Frivolity,  Research

I’m sorry. I’m having a bad hair decade.

So, I’m between projects at the moment, finishing up my blog tour for Freedom to Love and planning for my big Waterloo bicentennial trip to Europe this summer. I decided it might be a good idea to put a free short story or two up on my website in the meantime, and I’m planning to start by pairing off my characters’ next generation–Charles Farlow, son of Henry and Therese from Freedom to Love, with Lucy Atkins, daughter of Will and Anna from The Sergeant’s Lady.

Pairing Charles and Lucy will require me to venture into unfamiliar territory: the 1840’s. So in the next month or two I’ll be giving myself a crash course on early Victorian Britain–all the important political, technological, scientific, and cultural trends that will make their world different from the one their parents knew as young Regency lovers. But the very first thing I looked up was the fashions. I’ve already decided that Lucy is going to have her father’s chestnut-red hair with her mother’s Scottish looks. If I was the kind of author whose books became movies, I’d want her to be played by someone like Karen Gillan:

Karen Gillan

To complete my mental picture, I needed to know what sort of dress she’d wear to a ball, and how she’d arrange her hair. I hurried off to Wikipedia to check out 1840s in Western Fashion. The dresses are quite pretty, though I don’t like them as much as Regency or Edwardian fashion. At least the exaggerated puffed sleeves of the 1830’s were gone, and skirts hadn’t reached the crinolined extremes of the 1850’s or 60’s.

But then I saw the hair.

Spaniel Curls

“Spaniel curls” were all the rage.

Spaniel Curls 2

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like an unfortunate look.

Spaniel Curls 3

On the other hand, authors who live in glass houses should be careful how they throw stones. Here’s me as a teen with 80’s hair:

80's hair

I used to hate my naturally straight hair and envy the girls who could effortlessly achieve the desired Big Hair SO MUCH. And my teenaged self would be boggled to learn that in 2015 I wouldn’t even own a bottle of hair spray.

So, how do you feel about 1840’s fashion? Are spaniel curls due for a comeback?

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Elena Greene
7 years ago

I am totally with you on the clothes, but especially the hair. What were they thinking??!!

Which also goes for the 80’s, the decade in which I got married. Every time I look at a pic I am reminded of how big my hair was.

Susanna Fraser
7 years ago
Reply to  Elena Greene

The 80’s were such an interesting fashion decade all round, looking back. I distinctly remember that as a teenager I thought how very much more attractive we looked than those 70’s people with their straight hair and weird clothes!

Diane Gaston
7 years ago

I think you look cute as a button, Susanna!

I don’t think I could write in the Victorian period just because of the fashion. The spaniel curls are ridiculous but that is nothing to compare with how the men looked!

Susanna Fraser
7 years ago
Reply to  Diane Gaston

Well…at least the men’s hats aren’t too bad…

Barbara Monajem
7 years ago

I love Karen Gillan! I picked her for the heroine of my story, The Christmas Knot. (I don’t usually pick stars for my characters, but it for was for a blog, so I did it as an exercise, and I couldn’t resist having Karen.) She’s a wonderful actress.

Gack! Those spaniel curls are awful. I wonder whether Karen would refuse a role that required her to have that hairdo, or embrace it because she has a great sense of humor…

Susanna Fraser
7 years ago

Karen could probably come closer to pulling off the look than most of us could!

I guess I can just describe the heroine as having “shining auburn curls framing her face” or whatever, and most readers will picture something far more attractive than the 1840’s reality.

Beth Elliott
7 years ago

80s hair… big and bouncy, yes. But as a very small girl I read anything anybody had on their shelves and devoured a series about a Victorian girl called Lucy, who had ringlets!! I wanted them too. My grandmother knew how to do them with a bowl of water and rags. I was so happy, racing around, shaking my ringlets. They felt wonderful. So go ahead, I’m sure your heroine and her sisters / friends / rivals will love their Spanish curls.

Susanna Fraser
7 years ago
Reply to  Beth Elliott

I had “book hair” too as a little girl, only mine was long braids so I could look like Laura Ingalls!

Anne Westcarr
Anne Westcarr
7 years ago

Ahaha there’s something a bit poodle like about the 1840s hair. And then they just make it worse by adding accessories. I guess they thought their hair needed even more attention.

Sandra Schwab
7 years ago

LOL! I kind of … keep silent about fashion in my 1840s novellas. (Or at least, I’m very, very vague.) 😉

When I was 15 or 16, I thought that a perm would be a good idea. Unfortunately, the hairdresser who did said perm wasn’t very good, & I ended up looking like a poodle (which I didn’t fully realize until I came home because I’d been too vain to wear glasses & thought that putting in contact lens would be not such a good idea in case I got shampoo etc into my eyes). So I stood in front of our bathroom mirror and cried (while my Mum was nearly falling over because she was laughing so hard).

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