There are lots of movies that aim for a historical aesthetic when it comes to hairstyles and others where it’s a mishmash. But it seems to me that when historical costume movie/TV series hairstyles vary from what WOULD be historically accurate, it’s due to current-to-filming perceptions about hair. So, working decade-by-decade, let’s look at some of these not-so-accurate films/TV series and compare the hair to what’s going on at the time of filming, and see if I’m right! See my posts about the 1910s, 1920s, and 1930s in two parts to find out about historical hairstyles in the movie industry’s earlier decades.
Aaaand, see my previous part 1 post about the 1940s, which has information about 1940s contemporary hairstyles as well as movies up through the 1820s. Now, onwards!
Historical Movie Hairstyles of the 1940s
1830s Films of the 1940s
I think we all have many feelings about the 1940s Pride and Prejudice, which is randomly set in the 1830s instead of the 1810s as it should be. I’m mostly happy with the fact that everyone is in updos, although Greer Garson as Elizabeth’s hair is styled to be suspiciously shoulder-length. Clearly it’s leading lady hair, because hers is the MOST 1940s. At first I was thinking the sisters had shorter, more curled ‘dos because they were younger, but even Jane and Mrs. Bennet have them too. Only Mrs. Bennet has an on-top-of-the-head arrangement that was fashionable in this era (see the top-right comparison image), but the short side bunches of curls were one period option.
Okay, so it’s kind of cheating because it seems like the French tend to do these things better than Americans, but let’s be inclusive! I feel like this guy’s spit curls are a bit arch, but maybe it suits the character, and his high forehead style echoes 1830s looks.
Rita Hayworth is 100% 1940s with those high, curled bangs and pulled-back sides. Yes, Spaniards were big fans of crazy big peineta combs, but even when wearing “traditional” dress, their hair wasn’t 1940s-riffic.
1840s Films of the 1940s
And now we enter the era of “Victorian must mean sausage curls, right?” Chad Hanna‘s actress just has everything flipped. The front hair should be downward styled, into long, fat curls, and the back up; instead she’s got the front up and rolled in a Victory-ish roll, and the back down and curled.
It’s so hard to say much about men’s “period” hair in a situation like this — sure, there were probably men who cropped their hair close and called it good. But there were also a whole lot of longer, shaggier looks like the baron on the right … and let’s get some facial hair going, please??
Meanwhile, these two gents from The Corsican Brothers aren’t half bad. Left-hand guy has the curled, brushed forward look, and right-hand guy is a bit too marcel wave-y but otherwise decent (and I may now be in love with the “unidentified man in the circle of Eynard-Lullin,” because, grrrrr).
Our leading lady in The Corsican Brothers has a similar-to-Chad Hanna flipped approach — front hair is up and back, back hair is long and curled, when in the period it’s the reverse.
I find it interesting that the 1943 Jane Eyre actually included the below-the-ear bumps that you do see in this era, although they end up with more of a long-bob look than the back-updo seen on Queen Victoria. WTF is up with Blanche’s hair, though, I have NO idea.
And because a Snark Week flashback is always fun!
I can’t hate Orson Wells’ hair! Yeah, it works for 1940s, but it’s tousled curl also works for 1840s.
Olivia de Havilland‘s hair in Devotion, in which she plays Charlotte Brontë, is making an attempt with that non-bonneted do. But the bonneted look just is nothing like anything the real Charlotte wore.
Dragonwyck made ZERO effort, so I decided to compare it to a very popular 1840s style that very few films like to do.
Jassy went for the front-up, back-sausage-curled look so typical of “Victorian” looks from the 1940s, so I thought I’d highlight how NO ONE likes to do the center part, smooth over the ears look that was so popular in the 1840s.
1850s Films of the 1940s
Alright, so these images from Abe Lincoln — set in the 1850s, before he became president — are tiny, but I always like comparing historical figures with their real selves. It’s hard to have TOO much to say about Abe’s hair…
I don’t hate Mary Todd Lincoln’s hair! It’s center-parted and up, and it looks like she’s got braids that loop forward over her ears and then back on the crown of her head. Unfortunately the only younger image I could find of the real Mary is from the previous decade, but it does show that she certainly followed fashion.
Santa Fe Trail just has things so, so wrong I don’t know where to start.
Heyyy, there, House of the Seven Gables! Yes! Tousled, long curls! Long sideburns! Side part! Yay!
Okay, can someone confirm Wikipedia’s entry, which states that The Foxes of Harrow is set in “pre-Civil War New Orleans”? Because if that hair is supposed to be 1780s, I can live with it. But it ain’t 1850s, no way, no how.
This French production of Madame Bovary does alright by the guy…
But Madame seems to have forgotten that 1. no married woman would ever, ever wear her hair down, and 2. There’s no reason her hair would be shoulder-length and layered, because have you ever tried making a low chignon from layered shoulder-length hair? Nope.
Now, The Heiress gets about 100 gold stars because hot damn! Somebody did their research! YES, some 1850s styles DID do these crazy big over-the-ear bumps! AND they got the center part, and the hair going down over the ears! Holy crap!
1860s Films of the 1940s
Alright, so one can find occasional images like the Hungarian lady on the left, whose hair appears to be shoulder-length and curly, but I’ll bet there’s some arrangement happening in the back that isn’t apparent because of the curls. Dolores del Rio is lovely, but her short, layered ‘do is just …. NO.
I’m quite happy with the side part, slight wave, and sideburns on this guy from Dakota! I kind of question the mustache-only, but whatever.
I feel like Errol Flynn is being Errol Flynn here, but luckily side parts and slicked-back hair works for 1850s. Not too sure about the pencil mustache…
And, okay, despite the short curled fringe, which seems a bit more 1940s than 1850s, I’m down with Olivia de Havilland’s wide rolls around a big, low braided loop.
First of all, yellowface is never a good look. Secondly, I don’t know what is King Mongkut-y about Rex Harrison in Anna and the King of Siam. Add about 30 years, Rex.
This image of the real Anna Leonowens (bottom right) is supposedly c. 1862, but it feels much more 1870s to me. Comparing the film to real 1860s styles, Irene Dunne’s hair’s height on top is definitely questionable, and while the updo length, low on the neck, checks out, it’s looking pretty pageboy on the left. They’re skating by on a technicality, here.
Not half bad, Electra!
WHOA WAIT WHAT HAPPENED. Apparently Betty Grable wanted to stay Betty Grable, instead of actually looking like a countess from a made-up southeastern European country in 1861. Yeah, long ringlets were starting to come into fashion, but that pouf on top of the head, and the verticality of the ringlets are allll 1940s, all the time.
The worst offender in 1949’s Little Women is Liz Taylor with those short, rolled bangs. I’m giving Janet Leigh as Meg a pass here, although really, Meg was allll about being the eldest and so would have had her hair in some kind of chignon.
June Allyson as Jo is acceptable, minus the Bettie bangs. Which, nope.
1870s Films of the 1940s
Apparently the 1870s wasn’t a terribly fashionable period for films in the 1940s! Linda Darnell’s (center) long ringlets actually check out, although they should be a bit more ringlet-y than tousled. (God I love crazy 1870s hairstyles).
I have no idea what’s going on with An Old-Fashioned Girl, on the other hand. The chick on the left just looks like Jean Simmons c. 1958.
1880s Films of the 1940s
The first Gaslight, from 1940, is in luck, because bangs WERE fashionable in the 1880s, as were high-on-the-crown hairstyles!
Mae West, on the other hand, is basically serving Mae West, although yes, up in front, long curls in back was technically fashionable in the 1880s.
Both Ingrid Bergman and Lana Turner’s hair owes much, much more to the 1940s than the 1880s. It could pass for 1890s, if I squinted.
Spencer Tracy gets off easy, because this another tousled, waved, oiled era for men.
I’m letting you slide, Nevada, although I know you didn’t look at one single source from the 1880s when you came up with that ‘do. You’re just lucky.
Merle Oberon‘s hair needs less width on top, and more up in back.
This image from My Darling Clementine always kills me, because it’s SO 1940s. “Let’s curl her hair and make some rolls, kids!”
I feel like Janet Leigh’s hair is at least making an effort, while Greer Garson’s just came from the Copacabana.
The real Mary Vetsera followed fashions of the time, and did not 1. wear her hair down or 2. have Bettie bangs (short, curled, tousled bangs, yes).
1890s Films of the 1940
Alright kids I’m out of steam! Apologies as commentary gets more cryptic.
The rolled-ness looks more 1940s, but you got lucky.
I’m tired, so, good enough.
OH GOD NO with the giant, rolled under bangs, Paulette Goddard!
1900s Films of the 1940s
I expected to dislike this more than I did, but when I zoomed and compared, I thought, “ok!”
They in no way thought “let’s give Clark Gable a period do!” here.
Alright, a serious effort was made with Bette Davis‘s hair! They just didn’t quite stick the landing.
Hedy Lamarr’s hairstylist gave NO fucks.
Just needed to point out that even young girls of the 1900s did not have high, curled bangs. Sorry Judy Garland!
Letting it slide because it’s pretty!
How does she hold her head up??
1910s Films of the 1940s
Interesting! Needs less crown, more nape of the neck, but interesting.
THOSE BANGS. Almost, but NO.
1920s Films of the 1940s
And just because I find it fascinating to see an era within recent memory…!
What’s your favorite 1940s does period look?