Ribbons and Curls, Flowers and Pearls: Mid-19th Century French Headdresses

Ribbons and Curls, Flowers and Pearls

The 1840s and 1850s are some of the most beautiful years in fashion history! They are some of the most romantic, frilly and feminine fashions ever devised. Hoop skirts had flair, but hadn’t quite become unmanageably huge yet. Off the shoulder evening gowns with lush cap sleeves left creamy necks perfectly exposed, often displaying swathes of diamonds or simple velvet ribbons. To accent the face and neck further, ladies began to put their hair up, parting it cleanly in the center while brushing forward curls into two face-framing drapes. Queen Victoria loved flowers and popularized flowery headpieces by wearing romantic floral hair wreathes, like the one she wore to her wedding in 1840.

Another royal, Princess Charlotte, decorated her hair with a similar mid-19th century trend:

If you look closely at this photograph of lovely Princess Charlotte and her husband, Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico, you’ll notice a halo of baubles around her classic hair. With their dresses so elaborately decorated, it was a shame to leave the hair so simple, so ladies turned to headbands to accent their hair and compliment their dresses. These headbands, or “falls,” draped gracefully on either side of the head and were made from an astounding variety of materials, usually to match a stylish ball gown. Earlier ones were smaller, and more subdued, like these:

As time passed and the fashion grew, these headdresses became ever more elaborate. Many of them were manufactured in Paris, the capitol of French fashion. Flowers were the most popular materials, both silk and sometimes real, paired with beads, feathers, and springy wires that wobbled whimsically when the ladies walked.

This headdress from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Boston is made of faux pearls and slightly resembles Princess Charlotte’s beaded falls:

The matching bouquet on the right (B) would have been worn pinned at the shoulder of the gown and sometimes came in pairs, one for each shoulder. One of my favorite 19th century portraits by Ingress shows the enchanting Madame Marie-Clotilde-Ines Moitessier wearing beautiful floral falls made of roses and leaves:

The construction of these falls was fairly simple: two swags of ornamentation connected by a wire that was shaped to the wearer’s head. The band could be decorated to match the rest of the falls, or left bare to be woven into the hairstyle:

Can you guess what my next project is going to be yet? :)

Hopefully I’ll get some step-by-step instructions on how to make your own 19th century headdress up soon!


It’s done! Check out the tutorial here to make your own headdress!

As with all my articles, all of the images in this article are either linked to larger versions, articles explaining them, or other fact-filled sites to help you explore, so please feel free to check them out!

One thought on “Ribbons and Curls, Flowers and Pearls: Mid-19th Century French Headdresses

  1. hmmm, i’ve always utterly hated this kind of curly locks who made the hair fashion of the mid 1800’s as they make one otherwise charming girl look like a spaniel, really! but the ribbons are nice…

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