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.
Ingrid Bergman DOES pull off 1880s in Gaslight, however! High, short curls on the forehead, and an on-the-crown arrangement are spot-on.
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?
Portrait of Princess Maria Carolina resembles Lady Edith Hexham. And thank you for this hair blog. My fave is The Heiress with Miss de Havilland.
“Pride and Prejudice” is supposed to be set near the end of the 1790s, not the 1810s or the 1830s. Only the 2005 Keira Knightly movie and “Death Comes to Pemberly” got it right. But I still love the Greer Gardiner movie.
Well, it was first drafted in the 1790s, and then published in the 1810s, so I think it’s valid to set it in either era.
Jane Austen used a late 1790s calendar to support her timeline. That makes the period of the book earlier than its publication date.
Nope. She reworked the novel extensively, changing it from a probably epistolary novel to a direct narrative. And she later wrote to Cassandra that at an exhibition she had seen a portrait of “Mrs Bingley” though not, to her disappointment, of “Mrs Darcy”. So she was clearly thinking of them as contemporaries.
There has been a lot of academic discussion about which almanac she may have used, with candidates from 1797, 1807 and 1811 in the lead. Here’s a detailed article: http://www.jimandellen.org/austen/p&p.calendar.html
The 2005 film got almost everything wrong, while I consider “Death Comes to Pemberley”, both the novel and the BBC adaptation, to be abominations. Both try to impose an 1820s/30s Romantic aesthetic where it really is not appropriate. Elizabeth on Stannage Edge is almost “Wuthering Heights” in its silliness.
I am so glad you mentioned how handsome Jean-Gabriel Eynard, Portrait of an unidentified man of the circle of Eynard-Lullin, c. 1847, Getty Center is. Though he has a devilish look that somehow makes me mistrust him. lol
M. Riffarth, Adolf Mosengel, c. 1880, Verein Kunst und Wissenschaft, Hamburg: If someone did a biopic about him about 15 years ago, Richard Schiff should have played him. Doppleganger!!!
Oh yeah, he’s a cad — he’d get you pregnant and then jilt you!
Agreed, Unidentified Man definitely belongs on My Daguerreotype Boyfriend, https://mydaguerreotypeboyfriend.tumblr.com/
It makes me so sad that they get 1920s hair wrong in the 1940s. WHY. I can understand a lot of the missteps to a point, but recent eras, no.
Especially when it can look so cute, like Clara! Or sleek like Louise!
Because styles from a recent decade are considered dated and unstylish. Not old enough to invoke nostalgia.
I haven’t seen The Heiress (1949) but from all my google digging it seems like a shockingly accurate film. There’s even a still of Olivia de Havilland in not only a corset but also A CORSET COVER?! and shockingly seems to always be wearing collars and cameos and appropriate jewelry and hair?! Definitely going on the must watch list.
I love Olivia de Havilland. This site directed me to The Heiress and I think I can safely say it’s my favorite performance of hers. She’s incredible in it.
Love this film, enough to have purchased it!
It’s something you don’t notice at the time. I bet the film makers thought they were being really authentic, and in the contemporary reviews, the critics will sometimes say that. The influence of fashion means there’s a normal look, and the creators are so used to it, that it slips into the movie. Fine eyebrows, the pillarbox lipstick look, the fringes…Or they will find a portrait that looks the nearest to the 1940s look.
Plus, the stars would have had their basic looks created for them by the likes of Adrian and Max Factor. They wouldn’t want to deviate too far from that, because the fans expected them to look a certain way.
Art is what defines a person and his thoughts and inspiration is the most important component of human’s soul. Recently, I was inspired by drawing on canvas. The other day I ordered a watercolor world map canvas from Texelprintstore.com for little inspiration… My evenings have become more comfortable and prolific. I hope everyone here will find inspiration for themselves.
I have this book called “Hollywod and History: Costume Design in Film” published in 1987 for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. I grew up with it on my parent’s bookshelf and it is 100% the reason I’m interested in costume movies and costumes in general.
Anyways, the book has this to say about why Pride and Prejudice is set in the 1830s:
“Pride and Prejudice (1940) is set in the first decade of the nineteenth century, but the costumes are actually in an 1830s style. The designer, Adrian, persuaded the director, Robert Leonard, to place the story out of it’s time frame for two reasons. He had just finished designing costumes for Conquest (1937), also set in the early nineteenth century, and wanted to design a wardrobe for a different period. He chose an 1830s style so the costumes could be more excessive and decorative than the style of the earlier period, the classic revival, best known for the long tubular Empire dress.”
I have seen a suggestion that wartime fabric rationing made the flouncier ( “more excessive and decorative”) frocks more attractive to audiences. Or so the filmmakers thought…
(Once again, Kendra, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this sort of deep-dive; the images take my mind off the so-called administration in D.C., climate change, and other depressing things.)
“An Old-Fashioned Girl” is a (very) loose adaptation of an Alcott novel, but I cannot agree with the Jean Simmons comparison. I love Simmons, and she was a great beauty as well. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0130153/
(Now I feel bad for dissing Gloria Jean and Elinor Donahue, who were pretty young things, as opposed to great beauties, but who would have looked cooler without the good-girl hair and make-up.)
The woman in the Madame Bovary photo looks like Jennifer Jones in the Plunkett-costumed Hollywood version.
I just realized how much we need a WCW for Irene Dunne. She did a lot of period flicks, and I particularly worship her costumes in Life With Father.
These hair styles are much closer to realistic than today’s where women’s hair is down or falling down – less bound than they would wear to bed.
Off topic but I’m really curious about the hair of blonde Princess Maria Carolina Augusta of the Two Sicilies from the painting. (1840s films.) How would it be styled that so huge parallel curls fall to the front of the face? It looks difficult to achieve.