When I first became a Civil War reenactor, I had a lot of misconceptions about how women wore their hair back then. Most of this misinformation, I have to admit, came from Hollywood’s inaccurate portrayals of women of the period.
Just don’t get me started on blue eyeshadow!
One of the biggest mistakes I myself made as a newbie reenactor, was to buy a snood for my hair. I found out later that snoods didn’t exist at the time of the Civil War even though these items are sold by Civil War period sutlers. The snood came into fashion around the 1940s.
What was worn during the Civil War was a hairnet. And not all women wore these. There were two types–one was made of very fine netting that matched a woman’s haircolor. The other type was a decorative net composed of strips of ribbon, velvet or other braided material with beading woven in. This second type of hairnet was worn, as a bonnet was, to conceal the hair. http://www.shasta.com/suesgoodco/newcivilians/womenswear/hairstyles.htm
For an everyday look, women of the period wore their hair neatly confined. Not one strand was to be out of place. During the 1860s, people didn’t wash their hair as often as we do today. Women also used sweet scented oils or pomades to slick their hair down. Then they wound it into a bun and pinned the hair in place.
A round, wide face was the ideal during this time period. Women tried to achieve this look by parting their hair down the center, slicking it flat on top, pulling it to the back and securing it with pins into a bun at the back of the head. Older women wore their buns higher on the back of the head, while young women wore theirs low on the nape of the neck. Women of this period never wore bangs.
At balls and formal affairs, other styles commonly worn were elaborate braids arranged around the head, sausage curls or ringlets. The key was to keep the ends of the hair out of sight. Meaning a woman in period attire with her long hair hanging down her back would be very inappropriate. This look was for the bedroom only. Little girls wore their hair in braids.
Women also rolled their hair on the sides to create more width. Another trick to achieve width was to collect hair from brushes, roll it into a potato-shape and pin it to the sides of the head. http://www.shasta.com/suesgoodco/newcivilians/womenswear/rats.htm
For more information on women’s hairstyles: http://www.vintagevictorian.com/costume_1860.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1860s_in_fashion#Hairstyles_and_headgear