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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.