Caught Our Eyes: Going to Lengths with Hair

As the days grow hot and humid in Washington, D.C., my mind turns to summer haircuts. A look back offers a reminder of reasons beyond the purely seasonal for hair cutting.

This print from our Popular Graphic Arts collection depicts a character in the novel The Guardian Angel by Oliver Wendell Holmes. The story originally came out serially in the Atlantic Monthly and was published in book form in 1867. We’re seeing the point in the novel where orphan Myrtle Hazard makes preparations to disguise herself as a boy and run away from her uncongenial aunt. Good-bye flowing tresses!

Myrtle Hazard. Lithograph by C. H. Crosby, copyrighted 1868. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pga.00583

Myrtle Hazard. Lithograph by C. H. Crosby, copyrighted 1868. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pga.00583

Short hair in aid of flight took on a whole different meaning for this aviation worker in 1943. While keeping her hair short was a safety measure, I suspect it wasn’t necessarily a time saver, as those tiers of waves and curls look as though they took some time to achieve.

Safe clothes for women war workers. The importance of keeping hair short and neat for industrial war work cannot be over-emphasized. Here Eunice Kimball, Bendix employee, gives a final pat to her newly-dressed hair. Bendix Aviation Plant, Brooklyn, New York. Photo by Ann Rosener, 1943. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8b08371

Safe clothes for women war workers. The importance of keeping hair short and neat for industrial war work cannot be over-emphasized. Here Eunice Kimball, Bendix employee, gives a final pat to her newly-dressed hair. Bendix Aviation Plant, Brooklyn, New York. Photo by Ann Rosener, 1943. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8b08371

The topic of hair cutting brought to mind two more prints from our Popular Graphic Arts collection that had earlier caught the eye of my colleague, Kristi. The prints suggest that men kept their short hair short in the 1880s and 1890s for reasons of style. And how handily the charts lay out the hair cutting and shaping options!  My family enjoyed selecting their favorite styles, some of which look remarkably modern. Half Shingle, anyone?

Hair Cutting Chart. Print by A. L. Bancroft & Co., copyrighted 1884. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pga.04325

Hair Cutting Chart. Print by A. L. Bancroft & Co., copyrighted 1884. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pga.04325

How Do You Want Your Hair Cut? Print by A. J. Cole, copyrighted 1890. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pga.04659

How Do You Want Your Hair Cut? Print by A. J. Cole, copyrighted 1890. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pga.04659

Learn More:

  • Sample more pictures relating to haircuts (sometimes recorded in captions as “hair cuts“), barbering, and barbershops (which sometimes appears as “barber shops” in picture captions).
  • Explore more types of hair treatment, not necessarily involving scissors, in pictures indexed with the term “Hairdressing.”
  • Delve into our Popular Graphic Arts collection–about 15,000 historical prints (ca. 1700-1900) created to document geographic locations and popular subjects, sometimes used for advertising and educational purposes.
  • Read Oliver Wendell Holmes’ The Guardian Angel, available through the Internet Archive, among other sources. The text associated with the lithograph above appears on page 60 of this 1869 edition.

Mary Cassatt’s Jeannette and her Mother Seated on a Sofa

Mary Cassatt’s 1901 print Jeannette and her Mother Seated on a Sofa (below, left) captures a timeless moment between mother and child: In this tranquil scene, free of visual distraction or clutter, Jeannette sits securely in her mother’s lap, the mother’s arms surrounding her daughter in a gentle embrace, the two gazing lovingly, eyes fixed upon […]