V42: Edwardian Hair Styling Mysteries Solved – Part 3 – Rats, Switches, and Wiglets

In the last two installments of this series, we took a look at how women prepared their hair for styling.  They used some interesting shampoos, along with various methods of crimping and waving, to get the hair ready to twist into the magnificent Gibson Girl coifs we all envy today.

So now it’s time for styling the hair.  Before we start, though, let’s address the problem so many of us have: lack of hair.

Never fear! Edwardian women used all kinds of methods to pump up their locks, including extensive use of false hair, called “switches.” “The Manual on Barbering, Hairdressing, Manicuring, Facial Massage, Electrolysis and Chiropody” contains a robust section on how to make switches and wiglets, using many of the same tools used in wigmaking today – weaving card, mounting machine, ventilating block, etc.

For those of us who don’t have wigmaking experience, we can buy switches ready-made at the beauty supply store.  If you are planning to curl your switches, buy real hair; if you are using your switches for padding, rolls, braids, etc., you can buy synthetic.  The synthetic switches will run you between just $2 and $5.

This is a wiglet – hair wefts mounted on a cap.  It started life as a Scunci clip-on ponytail, but I removed the clip and now just pin it to the head.  If you are short of hair, get one of these.  It’s magic.  Available at drugstores like Walgreens.
Two synthetic ponytail switches, from Sally Beauty Supply.
Jumbo braid hair from Sally Beauty Supply – a HUGE chunk of rather puffy, weirdly wavey hair.  This stuff has so many uses – make switches from it, rats, puffs and rolls, etc.

Some other helpers for your hairstyling adventures:

Hair rats in the past were made of hair collected from brushes, but also other lightweight materials such as cork.  I like to use two kinds of hair rats – on is made from clippings I took off a too-long curly hair piece, and stuffed into a hairnet; the other is a mesh roll, resembling a kitchen scrubby, that you can buy at the beauty supply shop.

hair cuts in a hair net – great for padding the top or back of the head for just a little extra oomph.
Scrubby rat.  You can cut these shorter if need be.  Get two and you can create some epic victory rolls…and that’s only the beginning.

A Large Comb
You can still find large combs, now made of plastic, some decorated, some not.  This one is from Sally Beauty Supply, and cost about $5.  Keep your eye out for vintage combs while hunting at antique/flea markets.

Big, faux tortoise shell comb, pretty basic.  

Pins, Clips, More Pins, Small Rubber Bands
Bobby pins are great, but so are hair pins of other shapes, especially for thick hair.  Barrettes/clips are useful, especially for short-haired ladies using switches, and small rubber bands will help when creating rolls and puffs.

Some Edwardian Clip-In Extensions
In addition to switches, Moler describes three kinds of pin-in additions: montagues and puffs.

“Montagues” were clip-in curls used around the face, if short, but also at the back for what Moler calls “the French curl at the neck.”  Montagues were about six inches long, made from six inch long hair, curled, and attached to a hairpin.  The modern version of a montague is one of those curly clip-on hairpieces everyone wears at Civil War balls, but less full.

Puffs are rolls, rolled up on the fingers and secured in place.  If you are making clip-in rolls, Moler recommends mounting the hair wefts on millinery braid, several wefts sewn back and forth to create a width of about 2.5 inches.  The hair should be at least 10 inches long, to roll up nicely.  I recommend wrapping a small elastic of a matching color around the ends of the hair, to make it easier (FAR easier) to roll it up.  Once rolled, secure the ends by folding the millinery braid to the inside.

Ready to try your first style?  Stay tuned, and give me the weekend to figure it the heck out and write up a tutorial 🙂 ….

(or don’t wait for me, and get crack-a-lackin’ on tryin’ stuff out yourself!)


  • Anonymous

    February 20, 2012 at 6:51 AM

    If you like, try taking biotin. It's a natural supplement that you can take; it helps to build your hair, nails and skin cells. I've also found that if i bend at the waist, let my hair fall in front hanging while i brush it and then when done flip it back over…it provides a lot of stimulation for the hair follicles! 🙂 This, I've found really helps my hair, my scalp and the muscles on my head (my hair is rather long and a bit thick so my head can ache after some time). Hope this might work for someone else, try it and see!

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