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Bangs. I rant about them frequently when I see them on adult women in historical movies and TV shows. Why? BECAUSE THEY ARE SUPER FRICKING MODERN. In MOST historical eras — not all! — adult women had long hair which was worn up in various styles, without bangs. There are very few historical eras in which bangs ARE appropriate, so seeing them on Anne Boleyn or a Jane Austen heroine is just modern and jarring.
Now, I can’t believe I have to say this, but apparently I do: there are always exceptions. I’m mostly talking about adult women in Western European/American fashion. I’m sure you can find that one portrait of that one chick who randomly has bangs in 1542, but I’m talking about the general sweep of fashion across countries and eras, here, not what was worn in that one tiny town in Bulgaria on Weds. June 14th 1823.
With that being said…
Wisps vs. Bangs
Yes, these is a different. “Wisps” is what I call the short hair around the face that can happen when either your hair breaks (which happens naturally on some people when they repeatedly pull their hair up/away from the face), or when you cut those bits shorter for fashion. Usually we’re talking just 1/4″ or less of hair thickness, here. There are eras in which these occasionally pop up or are even fashionable:
In the very late 16th century, there are a VERY FEW images showing some teeny tiny curls around the face, like this: Portrait of Elizabeth I of England by an unknown artist, c. 1580, Westminster School
Or this: Follower of George Gower, Portrait of a Lady in white, dated 1595-1600, Fitzwilliam Museum
However, this is not a giant shock of hair cut straight across the eyebrows, people. LOOK MORE CLOSELY, THESE ARE WISPS. Unfortunately, one technique for making a wig look natural is to hide the hairline, which some movies/TV shows do by adding little wispy curls around the face. Does it make the wig look less cheesy? Sure. Is it at ALL the prevailing aesthetic of the period? No. BUY A FUCKING LACE WIG PEOPLE, or work the actor’s hair into the wig. It’s not rocket science.
Because 99% of 16th century images show either long hair pulled back or up, or hair totally covered by headdress. For example, this 1547 portrait of Elizabeth I when she was princess, attributed to William Scrots.
Other eras in which wisps show up:
From about the 1620s through the 1660s:
Attributed to Henri Beaubrun, Katherine or Catherine Mannners, Baroness de Ros and Duchess of Buckingham, as a widow, wearing a portrait miniature of her murdered husband George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, c. 1628-1632
Anthony van Dyck, Mary Villiers, Lady Herbert of Shurland, c. 1636, Timken Museum of Art
Justus Sustermans, Portrait of Vittoria della Rovere, grand duchess of Tuscany, between 1640 and 1645, Villa medicea di Poggio a Caiano
Circle of Justus Sustermans, Portrait of Archduchess Anna de’ Medici (1616-1676), between 1652 and 1653, National Museum in Warsaw
Portrait of a lady with pearls, 1660s, National Museum in Warsaw
From the 1690s through the 1710s, you get these two little spit curls on either side of the forehead:
Attributed to Alexis Simon Belle, Princess Louisa Maria Theresa Stuart, c. 1702-06, National Portrait Gallery
These start to get a bit more substantial in the 1720s-30s:
After Martin van Meytens, Portrait of Maria Clementyna Sobieska, 1727-28, Scottish National Gallery
Charles-Antoine Coypel, Portrait of the Marquise of Lamure, c. 1732-1735, Worcester Art Museum
And in the 1860s:
Ernst Moser, Portrait of Philippine von Edelsberg, 1860, Dorotheum
Berthe Morisot, The Sisters, 1869, National Gallery of Art
Eras in Which Bangs Are Appropriate
Okay, there are a few!
The majority are wearing wisps from the 1620s-60s, but you do occasionally get more substantial short hair across the forehead (hello early Bettie Page bangs!):
Anthony van Dyck, Portrait de Marguerite de Lorraine detail, 1st third of 17th century, Uffizi Gallery
Frans Luycx, Miniature of Cecilia Renata of Austria, Queen of Poland, c. 1640, Victoria and Albert Museum
Here they are longer and parted in the middle. Sébastien Bourdon, Queen Christina (1626-1689), 17th century, Nationalmuseum
In the 1670s-80s, you get this style where there is a decent chunk of hair that is shorter around the face. Note that it is center parted, curled, and pushed to each side. Jacob Ferdinand Voet, Hortense Mancini, circa 1676-1680, Sforza Castle Pinacoteca
In the 1780s-90s, you start to get some short, tousled curls that are pushed forward a bit onto the face:
Józef Łęski, Portrait of Zofia Potocka, 1790s, Sotheby’s
And in the 1790s, you get some more substantial, specifically cut-shorter-across-the-forehead bangs:
Possibly by William Lovett, Portrait of Mrs. Nathaniel West (Elizabeth Crowinshield Derby), c. 1790-1800, Museum of Fine Arts
Jens Juel, Portrait of Thomasine Gyllembourg, c. 1790, The Museum of National History
The bang-y tradition continues into the 1800s and 1810s, although note these are usually curled and either center parted/pushed to the sides, or pushed to one side:
François-Xavier Fabre, Portrait de Geneviève Aimée Victoire Bertin, 1802, Fabre museum
Elżbieta Skotnicka z Laskiewiczów, 1805-10, Altekunst Vienna
Portrait of Countess Panina, c. 1815-20, Christie’s
The 1820s takes the side-of-face-shorter-curl and goes to CrazyTown:
Anthelme-François Lagrenée, Portrait of Ekaterina Aleksandrovna Kologrivova, née Chelishcheva (1778-1857), 1820s, Christie’s
From the very late 1860s through the 1870s, you get short and curled, or super-short and straight, bangs:
Władysław Gepner, Portrait of Eliza Orzeszkowa, 1868, National Museum in Warsaw
Josef Kriehuber, Bildnis einer jungen Frau mit rotem Halsband und Medaillon, 1873, Dorotheum
Leopold Horovitz, Aniela z Potockich Zamoyska, 1877
In the 1880s-90s, you get a more substantial, right-above-the-eyebrows (straight or curled) bang:
Paul César Helleu, Portrait d’Alice Louis-Guérin, c. 1884-5, Musée Bonnat-Helleu
Édouard Manet, Madame Michel-Lévy, 1882, National Gallery of Art
Friedrich August von Kaulbach, Portrait of Gretel Lahmeyer, 1894, Ketterer Kunst
But you also see some of the shorter curls:
Alexandre Cabanel, Olivia Peyton Murray Cutting, wife of William Bayard Cutting, 1887, Museum of the City of New York
WHICH IS WHY IT ANNOYS US WHEN YOU DO THIS:
Anne Boleyn would have no reason to have her hair cut in layers, given that she wanted her hair to do THIS. Can you imagine how annoying it would be to constantly be tucking and repinning those layers? (The Tudors, 2007-10)
How about we lop off about 97% of Rebecca de Mornay’s bangs in The Three Musketeers (1993)?
Casanova (2005) kept trying to hide Lena Olin’s wigline (left) and hairline (right) with something between wisps and bangs. Problem is, DIDN’T HAPPEN IN THE MID-18TH CENTURY.
I don’t care what year in Catherine the Great‘s (1729-1796) life this is supposed to be, trust me, SHE DID NOT WANT WHATEVER THE FUCK IS GOING ON HERE (Catherine of Russia, 1963).
Okay, link me to your one source from 1765 that shows a Western European adult woman with Bettie Page bangs. I dare you.
I have absolutely no sources that support non-historical bangs. What I do have is footage of myself in various stages of bang-dom HATING it and trying to hide it: Headbands, bobby pins, braiding, whatever I can manage. They always seem like a good idea until the second they start falling into eyes and giving zits for days. So, basically I don’t get why anyone would do it from an aesthetic purpose, except to make someone look derpy… I mean “young.”
They’re like the hair version of a bonnet. Done well, and in the right period, they can be cute. Everywhere else… DERP.
Ugh, I meant to rant about that – how hard it is to put bangs up, so why would anyone cut bangs in their hair (for those “my hair is down” scenes) if you were only going to put it up when you styled it?
I suspect that a lot of it is temperamental actresses who don’t want to mess up their modern hair and/or having a period hairstyle that takes time to grow out. Same deal with male actors who refuse to get a proper military haircut when playing military roles.
Yeesh. Ekaterina Aleksandrovna, just because a hair style is in doesn’t mean it’s the right one for you.
As someone who didn’t have bangs even when it WAS in (I basically trim my hair when I have to, that’s it and it’s astonishing how I still sometimes don’t have enough for period-appropriate styles, especially ca. 1900), how is that picture of Rebecca de Mornay STILL giving me high-school flashbacks? That couldn’t get more nineties if it tried.
This is kind of a ponder more than anything else, but I do wonder if improvements in metal technology and in the manufacture of scissors had much to do with women cutting their hair. I mean, scissors have to be sharp and resilient to cut human hair and I am wondering about precision technology.
Anyway, enough rambling about scissors :)
I’m going to say that bangs on some of the actresses has a lot to do with something my hairstylist said to me when I approached 40. “Bangs or Botox?” Bangs hide some of those forehead lines and take a few years off. (Obviously I chose the former.)
Totally! Bangs are a middle-aged face lift.
Ugh, no. As a certified Woman of a Certain Age, I find bangs to look not “youthful” but “juvenile” on anyone over 12. Embrace the lines life gave you! Subvert the dominant beauty paradigm!
Got the bangs in my 40s because one forehead line was…not nice. Once I had enuf wrinkles, I grew my hair out. Then….the passport photo from hell. It turns out, the bangs make the face look a little rounder. I have bangs again.
Yup. My bangs are face-shape-related. I have a long, narrow face and unflatteringly high forehead. And one particular scar on my forehead I prefer not to advertise. So bangs help a lot with both of these. The rest of my hair is also only ever chin length so it really doesn’t look juvenile, more mid-century modern.
Since hair cutting was used as a medical treatment for most of history, to be seen with shorn hair was a mark of illness or shame. It was a scandal that Marie Antoinette’s hair dresser had cut her hair to hide the fact she had very thin hair. It was one of the many things used against her during the revolution.
Thank you for the research and the pictures–about 90% of which were brand-new to me! Philippine von Edelsberg took my breath away. How come my hair never does that?
And one of my history professors mentioned how after the French Revolution alot of women took to wearing shortish hair with bangs or hair cut in layers (sort of) with bangs bc when some women were being prepared for the guillotine, they chopped off their hair.
Yes, that’s the era of the “crop” – many men adopted it, and a few VERY fashion-forward women.
You’ve likely never heard of “Fame and Fashion” (a 1960s fashion history film using real genuine antique clothing from the Paulise de Bush collection on live models) but I used to know Atherton Harrison (may she RIP), the curator/art director, whose husband Harvey was the producer, and she said that they used liquid soap to make the models’ super-fashionable 1960s bangs stay in appropriately centre parted/off the face styles…..
And trust me, nobody was going to say no to Atherton with liquid soap in hand. The only person who got away with defying her was a young Vivien Leigh in (I think) 1937 who revelled against the beautiful and flattering orange gown Atherton had picked out for her to play Anne Boleyn, and instead wore a rented, stiff, unflattering cream furnishing velvet gown for the production of Henry VIII…
I was curious about bangs in mid-to-late 19th century America because I sketchily remembered Laura Ingalls Wilder writing a long, descriptive passage where she made a big deal about cutting her own.
Upon refreshing my memory I found a) she didn’t cut hers until 1882 at the age of 15, and b) what she describes as bangs are actually 2″ wisps she curls with an improvised heated slate pencil. She wouldn’t have full true bangs until 10 years later.
I do find it interesting she was only the second girl in town to attempt bangs of any kind, and both her parents poked fun at her for wanting that “lunatic fringe.” It just goes to show how truly uncommon bangs were in rural America, even by the 1880s, and how it was viewed by older adults as a dumb teenage fad.
So all that is simply to confirm yes, there is no heckin’ way that a mature Civil War era woman would ever have had full 1890s bangs, let alone floofy 1980s bangs. No way. No how.
I remember that scene from the books! She’s really just trimming the wispy breakage around her hairline. Nothing like 20th century bangs — didn’t those start around the time of bobbed hair?
She does mention that Mary Powell, her friend and inspiration, has thick bangs though, but she’s clear that she’s not going to go that far.
Never say never! This gal from 1862 wore bangs! https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1057991344213791&set=a.1057991160880476&type=3&theater
How do we feel about Hattie Morahan’s bangs in 08 Sense & Sensibility? Since I saw some in there from 1800 or so I give it a pass, also because Hattie looks so good with them. She’s just beautiful in general and (unrelated) I loved the darker tones they put her in. Not really Georgian, but really refreshing compared to the usual snow white color pallet Austen heroines usually get.
I do wonder if the elderly Elizabeth I’s wisps were precisely because she was wearing a wig and her hairdresser needed to disguise the edge? And if Queenie had wisps, you can bet that all the ladies at her court would have to have them as well.