Chignon Satire: Victorian Hairpiece Humor (part 2)

An enormous Victorian chignon

A Victorian chignon ripe for satire.


What is the rightful hair?

Not a chignon.

More Puniana, Hugh Rowley 1875


 What is the difference between a fashionable young lady and a man with a wooden leg?

One has a chignon (shin on) and the other has a shin-off.

The Young Englishwoman 1869

 Tuesday we looked at the hair-raising horrors of “gregarines” in fashionable ladies’ chignons and waterfalls. Today let us comb through the archives for chignon satire. As with any extreme fashion, these appendages were the subject of much coiffure comedy.

This first article is in direct response to Tuesday’s piece titled “The Chignon Horror.”



The publication in The World of the “Chignon Horror,” revealed by a scientific writer in the London Lancet, showing that in every “water-fall” not composed of the natural hair of the wearer (and possibly in cases even where the hair is natural) there are myriads of parasitic gregarines, has called out numerous communications on the subject, all lively and prolific in suggestions, from which we select the following:


To the Editor of the World

Sir: You and the scientific writer in the London Lancet are both in error in speaking of the parasites in the “chignons” as pediculi or gregarines. They are merely animalcuelae–thousands of which may be seen in a single drop of water, and of course millions would be manifest in a “waterfall.”

Yours, respectfully, H.


Sir: it is a great mistake to suppose that the pediculi humoni capilis are generated in water-falls or chignons, because these ornaments are made from foreign hair. The generation naturally arises from the position in which the water-falls are placed upon the head. They are located in juxtaposition to the bumps of amativeness and the warmth of these bumps produces the pediculi at once, and in any quantity, with no apparent exhaustion to the waterfall wearer. If the waterfalls were worn in any other place on the head there would be no spontaneous generation of gregarines, though the production might continue from other and quite natural causes. Following our advice, several ladies whose heads have lately been “examined” in our office, are now avoiding the danger of wearing their waterfalls on the back of the head, and are placing them as near the top of the head as the present style of bonnets will permit.

F.&. S., Phrenologists, et cet.

[Phrenology was the dubious “science” that said that character could be told from the shape and size of the head and bumps on the head. Areas of the brain had specific functions and those areas might be felt as bumps. “Amativeness” meant physical love and sexual attraction.]

THE COMPOSITION OF CHIGNONS  SIR: As one of the preservers of the public peace, I deem it my duty to allay the excitement growing out of the “chignon horror,” by detailing a faithful account of a vivisection of a first-class waterfall, made by myself on the night of the 10th ultimo. My duties call me to the doorway of one of the theatres at the close of the evening performances. After the last carriage had driven away from Wallack’s on the night in question, I turned to go home, and stumbled over what I supposed to be a small boy huddled up in the doorway, and asleep. Upon examination, after striking it with my baton, I found that it was a large-sized waterfall. I took it home and found it to be composed of the following materials: Item, a piece of an old buffalo robe; item, a hair pillow; item, the long lost books of Livy; item, a zouave uniform jacket; the whole enclosed in an old copy of the Tribune, containing that article on “Kansas” and covered with hair. Not even the “gregarines” could stand this collection of chignon compounds, for there were none visible either to microscopic examination, or to the naked eye.___ Policeman, No. ___.

HOW TO SLAUGHTER THE GREGARINES SIR: I have every reason to believe that waterfalls are infested with millions of flying parasites. Some of those which have been sent to be to be dressed or “made up” literally swarmed with gregarious pediculian burlakes. It is, as the London Lancet says, utterly useless to subject the chignon to heat—three hundred nor three thousand degrees of heart will not kill the pediculi. But, sir, my infallible investigator and invigorator, which removes dandruff, restores the hair to the natural color, cures the sick headache, and will turn a tin “Saratoga” into an old-fashioned hair trunk, is a dead shot also to the gregarine. I will [NOTE—the rest of this valuable communication may possibly appear as an advertisement, we are quite sure it will not appear in any other form in our columns.]….SIR: There must be some mistake about no “degree of heat destroying the gregarines.” Do as I did. Put the waterfall in the stove, close the door about two minutes, then open it, and if you see any “gregarines,” or, for that matter, any waterfall, I am mistaken, that’s all. Julia W____Daily Constitutionalist [Augusta, GA] 19 March 1867: p. 4


Girls look all head now, don’t they?

However, the illusion is dispelled when you talk to ’em.

More Puniana, Hugh Rowley 1875


Ladies who lack brains should not hesitate to affect the chignon with desperation. Two heads are better than one, if one is a chignon. Angelica [NY] Reporter 17 April 1867: p. 1

This “gentleman” played a practical joke with a chignon:

Most persons have read the anecdote of the gentleman who purchased a hairdresser’s chignon, and riding in Rotten Row with it at the hour when fashionable ladies take exercise there, held it out on the end of his riding-whip, pretending by his gestures that he had just picked it up and was anxious to discover its owner. It is related that on the occasion of this unkind practical joke at least one-half of the young-lady riders instantly raised their hands to the backs of their heads, thus involuntarily betraying the secret of those magnificent masses of hair which they delight to display in that resort of fashion. Curiosities of toil and other papers, Volume 2, Andrew Wynter, 1870

The same article repeated some of the horrors of infested hair and offered a practical suggestion:

If we are to believe the Russian doctor who has lately startled the world on this subject, there is a far more serious objection to this fashion…. In the heat of a ball-room the gregarines, .we are told, revive, grow, and multiply by dividing into many parts—so-called germ-globules; these fly about the ball-room in thousands, get inhaled, drop on the refreshments, and thus enter the interior of people by hundreds of ways. This is horrible. Henceforth no right-minded young lady who follows this fashion can properly refuse to submit her chignon, before entering a ball-room, to microscopical examination. It may be painful to her feelings, but she must not be offended if a cautious partner who asks her to dance should just delicately hint a hope that there are no sanitary objections. Curiosities of toil and other papers, Volume 2, Andrew Wynter, 1870

This item was reported from the chaos of the Great Chicago Fire:

“I will not,” said one heavenly-minded young woman, “meet my Creator in a chignon” and she snatched that worldly vanity from her head and flung it far. Thus “clothed only in innocence,” she ran prepared to appear before the Judgment Seat, if the end was coming, in nothing but her own hair. Possibly the loss of a recent and expensive purchase was regretted next day as a useless sacrifice, for the chignon was gone and the kingdom of heaven not gained. New York Herald-Tribune 2 January 1872: p. 2


The Vermont housewife who read that English nobles have lots of hares in their preserves, says she tried it to the extent of putting a whole chignon into some blackberry jam, and the jam didn’t seem a bit better for it. Kalamazoo [MI] Gazette 2 August 1881: p. 2


Why is the Prince of Wales like a chignon ?

Because he’s the heir apparent to the crown.

Rochester [NY]  Standard 17 February 1870: p. 4

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.



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