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Mysterious - Noir

The Victorian Obsession with Hair, Result: Mourning Jewelry

The Victorians seem, looking back, rather obsessed with hair. Not in the "I must eliminate every scrap of it from my body" modern way. (Or Ancient Egyptian come to think on it. Did you know they coated themselves with olive oil and shaved the entire body with a flat razor? I'm waiting for some high-end salon to reinvent this method, but I digress.) No, the Victorians went in for an almost perverse "I must collect and keep all hair" approach.

Perhaps this had something to do with coming out of the Regency period, one of the first times in history when a few of the more daring Western women actually cut their hair short for fashion (rather than to wear a wig).

Regardless of the reason why, Victorians became enamored of long hair on women; it could increase a dowry, was a marker of female virtue, and sign of femininity. "There was one among them, the appearance of a lady dressed in black, who was leaning in the embrasure of a window, and she had a light shining upon her golden hair..." ~ Dickens
They collected hair in special little jars. These jars are what archaeologists would call a diagnostic artifact. They exist almost exclusively in England, some parts of Europe, and America, and only for a narrow window of time. If you were to encounter one of these little pots, Gentle Reader, it would indicate the Victorian era as surely as an iPod might indicate the present day.
As a maid bushed out her lady's hair, she collected the long strands in one of these containers. Once full, the hair was sent away to a hair designer who formed it into a fall, extra stuffing for a bun, or some other useful attachment for an elaborate updo.


But it was Victorian human hair jewelry or mourning jewelry that really marked this era as obsessed. Some people are revolted by the very idea of hair work, but I think the results are quite remarkable.
Generally, hair jewelry was made from the hair of a deceased loved one. Often the metal catch or backing would be engraved with the person's name and "In Memorium". But not always. Like giving a lover a lock of hair, sometimes hair jewelry was made as a gift. Queen Victoria reportedly presented Empress Eugene with a bracelet of her own hair. Americans also embraced the concept, particularly during the Civil War, when soldiers (who often had long hair) would leave a lock with loved ones to be made into jewelry when they died.

As with all things, hair jewelry eventually became quite Fashionable, possibly tied to Queen Victoria's impossibly morbid streak (the one that characterized her personality after Albert's death). It died out (pardon the pun) just after she did. At its height of popularity, Godey's offered to make jewelry for interested young ladies.

I'm convinced there is a way to tie hair jewelry into my alternate Victorian London. Perhaps it might be connected to tethering ghosts and exorcism, or preternatural contact abilities. Werewolves are very hairy. Must contemplate further.



Gail's Daily Dose
Your Infusion of Cute:
New costume porn movie on the horizon specializing in very large hats. Cheri featuring Michelle Pfeiffer as an aging French courtesan.

Your Tisane of Smart:
Adorable retro print red clutch, or mini computer? Why can't I have both!
HP, in an unexpected stroke of brilliance hooked up with Vivienne Tam to produce this adorable little thing for a cool $700. Next, how about mini computers with changeable exteriors to match any outfit?
Your Writerly Tinctures:
I Vant to Suck Your Blood: The Rise – and Rise – of Vampire Fiction

CAKE in Space: Finished Draft 2, with agent.
Soulless: Thanks to Jessica Strider for the lovely complement. "Gail Carriger was promoting her debut steam punk novel, Soulless with tea and cookies. This is a novel you'll be hearing more about. I'm only a quarter way through it but it's already one of the best books I've read this year."
Steampunk short: Looks like it's heading to the Orbit manga department...
Changeless: Gone poof. Starting to gather corrections.
Blameless:

Quote of the Day:
"After a good deal more banging and barking, the door cautiously opened a crack to reveal a mercurial little man in a nightshirt and cap with a half-frightened half-sleepy expression, and a dirty feather duster on four legs bouncing about feverishly. The man had, much to Alexia's surprise, given her recent experience with French men, no moustache. The feather duster, or rather dog, did. Perhaps in Nice moustaches were more common on canines.
~ Excerpt for Book III

Comments

In re: greasing oneself up and removing as much body hair as possible ala ancient Egypt, in modern day Turkey and plenty of other places that practice remains very fashionable. I've read about this hair jewelry before but the images are new to me and quite stunning. Thanks for this, and congrats on BEA and all the good early press you've been garnering!
Thanks for the congrats, and glad you liked the entry. It was sparked by a conversation in the hot tub last night when I realized others had never seen hair jewelry before. It's something I love so much and am quite familiar with and just assumed everyone had seen before. When I realized this wasn't the case, I decided to do a post about it.
The hair jewelry could be akin to holy relics, or a more urbane type of voodoo. Old magic seems to be particularly tied to personal artifacts, parts of oneself being among the most powerful. They could be wards, used to subjugate others or just as a charm.
I agree. It could be used as both as a talisman for good or ill, depending on the intent of the creator. Potency could even be taken into account if one wanted.
thanks for the post on hair - it was very interesting, something i did not know about before reading your post re: hair collection and hair jewelry
Glad to help spread knowledge any way I can!
Hi, thanks for giving me the back link. Always nice to know who's writing about me.

It's funny you should mention the hair wreath, because while I've known about the jewelry for a while it wasn't until recently I found out about wreathes. Sort of the reverse of you.
My pleaseure.

(Anonymous)

Hair jewelry

In Alexia's England, a piece of hair-jewelry could also be used by werewolves to designate family or mates: in another post, you mentioned something about werewolves being associated with the military. That reminded me of the part in this post, on Civil War soldiers leaving behind locks of hair.

-- Gathers Scrolls
Ah, but does that make the "diamonds from the ashes of your loved ones" a delayed tribute to Victoria?