terrific article showing how different styles affect the look of the same model.

"Coiffure Styles Show Great Changes".
The Paducah Evening Sun, march 17, 1909.
Good overview.

Costume in Detail: 1730-1930. By Nancy Bradfield. Great Britain, Eric Dobby Pulishing, 1968.
In this book Nancy includes sketches from photos and newspapers and you can watch trends in clothing and hairstyles go by.

"Fashion's Commands in Coiffures".
The San Francisco Call, March 28, 1909.
Excellent article describes modified styles for all ages and features, with tips on achieving them.

"Greek Coiffure in Vogue"
The Sun. (New York, NY), February 21, 1909

Hugh Mangum Photographs, (ca. 1890)-1922.
Duke University.
Portrait proofs, group portraits, and a few landscapes. Terrific resource for understanding small-town America as represented in North Carolina. However, the photos aren't dated, so you have to work with the costume details and hairstyle details to get a good sense.

"New Coiffure is Flatter"
The Sun (New York, NY), December 12, 1909.
A treat to read, if snarky.

"The New 'Unstudied' Coiffure", from the The Morning Examiner, Utah, Sunday, April 4, 1909.
The Morning Examiner (Ogden, UT), April 4, 1909.
Unstudied? It takes trip to the hairdresser to do most of this work...

"A Plain Coiffure"
The Citizen, (Berea, KY), December 2, 1909
A tutorial for a coiffure thatis quite doable!

Photo Detective: Facts from British family Photographs, 1901 to 1953.
British website. Helpful for photo dating. It is unclear whether the names the author gave the hairstyles are his own names or were current in Britain at the time.

"Psyche Coiffure"
The Citizen (Berea, KY), October 28, 1909.
A tutorial! You will need hair rats and so on, but what a nice effect!

Edited to add, 01/20/2014
From a year earlier, and a French magazine, but clearly showing the trends to come Stateside:
"Nouveau Genres de Coiffure". Le Miroir des Modes, 1908.  Translated from French. English title New Types of Coiffures for Ladies and Young Girls. On the blog A Most Beguiling Accomplishment, by Cassidy.


Canterfeet said...

Thank you so much for posting this tutorial! Those 'rats' are really effective!
I can't wait to try this one (on someone else first, but I do foresee some neck stiffness when I finally have a go on myself!)

ZipZip said...

Dear Canterfeet,

You are most welcome! The hairstyle wasn't that hard to do and like you, I was surprised at how much difference the rats made. Actually, they help make the do easier to create. Can you imagine the difficulty of getting your hair to puff without them? Lots more back-combing than I'd be wanting, that's for sure.

By the way, your online name is so much fun: "canterfeet" is quite a happy idea.

Very best,

Natalie in Kentucky

Carla Gade said...

This has been a fascinating tutorial. Thank you very much. You did a great job and looked stunning!

ZipZip said...

Dear Carla,
Many thanks indeed! It's a style I'd like to practice a lot more.
Natalie in Kentucky

MrsC (Maryanne) said...

Thank you so much for this tutorial, I am going to AlohaAroha's mardi gras ball and now I know how to get that look. I didn't have time to collect hair to make ratts, so I just unravelled abuot 6 inches of brown fabric and the yarn is just right :) A cheat, but I think it will work!

ZipZip said...

Dear Mrs. C,
You're welcome! Trying out the style was a great deal of fun, and it gave me a chance to do research...more fun!

As for cheating with fabric, that's a grand idea. Every time I take out the ratts I made, I still go "ick". Cannot fathom why, for it's not logical, but there it is.

Good luck and I hope you and AlohaAroha post pictures of the ball. I know it will be a dandy time. Cannot recall but think that occasion might be the impetus behind her Luna Moth dress. Will have to come visit The Hectic Eclectic, too...

Very best,
Natalie in Kentucky

ayn said...

Thank you so much for the tutorial. I appreciate the time you took to share this with others!

ZipZip said...

Dear Ayn,

You are most welcome!

Very best,

Natalie in KY

Time Traveling in Costume said...

I just came across your post on Edwardian hair tutorial with perfect timing. I'm working on a 1910 suit to wear to an upcoming Titanic anniversary luncheon, and even tho I have hair about 3-4 inches long, this gives me some ideas of working with a wig to do the same style.
Hair rats are wonderful! I'm using fake hair to fill mine.

ZipZip said...

Dear Val,

Glad it helped and hope the ball goes well, and that you post about it on your blog. You all do such great events.

Hope too that you will post on how you use the fake hair...I've used it a little but am not very good at it. Plus, would love to link to it from this tutorial and from my research page! Every little tip helps:}

Very best,


Unknown said...

This is absolutely wonderful! I absolutely love the elegance of this hairstyle and is great for a night on the town, very 'thrown up' for all intensive purposes even though it takes much work!
I've chosen not to use rats as I have a LOT of hair and have had a lot of practice with big hair and rolling it back because of the 40's hairstyles.
Thanks so much for the tutorial it was a huge help!

P.S. You are so pretty!

ZipZip said...

Dear J. Tyler,

I am glad that the tutorial helped. It was a great deal of fun to put together.

Very best,


Katrina said...

Hi! We are producing a show that takes place in 1909 and are using this wonderful tutorial to help the actors know how to do their own hair. I was wondering how long it took you to do?

ZipZip said...

Dear Katrina,

Glad the tutorial is of help! Golly, it didn't take too long to do at all. Perhaps five minutes total, after I had practiced once or twice. The key thing is making sure that you use enough pins that the rats hold in place. Doing one's own hair is always more time-consuming than having someone help you, so you might bear that in mind, too. If you use hair switches to pre-make the chignons in back, that can really help, as well, because then you do not have to assemble that part afresh each time.

Very best,


Talia Felix said...

How long is your hair? I was trying this with waist length hair and the instructions didn't make sense at all... For the side rats I had to just wind the hair around the rats and roll them upwards into place before pinning them.

ZipZip said...

Dear Min Self,
At the time of the tutorial, my hair was around shoulder length. The directions might not work too well for very long hair. I'm sorry you had trouble with them!
Very best,

Gina said...

Wonderful tutorial! I failed to photograph my steps while I make my own coiffures and now my hair is your tutorial will come in very handy for friends of mine who wish to have fabulous Edwardian hair! Your pictures and steps are so very wonderfully worded that ladies will have no problem creating great hair! Thank you!


ZipZip said...

Dear Gina,

Makes me happy to hear that the instructions are understandable. I'm all thumbs when it comes to hair, and oh, it was a struggle. Have learned to put pins in better, so that the hair stays longer.

You know, even with short hair you can create an Edwardian hairstyle, if you don't mind using quite a bit of false hair.

Very best,


Unknown said...

Hi Natalie. I have just read your blog about creating the Edwardian hairstyle and look forward to practicing it before a'Come as you were on the night the Titanic went down ' evening in February in Liverpool, England