Pre-Raphaelite Hair

Lady Lilith by Rossetti, Pre-Raphaelite hair tutorial
Lady Lilith by Rossetti

One of the most recognisable features of a Pre-Raphaelite painting is the long, beautiful hair of the woman depicted. In Victorian society women's hair was subject to certain rules of etiquette, only young girls were allowed to wear their hair down, whereas ladies were expected to pin their hair up. A lady's unbraided hair was to be seen only by her husband whilst she was undressing. As such the long, loose hair depicted in Pre-Raphaelite paintings conveyed both intimacy and eroticism. Loose hair also had connotations with wildness and untempered passion and its depiction in Pre-Raphaelite paintings created a sense of romance and drama, in keeping with their subject matter of ancient myths and Arthurian legends.

How to Achieve the Pre-Raphaelite look

 Hair Colour

When people speak of Pre-Raphaelite hair they are usually referring to red or auburn hair, this is because many of the models that the artists chose had this colour hair. Models such as Fanny Cornforth, Elizabeth Siddal and Alexa Wilding. They appear in famous works such as Rossetti's Lady Lilith (shown above) and John William Waterhouse's The Lady of Shallot. However, the Pre-Raphaelites also painted women with blonde and brunette hair, seen in works such as Rossetti's Astarte Sylaca and his Helen of Troy (shown below).

Helen of Troy by Rossetti, Pre-Raphaelite hair
Helen of Troy by Rossetti

Pre-Raphaelite Waves

Victorian women grew their hair long. During the day they would braid/plait their hair and pin it up in an elaborate coiffure. When they unbraided their hair at night the result would be a cascade of waves and curls that had formed during the day.

Pre-Raphaelite inspired photograph, early 20th Century
Pre-Raphaelite inspired photograph, early 20th Century

Easy No-Heat Method

To authentically recreate the Pre-Raphaelite look, divide wet hair into a number of sections, braid each section and then leave to dry. When the hair is completely dry (this can take a while) unbraid the hair and brush the waves out. The smaller the braids and the more you brush it out the thicker and frizzier it becomes, which was how Pre-Raphaelite hair was usually depicted. If you do not want this, make the braids larger and do not over brush the hair afterwards.

Pre-Raphaelite hair tutorial, how-to

Curling Irons

This technique needs long hair to be effective.
  1. First divide your hair in half and then half again so you have an upper and lower section of hair on both sides.
  2. Using a small curling iron, about 1/2 - 1 inch thick, curl small sections of hair. Hair should form a tight ringlet. Leave each ringlet and continue with the next section.
  3. When all of the hair is curled leave to rest.
  4. The idea is to let the curls drop naturally so they form loose waves. This is why it works best on long hair, because of the weight of the hair will drag it down.
  5. When you think the curls have dropped enough use your fingers to comb through your hair and finish with a bit of hairspray.

Alternatively use a triple barrel curling iron like the one from Hot Tools.


Victorian Coiffures

  The Soul of the Rose, Pre-Raphaelite hair

Not all of the Pre-Raphaelite women wore their hair down. Some paintings show women wearing their hair in contemporary coiffures, like in Waterhouse's The Soul of the Rose. If your hair is slightly shorter this kind of hairstyle is a good alternative to the long tresses of typical Pre-Raphaelite hair, as shorter hair is easier to disguise in an up-do.


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