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Hair Styles in Bisque Circa 1860 to 1880

by Estelle Johnston Photographs by Estelle Johnston 

Untinted and tinted bisque shoulder head dolls (referred to as parian) with molded hair were made in a profusion of styles from the girlishly simple to the elaborately sophisticated. In addition these heads were designed with or without pierced ears, or occasionally with molded earrings; with painted blue eyes - in some models painting of the highest quality - or inset blue glass eyes with painted eyelashes; many shades of blonde hair to oc­casional glazed black hair or very rare dark brown glazed hair; glazed or lustre-fired decorations on head and/or shoulders, often in conjunction with molded collar or bodice; and occasionally with swivel neck. The difficulty of inserting glass eyes in a swivel head represents the ultimate in technical expertise. 

Development of hair styles very naturally fol­lowed that of the fashionable ladies of Europe during the 1860s and 1870s. In the early 1860s hair was still often arranged from a center part in relatively simple forms following the natural lines of the head, and snoods were popularly used in many ways for back hair. For evening, long curls were favored, often decorated with pearls, flowers, feathers or a draped silk scarf and, of course, any combinations thereof. The use of artificial hair to augment the natural led to larger plaited or coiled rolls of hair known as chignons, and by the mid 1860s these chignons extended directly back from the head, balancing the movement of the skirt shape from a full circle to a form of ellipse with sweeping train. Artificial hair was increasingly available; frisette for the forehead, switch to be arranged by the wearer, coils, braids, curls, water­fall, for example, in keeping with milady's needs. Photographs of the period attest to excesses which the makers of these dolls had the good taste to avoid. By the 1870s hair rose from the forehead to height and fullness at the back of the crown and from there cascaded to the back of the neck or shoulders in a wealth of luxuriant plaits, curls and/or rolls - echoing the bustle and complex drapings of the back of the skirt. Combs and coronet-like combs were fashionable as well as ribbon ornaments and hair formed in bow shapes.

The fine bisque of these dolls allowed much freedom of modeling in both hair and additional decorations and these exquisite ladies are found in white bisque and in tinted shades from barely discernible off-white to full flesh tones. Approximate dating of some hair styles is offered for costuming clues but, of course, does not imply the date of any given doll. The variety of heads is so extensive that I continue, after more than 20 years of studying and collecting, to see new examples. This is just a part of their fascination.