Victorian Jewelry Made of Human Hair is Creepily Beautiful

Just one of the many weird ways Victorians expressed love using dead people and their parts.
Publish date:
May 11, 2015
jewelry, history, arts and crafts, victorian era

Have you ever been given a lock of hair as a token of someone’s affection? As a teenager, this seemed like the right and proper thing to do; I snipped a patch of hair that wouldn’t be missed, sealed the ends in wax, or with tape, spritzed it with Jovan Ginseng N-R-G musk, then tied it with a ribbon. A lock of hair was serious. I don’t think I gave more than two out, tops.

It’s romantic, having a physical piece of someone to haul around with you, to remember them by. When photos were expensive and faded quickly, hair from your head seems an obvious choice. With the rise of steam travel, people were moving around more than ever, and so the Victorian era was a time of wistful goodbyes and loved ones scattered across continents. It’s also a time known for it’s curious obsession with the macabre, from death portraiture to the popularity of seances. Goth was pretty mainstream.

While a lock of hair was nice, you can’t really wear it, unless you’re a witch or something. What’s the point of owning a part of another person if no one can see it?!

The Victorians were a creative bunch; wigs had gone out of style, so a lot of unemployed wig makers with nimble little hair-knotting fingers were looking for a new craft. Kits were sold for “Hair Fancies” for women to make together at parties, like a stitch 'n' bitch, but instead of wine and yarn, they used human hair and drank Timber Doodles.

Small diorama brooches and pendants had been popular for some time, but adding the braided, laced or knotted hair of a new baby, fiancé or dead relative, and you have something uniquely creepy. Everything from simple locket brooches to intricate embroidered panels were made, many utilizing single strands of hair.

The hair was either worked on it's own—woven into bows, necklaces, lace and tatting—or embroidered or "painted" using cut strands. The pieces were sometimes dyed to reflect more youthful colours, and some were encrusted with jewels.

While you might think this is some lost art, there are still people making and buying both original and new hairwork pieces. Though the styles have become a bit more modern and often substitute horsehair for human hair, there is still a marketplace raw hair and the creepy little keepsakes that people make out of them.

At first I got the heebie-jeebies just looking at these, but now I think they are kind of sweet, and obviously gorgeous.

  • Are you inspired to DIY your own?
  • Gross, beautiful, or both?
  • Have you ever given away a lock of your hair?