When you hear of Victorian hair wreaths, you may think of ornamental hair pieces that adorned the buns and ringlets of wealthy women. Or maybe you think they’re more like the flower crowns from the sixties that are now back in style for music festivals. However, neither of these answers is quite right. Victorian hair wreaths were actually an art form that took the hair from deceased family members and friends and wove it into a wreath that could be hung in the home as a memento. And, these hair wreaths were just the beginning. Hair also could be made into a wearable ornament, like bracelets, brooches, pins, and even buttons.

Victorian hair wreaths were usually made to help mourn the deceased, and could either have the hair from one family member or the entire family as a sort of family history. However, some hair wreaths were made as simple keepsakes. For instance, schools or congregations would sometimes create hair wreaths for their members, hanging them up for everyone to see. Jewelry was a common way for spouses to literally carry a piece of their loved ones with them. The symbolism behind these wreaths—whether it was that a community was being woven and tied together or a loved one demonstrating their devotion—made them appealing to the common man.

Because it was considered an art form, women were taught how to do this craft in the same way they learned cooking, sewing, and cleaning. In fact, it even was in Godey’s Lady’s Book, which provided detailed instructions on how to create a Victorian hair wreath. Because these women made them, there was an even stronger sentimental attachment to the hair. Although it seems strange and morbid to the modern reader, it can be seen as sweet and loving. However, this all changed with commercialization. Sears began to advertise for creating hair wreaths, but with the disclaimer that the hair in the wreaths may not be the hair you gave them. With this shift away from the sentimental art and towards a more commercial product, interest fell and eventually died out completely.

Today, these relics aren’t seen often, and when they are, they’re called creepy and weird. However, the art of the Victorian hair wreath shouldn’t be forgotten, because that’s just what it is: art. The hairpieces took arduous effort and skill to create, and should be appreciated in the same way that any other practice like basket-weaving or sewing is. With these hair wreaths, we can understand more about the Victorian era and the personalities of the people who lived then.