This lovely Victorian lady from around 1860 probably got many compliments on her hair. But did you know that elaborate hair styles like this were created with hair pieces?
Today, hair extensions are all the rage. Back in the nineteenth century they were called switches and were sold by the length. In the Montogomery Ward Catalogue from 1895, hair switches were sold in lengths from 20-26 inches and ranged in price from 0.65 cents to $3.25. Doesn't sound like much does it? If you compare the price with today's dollar, though, a $3.25 switch would cost about $90.90! A 24 inch woman's wig sold for $18.00, that's $504.00 in today's dollars. That doesn't sound too bad either, you might say. Consider this: the average income in 1895 was about $438 a year - yes, a year. So you can see, the lady had to quite wealthy to afford a hairstyle enhanced with multiple hair pieces.
A great variety of hair goods were available: bangs, poofs, pompadours, knots,waves and showy coiffures. They could be ordered from catalogs by sending in a swatch of hair or custom made. We can only wonder how well some of these hair pieces actually matched the color of the lady's hair, especially those that were ordered through the mail. Wouldn't you just love to see a color photograph from back then?