Saturday, March 1, 2008

Pre-Raphaelite Tresses

Why were the Pre-Raphaelites so fascinated with a woman's hair? The answer seems obvious....a woman's hair has been considered "her glory" since Biblical days and before. However, further information on the role of a woman's hair in Victorian times gives even more insight into why the hair was such a romantic and erotic image in Pre-Raphaelite art. In a biography of Fannie Cornforth, author Kristy Walker says "Loose hair was seen rarely in Victorian society and had two connotations. A child could wear her hair down, but as soon as she aspired to be a woman, or more essentially a 'lady' her hair was strictly pinned up. To be seen loose-haired was a pleasure reserved for her husband, in the bedroom. It's not a coincidence that the act of pinning up hair is called 'dressing' hair..." This certainly explains the prevalence of Rossetti paintings of a woman at her toilet, combing or unbinding her hair, with a faraway look in her eyes, like the artwork of Fannie Cornforth above.

Author Anne Hollander in her book Seeing through Clothes says "More than at any other time [Pre-Raphaelite] women's hair was important in the nineteenth century...with immediately erotic overtones and a strong connection with real life. Thick and abundant female hair safely conveyed a vivid sexual message in an atmosphere of extreme prudery....Pre-Raphaelite hair, like the Pre-Raphaelite face and body, was one of the truly original images invented by nineteenth-century art. The kinky, thick stuff weights the head and shades the face, as it is also heatedly described as doing in various kinds of Romantic literature. Lines such as Swinburne's "Thou shalt darken his eyes with thy tresses,/Our Lady of Pain" and many more in the same vein parallel the emotional and suggestive--though not so erotic--use of drapery in art."

Often times, however, I've wondered...why is Pre-Raphaelite hair so often today called "Pre-Raphaelite curls"...especially when only one of the Stunners had naturally kinky curly hair (Jane Morris)? The term today seems to have come to mean 'curly spiralled hair in a nimbus around the head,' but more often in PR art, the hair when unbound was very softly waved from the plaits the women kept it in all day.
A photo of Fannie Cornforth combing her incredible long Pre-Raphaelite locks.

So at what point did the term "Pre-Raphaelite curls" come into use? My suspicion is that, like so many modern expressions, it was created by commercialism in order to promote a style that could be only successfully achieved through assistance (i.e. paying for someone to style your hair that way), with a name that automatically conjured up romance and medievalism. In actuality, to achieve "Pre-Raphaelite hair" all one must do is braid one's hair when half dry, and let it dry before taking it down. That is, after all, what the original Pre-Raphaelite woman would do. Shhh...the commercial marketing specialists wouldn't want you to know that!

Yes, I know I sound like a conspiracy theorist there. Either that or cynical. I swear I'm neither. I just think too much.
There IS another solution, however, if your hair tends to not hold a wave when you try the braiding method. Thanks to modern technology, there's a tool called the triple barrel curling iron, a strange torture-device-looking contraption. This device truly works, however, giving Pre-Raphaelite waves to almost anyone who can start with a straight or semi-straight texture as a basis.
Using a triple barrel curling iron is pretty foolproof...one just uses it like a crimping iron, down the length of a section of hair. It does, however, take time to "crimp" the entire hair...my mid-back length hair took about 2 hours.

The bottom line is this...a woman's hair was once a sexual symbol only allowed to be shown to one's "husband" to whom one "belonged." We've advanced far beyond this attitude, but a woman's hair can still be considered extremely sexual. What better way to flaunt how far we've come than to show off your Pre-Raphaelite locks for all the world to see?

Stay tuned Monday for a post about the dark side of Pre-Raphaelite hair!

16 comments:

Linden Sidhe said...

ah, hair. <3

Aurora said...

I'm with Linden Sidhe..."Ah, hair!" :D

There is yet another way this look can be achieved, by those with hair below their waists...and that's by using a very small (finger width) curling iron, dividing your hair up into quarters (left and right sides, then top and bottom of each side), and then taking small (very small) sections of hair from each "layer" and curling it. When removing the curling iron, try to keep the whole curl in a neat "sausage"--but gently opening, then closing the curling iron repeatedly, until the curl finally slides off of its own accord. This should leave you with a tight little ringlet. Leave it--and move on to the next.

My hair is down to my behind--and this process takes me about two hours--I used to do it quite a lot for shows.

By the time you've finished the head of curls, they'll have "dropped" to below your shoulders.

Lightly Aqua Net them.

Then brush them out. Aqua Net them again. At this point, they'll be down to about your mid-back--like this: http://www.pbase.com/briarrose/image/93647294 (This photo was taken about 19 years ago--when I was mad for Phantom and Beauty and the Beast. ;))

In another hour or so, brush it again, lightly--and you'll have amazing, fat, glorious pre-Raphaelite waves/curls that will last until the next day. :)

(I doubt this would work well on hair any shorter than waist length, though--because part of the key is the weight of the hair, pulling the curls out...)

Grace said...

(groan) I only wish I had hair below my waist! Been trying to grow it for years. But a great tip nonetheless!

Aurora said...

The trick is not cutting it. At all. ;) And keeping it up, as much as possible, to minimize damage, while you're growing it out...

But hair is a strange thing...and everyone seems to have a preset length, beyond which, their hair doesn't grow. My baby sister's "preset" was about down to her thighs...long, and silky and beautiful...while mine, (until I started keeping it up most of the time) was a bit below my hips. My mom's was about waist length. (For many years, we belonged to a church where women didn't cut their hair...so while most of the ladies had hair that was down to their behind, there were a few with much shorter hair...and a very few--much envied--with hair down to their thighs, or even their calves...so I've spent a lot of time studying long hair, and wondering about it. ;))

If you stop getting regular trims for a couple of years, though, and wear your hair up in a clippie at night, and frequently, during the day, I bet you'd find you pick up at least another 4 inches of length. :)

BTW--got that chair, yesterday! It's gorgeous! :D Wobbly arms (typical antique!), and the springs are a mess...but the upholstery is darn near perfect--in a rich, softened cranberry/rose velvet. :D

Margaret said...

What a great post! (and reading the comments has been informative as well! Aurora knows a lot about hair!).

The period photo of the girl with long hair was great too--it looks like she had stretched the "set-point" for her hair quite a bit (I would like to trim about a foot off of her hair). The info on triple-barrel curling irons was interesting, too. I might do it for special occasions, but I generally braid my hair to get curls (as Aurora pointed out, your hair can get pretty damaged if you leave it loose). I also flat iron it occasionally, because it's less likely to tangle when it's straightend (I have naturally wavy locks--they look neat but they tangle so easily!).

Anway, I'm looking forward to reading about the dark side of Pre-Raphaelite hair! I wonder what that could be?

Kimber An said...

Ah, yes, I have long, braid-induced, strawberry blond hair and it is, in fact, my husband's security blanket.
:o)

Grace said...

Margaret, I also think she could use about 1-2' off her hair, but it's still lovely if you put your hand over the bottom part of it and imagine. lol

It also sounds like our hair texture is about the same....sometimes I also blow dry and straight iron it just so that it doesn't tangle as much. I just wish I could learn to braid my own hair. I rarely get a chance to get it braided for the Pre-Raphaelite look :(

Grace said...

PS: Aurora hooray for the chair!!! I can't wait to see it in photos of your place!

Aurora said...

Grace, not being able to braid your own hair is just SAD, Girl! ;)

You're probably too old for the best possible way to learn--which is having your mother fix it. When she'd yank it or pull it too hard, and I'd complain, she'd say, "Well, if you don't like it, fix it yourself!"

I started doing my hair pretty young! ;)

Grace said...

Oh I know!!! It's extremely sad, actually.

I didn't have many close girl friends growing up, and so I never did the "braid each other's hair" thing. In fact, I never even learned to do a simple braid at all until I was in high school!

medievalmuse said...

Fanny, by today's standards, would need a major trim!!

I've learned over the years that long hair isn't always pretty hair, so keeping it healthy is most important.
I have great success with curling irons, but the only curlers that have ever worked for are the sponge ones. Not comfortable, but my hair is heavy enough to pull the curl down, making long spirals.

Grace said...

Yep...Fanny's hair needs about 1-2' off of it :)

Art Guy in Jeans said...

I am also a huge Pre Raphaelite brotherhood fan - art history major at Bates College, heading for a Masters probably, and I dig what you're saying about hair.

I think you could look at some Botticelli paintings, whom Rossetti in particular was inspired by, to get an idea for ornate hair. Check out "Portrait of Simonetta Vespucci."

Keep it up! And check out my blog if you're so incined. I'm trying to put together some kind of art history blog network!

Grace said...

Hi Art Guy!

Do you have a link to your blog? For some reason Blogger isn't letting me access it by clicking your name.

Joe Williams said...

Hi Grace!

it's artguyinjeans.blogspot.com

Enjoy!

Grace said...

Thanks Joe! I look forward to perusing :)