Nitty-Gritty Gibson Girl: Fluffing Flat Hair without Rats or Hairspray

From Capellini to Fusilli!

Hair is the hardest part of costuming for me. It’s an essential component for any full look, yet it escapes me. My family is low-maintenance, so we never bothered with fancy hairdos. My father has naturally wavy hair, but my sister and I both inherited our mother’s soft, but decidedly fine and straight hair. Truthfully (as my long-suffering mother can attest), I didn’t even let anyone put my hair up in so much as a ponytail until I was in third grade and then it never came down again. Down and wild or ponytailed and smooth has always been my modus operandi. Doing anything else with it is a lot of hassle for a hairdo that will go limp in a few minutes even with half a can of hairspray flooding it from root to tip.

The Dream


The Reality

I have practiced more over the years, but curls, puffs, rats, and hair products remain firmly out of my realm of expertise. The curling iron laughs at me. Pincurls don’t stay curled. A perm is a distant dream.  So what can a stright-fine-greasy-yet-dry hair girl like me do to create all the fluff a stylish historical vixen needs? Braids, baby! Braiding your hair to get the needed volume is an old trick from the days before mousse and hairdryers.

Enid Bennet, circa 1920
Frizz is your friend!

I like having my hair braided. However, I can’t wait to undo them because when I take braids out, I get full-on poodle fluff! They give you that frizzy, fly-away volume that works perfectly for 18th century and Edwardian hairstyles!


I took this picture after wearing two braided pigtails all day.

What follows is my slap-dash Gibson Girl Pouf experiment.
This method works best for hair that is shoulder-length or longer. It’s by no means a perfect system since it started as an experiment, so keep that in mind. What works for me may not work for your hair, but it’s worth a try if you’ve also struggled with the puff!

 I have a very firm center part (naturally) and years of wearing a ponytail has trained my hair to fall back and flat. This causes my hair to gap around rats and flop around my ears. It’s also oily– yes, I have tried all the treatments; I’m just naturally that way– and smooth, so pins don’t stay in for long. Recalling the miraculous fluff of my post-braided hair, I decided to perform an experiment. To retrain my hair, I braided it upwards, towards my face. That’s key to getting volume into the roots. I did that to my whole head, braiding up and forward.

101_8162YAY! I did illustrations!
(because I honestly and for true didn’t expect this to work, so I didn’t take many pictures)

The point of these braids isn’t to create neat little plaits for day wear, so looks don’t matter.


Thank heavens!

I did the front half of my head in four sections: front (bangs), sides, and crown. The back I braided and smooshed into a vaguely bun-like shape. To keep my sexy braids in check, I coiled them into mini buns.



Thus making them even sexier.

If you can braid your hair wet, then do it that way. I don’t like messing with wet hair. Wet just makes it more tangly. Instead, I braided my hair then took a hot shower to soak it. After that, I tackled some projects for a few hours until my hair was dry enough that it wouldn’t sop the pillow. Then I went to bed.

I have (tried) sleeping in curlers and pin curls before and found it impossible. I thought that the giant bulky braidy-buns would be bothersome, but aside from the neighbor’s decision to practice drums at 2 am, I slept well.

My hair was still damp in the morning. If you have a blowdryer, you can dry your hair that way, but I don’t have one at the moment. Instead, I entertained the neighbors by sitting out on the front porch eating yogurt. They have become accustomed to my weirdness, I believe, and didn’t bat an eye.

Once your braids are dry, you can follow almost any of the many Gibson Girl pouf tutorials, including adding rats and hairpieces for even more volume. My method uses your own hair as a “rat” and involves no back-combing (teasing) because brushing out back-combed hair is the devil. I didn’t take any pictures of the adventure that occurred after the braids had finally dried. Hair is challenging enough without wrangling a camera one-handed at the same time:

Illustrations to the rescue!


First, undo the braid at your crown. Comb it gently to fluff it up. Clip a bobby pin to the ends (or a small elastic) and roll it. This roll is going to act as your “rat,” so it doesn’t need to be perfect. For a Gibson Girl pouf that puffs over your forehead, pin the roll close behind your front braid. If you want height at the crown for 18th century styles, place the roll further back. You could also add a seperate rat into this roll to puff it up even more.101_8165

Once you’ve got the crown roll secure, undo your front braid and comb it gently to fluff it. Roll and secure it behind the crown roll.101_8166

Undo and fluff your side braids, rolling and arranging them to your liking behind your top roll.101_8168

Make a bun with your remaining hair if you haven’t already. Finally, chocolate time!

Here are my results:


Doing my best “Dracula” face. I was trying to do the fang-over-the-lip look, then remembered that Van Helsing may still be out there…better to just smile oddly and hope he doesn’t notice…

My Gibson’s fluffy and messy because OMG I HAVE POOF AND I WANT IT ALL!

I was more concerned with retraining my hair to stop lying flat than I was with how neat and tidy every hair was. The retraining was a sucess! My hair will actually stand up on its own and support itself!

I didn’t use hairspray or anything on it and it still looked decent three hours later:



Here I’ve undone the bun and let the back down for a softer look.

I am obviously not a hair expert, but for a first try experiment, I am so pleased! This method requires a lot of preparation, but now that I know it works, I can work on refining it. A hairdryer would make life sooooo much easier…

The key to a good hairdo, especially some of the more complex historical styles, is finding what works for you. There are all types of hair, all sorts of styles to choose from, and different skill levels for each. Some people are naturally adept at the art of coiffures. Others (like me) would rather focus on other things. Experimentation is the best way to figure out what will work for you!


More Gibson Girl Tutorials:

Edwardian Hair Mysteries Solved – Part 4 – Beginning Styling

The Seamstress of Avalon: Gibson Girl Hair: A Tutorial


This braiding method also works perfectly for Regency and 1880s hairdos if you have bangs, fluffy styles of the 17th century, and frizzy Elizabethan poofs if ringlets refuse to cooperate. Even guys can get in on the act (Shakespeare Pouf, anyone?).

Hint: The more/smaller/tighter you make your braids, the more fluff you can achieve.


Costuming on a Budget: Edwardian Edition

Edwardian made Easier

Even if you don’t think pouter pigeon dresses flatter your figure, you can flatter your budget by using a few tricks to save on your Edwardian costumes. The 100th anniversary of the Titanic is on April 14th-15th and if you are going to an event but haven’t made or bought an outfit yet, there’s still time! I haven’t done a vintage-meet-seamstress article in a while and since I myself have procrastinated on my Edwardian costuming efforts, this article is just a tad self-remedial. :)

If you are costuming for a Titanic event, your costume inspiration will come from the very end of the Belle Epoque era. The Belle Epoque era, from 1895 to 1914, emphasized the rich and privileged life, focusing on the very upper cusp of society. Ornamentation literally dripped from every surface of ball gowns: beads, pearls, glass gems, gold bullion, silk tassels, velvet drapes…the list goes on and on! If it was beautiful and expensive, it could be added to a dress. Compared to late Victorian fashions that focused on flared skirts and structured bodices, fashionable ladies in the early 20th century turned to a languid tube shape, reminiscent of Regency fashions from 100 years earlier, but with a major change. Instead of placing the bust as high as possible on the chest and placing the waist line just below it, Edwardian fashion in the 1910s placed the waistband around the ribs or waist. Bodices and blouses weren’t fitted tightly in front. They often puffed around the waistband or featured swaths of gauze that rounded out the breast. From 1900-1910, this style puffed out larger and larger, making for a rather heavy, matronly silhouette by today’s standards, but it was meant to emphasize the smallness of the waist (sometimes as small as 14 inches around!).

By 1912, the puff had shrunk down to a less structured looseness and was more naturally fitted to the body. Asymmetry was all the rage, with a dash of Oriental influence and Art Nouveau thrown into the mix! While day gowns became much more business like, evening gowns were often made of more beads and sequins than fabric. If you love My Fair Lady, this is the era for you! You could truly wear a neat little shirtwaist and skirt by day:

And be a sparkling princess by night!

Of course, that’s two entirely separate class levels and lifestyles, but the beauty of costuming is that, with the right amount of work, treasure hunting, and styling skills, you can wear anything you desire regardless of assumed social station– you can be who you want to be!


The Simple Edwardian Lady

You will need:

A shirtwaist or blouse in a light color
An undershirt or slip (because you don’t want to show off too much!)
A long, fitted skirt
Boot and stockings
Optional: Belt, tie, scarf, hat, etc.

It really is that simple! Just tuck a frilly white blouse into a fitted skirt, making sure to give it that trendy little poof around the waist. You can still find period shirtwaists in wearable condition on ebay or antique stores, but vintage blouses from the 1970s are your best friends! Most of the blouses are pretty sheer, so a slip or a tank top with a little lace on the edges is invaluable. If you have trouble finding a long, high-waisted skirt, a wide belt is an stylish fix.


Antique Shirtwaist by FancyLuckyVintage


Antique Blouse by MsTips


Vintage Blouse by heightofvintage


Long Skirt

Vintage by GORvintage 

Vintage Skirt by moonandsoda



Antique Boots by ArtifactVintage


New Boots by Funtasma at Sears (also in a classy leather-brown)



Vintage Hat by snapitupvintage


Vintage Necktie by pineapplemint


Vintage Belt by ccdoodle



Of course, if you’re going to an Edwardian dinner or tea as a wealthy heiress, you are going to need a fancier dress. If you aren’t handy with a needle to sew yourself one, there are plenty of seamstresses who can craft an exceptional custom gown exactly as you please!

Custom Gown by MattiOnline


If you aren’t just playing the part of a wealthy heiress and actually are one, you (lucky ducky) can probably find an original dress from the period, like this:

Antique by AntiqueDress


Wearing antique garments is a tricky business, but there are plenty of Edwardian-era patterns available that mimic the look.

I haven’t got oodles of spare cash to spend on an authentic gown (some day!), but I’ve got a trick up my sleeve. Well, maybe not so much a trick– more like a method. Fashion works in circles, so what goes out of fashion eventually comes back into fashion, just slightly modified. Edwardian fashions themselves refashioned Regency style to match a more modern aesthetic which in turn was revived by one of the greatest eras for vintage clothing junkies like me: Hello 1960s and 70s!

This photo was taken in 1971. Pretty darn similar to the Edwardian dresses, right? Not exact, but amazingly similar (there was even a brand called “Young Edwardian” that competed with Gunne Sax). The only thing missing is some fuss and fluff around the shoulders, like some lace or netting. If you learn to spot the Edwardian sillohuette and characteristics, you can find a plethora of vintage pieces that will blend fairly well with your friends’ costumes. For example, here’s an original Edwardian gown from the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

And here’s a vintage 1970s/1980s dress that bears a surprising resemblence:

Vintage Dress by KarlaBVintage

It’s not a perfect match, but if you’re in a bind time and budget-wise, these kind of match-ups are a godsend! Vintage pieces are still easier to find than period pieces, can stand more wear, and are available in more realistic sizes for those of us who have not benefited from years of corset training.

The Original:

The Vintage:

Vintage Dress by bohemiennes


The Original:


The Vintage:

 Vintage by myliltreasureboxx


The Original:


The Vintage:

Vintage by LoveCharles


And you can’t forget shoes!

The Original:


The New

Astoria Shoes by American Duchess 

Tips and Tricks:

One of the keys to the basic 1912 gown is a squared neckline with lacy sleeves. If you find a strapless gown with the right waist height and fit, you can take two swathes of lace (curtains and old scarves work wonderfully) and attach them over the shoulders.

Find a dress with a great top, but it’s too short? Underskirts to the rescue!

Late Edwardian ball gowns were all about vertical beading, texture, and drapes. To glam up a dress with a plain skirt, tie a shimmery shawl around your waist and let the wide ends trail to the floor. You can also fold a light shawl, scarf, or fabric yardage in half over a piece of satin rope and tie the rope around your waist in a long bow so the fabric trails gracefully off to your side.

Hats! Think big, feathery, and flowery! Sometimes all a gown needs to go from 1970 to 1907 is a Gibson girl pouf and an outrageously fancy hat.



See this tutorial in action:


Easy Edwardian: Thrifted Turn of the 20th Century Outfit for Under $10
Using Vintage Blouses and Formal Skirts


A Brief Trip to 1914: More Easy {Late} Edwardian Costuming on a Budget
Using Vintage Elastic-waist Dresses