Make Your Own: Mid-19th Century Headdress

A Simple, Illustrated Guide

During the 1840s and 1850s, hairstyles covered the ears and usually had hanging braids or curls that puffed out around the face while a bun secured the rest of the hair behind– admittedly, not the most flattering look. However, ladies would dress up their hair for special occasions with beautiful flowery, feathery, and beaded headdresses like this:

19th century headdress

It’s a magical 180° flip! The addition of the pretty falls makes weird hair gorgeous! They make ballgowns look complete and make day dresses look romantic. Mid-19th century headdresses are really easy to make and fun to wear, too.

Time to make your own!

This is the set of falls from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston that inspired me. They have a whole collection of headdresses from this time period all made from different materials and in different styles. I adore flowers, but you can also use ribbons and beads to dress up your falls.

Materials

Faux Flowers
Metal Headband(s)
Green Floral Tape
Wire Cutters
Exacto Knife

I got all my materials from the local Hobby Lobby and Dollar Tree. All together, I spent less than $15 on materials and had enough supplies to make three sets of falls!

Step 1: Trim your flower stems to a workable length (4-8 inches long)

Faux flowers vary widely in style. In my case, I chose some cute paper blossoms attached in a bunch on the end of a long stem. I had to remove the big stem to get to the individual flowers. You want to keep the stems of your flowers long enough to attach to the headband. Depending on the stem, 4 to 8 inches usually works well.

Step 2: Decide how you want your falls to hang.

The first flower is always the hardest! I wanted my falls to be medium length– barely long enough to reach the neck, like the original set. The best way to figure out how long you want yours to hang is to put on the headband and hold a stem up to the band until you find the length you want. Wrap the wire stem around the headband and use floral tape to secure the entire length of the stem, making sure to cover the end of the wire. The worst thing is wearing your falls to a dance and getting poked with stray wires all night!

Step 3: Add more stems until you reach the fullness you want.

Add the next stem over the tape and wrap it up as well. You can set your flowers as close together as you like. You can mix flower types and foliage to create more texture. I found a long, leafy stem softened the look of the crisp paper flowers. To attach this kind of stem, cut it to the length you want, then carefully attach it to the headband, maneuvering the tape around the leaves so they don’t get taped down.

Step 4: Once you reach the desired fullness, repeat on the other side.

Your falls can be symmetrical or not. Either way is historically accurate. If you like, you can make your flowers go all the way around the top of the head as well. Queen Victoria wore a hair wreath for her wedding that went all the way around her head instead of just falling at the sides.

Step 5: You’re done!

Taadaa! Here’s my completed headdress! :)

I decided to connect the two sides by wrapping the top of the headband with floral tape. Much more comfortable!

How to Wear Your Headdress

The best way to wear your headdress is with a period hairstyle. Since my hair is currently a little too short to properly style a la 1840s, my gracious sister, Minnie, allowed me to muddle up her hair for a photoshoot!

This is the style we chose for her hair since her locks are very fine and don’t hold curl very well:

The placement of your falls really depends on how you designed them, the hairstyle you choose, and what feels comfortable. It’s historically accurate to wear them behind or in front of the ears. At first she wore the falls behind her ears, but she decided that wearing them in front of her ears was much more comfortable in the long run and more readily displayed the pretty flowers!

Alternative Styles

You can adapt you falls for many different eras, and occasions! I have made a full version a few years ago for my Dia de los Muertos celebration headdress.

You can also wear both the fall-style and wreaths to make beautiful Edwardian costumes, especially Art Nouveau and Japonisme-inspired gowns. Nothing accents nymph-like beauty like lovely blossoms twining through your hair!

<3

Learn more about mid-19th Century Headdresses here!

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!

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UPDATE!

Just found this 1840s painting featuring a very full lace headdress:

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!

UPDATE:

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!