The Vanity Fair effect: 11 typical Victorian hairstyles

Get to know these popular Victorian hairstyles.

We’ve all been hooked by ITV’s much-talked about period drama Vanity Fair and it’s got us thinking about how amazing the Victorian hairstyles worn by 19th century women really were.

Got a Halloween or period costume party coming up and need some inspiration? Or maybe you’re like us and just love exploring the history of fashion and beauty. Either way, here’s 11 typically Victorian hairstyles which perfectly sum up the hair trends of the time. Who knows, maybe you’ll even be convinced to give one a try!

 

Victorian hairstyles: Still from ITV's Vanity Fair of actress Olivia Cooke as Becky Sharp with her hair in a pinned updo with a flower accessory, wearing Victorian period dress and holding a bouquet
Costume drama Vanity Fair is shining light on these Victorian hairstyles again. Credit: ITV

1. Elaborate updos

Watch any costume drama and you’ll soon see that Victorian hairstyles were the height of elegance. While today many of us have a more casual approach to our hair, Victorian women took real pride and care with both their clothes and their hair, so classy, glamorous updos were extremely common.

Victorian hairstyles: Photo of Emily Blunt in The Young Victoria with a middle parting and purple floral hair accessories
Middle partings were the look of the day. Credit: GK Films via Sky Editorial Asset Centre

2. Middle partings

Thanks to fashion icon of the day Queen Victoria, who herself wore her hair parted down the centre, the middle parting featured in many Victorian hairstyles.

While this was quite a simple look on it own, it was often accompanied by additional hairpieces and flowers (as seen here) for extra sophistication.

Victorian hairstyles: Close-up of Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre with light strawberry blonde hair in period dress with braided buns and a simple middle parting
Braids were used in all sorts of way to add detail to even simple styles. Credit: The British Broadcasting Corporation via Sky Editorial Asset Centre

3. Braided buns

Women wouldn’t often wear their hair down during the Victorian times, so updos – and in particular, braids – were a popular go-to style for every day.

Simple braided buns like these were a neat and pretty way to style hair, and didn’t involve any heat or curling (which was a good thing, as this would have been a lengthy task back in the day!).

Editor’s tip: Tempted to try and recreate a Victorian braided style? The TONI&GUY Flexible Hold Braid Balm will help you add structure and texture to the hair beforehand, making braiding easier and giving your hair extra staying power, too.

Victorian hairstyles: Photo from the BBC adaptation of Jane Eyre of a brunette woman in period dress with her hair in an elaborate braided updo
Can you imagine doing such intricate hair every day? Credit: The British Broadcasting Corporation via Sky Editorial Asset Centre

4. Showy braids

However, braids weren’t just for casual days though. Braids were an essential part of any formal hairstyle and the more intricate and different types of braids you had, the better.

Their secret? Clip-ins! Extensions are nothing new, in fact many Victorian hairstyles were created using clip-in braids made of faux hair, which made achieving these difficult looks that bit easier.

Victorian hairstyles: Close-up of Felicity Jones in Hysteria dressed in Victorian period dress with curly dark hair in an updo with a feathered hat
Hat hair never looked so put together. Credit: Sky Editorial Asset Centre

5. Bonnet hairstyles

Hats were a common fashion accessory for Victorian women, so they were pros at working their hairstyles around their headwear – there was no hat hair here.

Low chignon buns were worn to accommodate their bonnets, while the hair that peeked out around the face was curled and pinned for a polished look.

Next read: Perfect the chignon at home with our step-by-step how-to.

Victorian hairstyles: Photo of a brunette actress in Jane Eyre with curly ringlets
How curly is too curly? Credit: The British Broadcasting Corporation via Sky Editorial Asset Centre

6. Barley curls

We’re spoilt for choice now with curling tongs, wands and heated rollers, but the introduction of the first hot irons totally transformed the way Victorian women wore their hair.

Ringlet-like ‘barley curls’ (you might also see them called hanging curls or drop curls) were super on trend for the time, allowing women to play with and change the texture of their hair in new ways.

Victorian hairstyles: Close-up of Mia Wasikowska in Crimson Peak with blonde pin curled updo hair
Hair pins helped to create the illusion of faux curls. Credit: Universal Pictures via Sky Editorial Asset Centre

7. Pinned updos

The Victorians were crazy about curls and they were quite resourceful about how they got them! Pin curl updos were great as they allowed women to twist and pin their hair into waves and curls, allowing them to enhance their updos without actually having to curl it.

Editor’s tip: If you’re interested in recreating any of these classic Victorian hairstyles for either Halloween or fancy dress, hairspray is a must. The VO5 Ultimate Hold Hairspray will keep your look in place all day and protect your strands from humidity.

Victorian hairstyles: Close-up from Far From The Madding Crowd of Juno Temple with long wavy blonde hair and a flower crown
Forget bobs, long flowing hair was the norm at this time. Credit: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation via Sky Editorial Asset Centre

8. Long, flowing hair

Haircuts and short hair weren’t really a popular trend for Victorian women, so naturally everyone had long hair.

As we’ve mentioned, women didn’t often wear their hair loose or down, however younger women would sometimes wear their hair in waves, styled into a half-up half-down way with flowers, like this romantic flower crown.

Victorian hairstyles: Reese Witherspoon in Vanity Fair with a Victorian inspired braided updo with black and red feathers
Buns, braids and feathers, oh my! Credit: Universal Pictures via Sky Editorial Asset Centre

9. Over-the-top accessories

As well as the flowers and clip-in hair we’ve already mentioned, there was a huge love for all kinds of hair accessories during the Victorian era.

There was definitely a more is more approach to accessorising, with pearls, combs, feathers and headbands also among the most popular choices.

Victorian hairstyles: Film shot from The Young Victoria of a young Queen Victoria wearing a braided updo with yellow flowers and curly ringlets, wearing a yellow dress
Beachy wave weren’t a thing yet and ringlets reigned supreme! Credit: GK Films via Sky Editorial Asset Centre

10. Curly sides

While fringes didn’t exist yet, women liked to curl the front sides of their hair which gave a similar look. Their hair was sectioned off and parted in front of their ears, then hot irons and rags were used to add in statement ringlets.

Victorian hairstyles: Close-up from the tv show Penny Dreadful of a brunette wearing a Gibson girl style updo hairtstyle
Gibson girl hair was loose and effortless. Credit: Showtime Networks via Sky Editorial Asset Centre

11. Gibson girl hair

Typically we think of Gibson hair as being Edwardian but it first came into fashion in the late Victorian era. Very different to the more traditional Victorian hairstyles, Gibson girl hair was looser, more natural and less maintenance – so no wonder it was such an instant hit.