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Victorian’s Love for Hair

In the Victorian era, hair was a reminder of love and friendship and could last a long time if well preserved, it served as a visible keepsake of life and body. Usually seen in movies, hair seems like an intimate token for lovers that may never meet again or as a promise that they may return. Between 1837-1901, hair within jewelry and hair work art was all the rage, whether it was family and loved ones in a form of sentiment in a necklace or scrapbook–or hair from someone you may not know within a bracelet or watch fob. Including, they had a ribbon color code for what age they had lost their loved one, they would set these out on their doors or tie them around the preserved pieces of hair. Victorians were fascinated with the hair of the dead and it played a big role in their fashion. In later years this practice became more intimate for families and loved ones, similarly to how families preserve their loved ones today. Now, cremated remains are stored in similar jewelry or can be made into diamonds. It makes sense that Victorians may want to view and display a lovely strand of hair tied with ribbon rather than displaying the grey burned remains of that person.

This “after-death narrative” and the mid-century popularity of “hair work” were both influenced by romanticism, the Evangelical revival of the 1830s–1840s, and the growth of spiritualism in the 1850s–1860s. Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights (1847) when Heathcliff replaces his opponent Linton’s hair in the locket around the deceased Catherine’s neck with his own. “Rather than gathering a memento of Catherine for himself, Heathcliff sees to it that a material fragment of his body will go down into the grave with Catherine’s corpse, to intermingle with her flesh.” Of course, Nelly Dean thwarts Heathcliff’s plans when she ties Linton’s lock to Heathcliff’s, creating “the potential of a postmortem tempest of envy.”

Literature reflected the times. Prince Albert’s hair was used in at least eight items of jewelry Queen Victoria requested after her husband’s passing in 1861. Relic culture served as a way for the Victorians to revere the irreducible self. This kind of culture sees death and the body itself as the beginning of stories, not their end.

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