Sunday, June 30, 2013

Puritan Hair - Massachusetts

Ipswich Chronicle May 2, 2013

Back in the day, head fashion became a hairy scene in the Mass Bay colony. The magistrates launched an aggressive campaign on the matter, and several ministers “wigged” out in sermons, using Biblical references to shame their flock. This focus on fancy fashion and kinky hairdos was not taken lightly by the Puritans. Social order and convention were necessary for survival, and individual expression or adornment was considered a sin and a crime.

A “Roundhead” man with closely cropped hair was safe and godly. The General Court in 1634 issued “a burning theme of pulpit address” stating long hair “should by no means lie over band or doublet collar.” No proper Christian man would want to look like a “ruffian, varlet, and a vagabond.”

Governor Endicott imposed legal pressure to submit to a balding lifestyle: long hair was “uncivil and unmannerly” and “corrupts good manners.” Punishment would certainly be issued if hair was not cut to a civil frame.

Harvard College became an evil fortress in regards to shagging. The youth were cited for provoking evil with their long hair, even in the “pulpits to the great grief and fear of many Godly hearts in the Country.” Clearly, the stakes were high, and long hair became a penal offense. Rev. Rogers’s nephew Ezekiel, who attended the college, was cut out as sole heir of his estate for not trimming his mane.

Newcomers to the colony were warned about all things abominable. On board the Fame, Henry Vane and Lord Leigh cut off their lovely locks in preparation. Rev. John Cotton commended them for honoring God by shortening their hair, which demonstrated a “complete reformation by bringing it to the primitive length and form.”

Apparently the community of Ipswich did not take the hair policy very seriously. In 1651, a citation records “intolerable excess and bravery for bold apparel and head dress.” Puritan women were targeted for their puffed-up hairdos. 

However, they were willing to pay a high price for fashion. Several trunks landed in town, supplying all sorts of illegal garb and headdress, including combs, ribbons, scarfs, and other contraband. In 1679, records again note the “manifest pride openly appearing among us by some women wearing boarders.” These women were no doubt sporting “heartbreakers,” which set out like butterfly wings over their ears.

The proper hair attire for women was a neat bun and cap, called a “cornet,” or “Dutch coif.” 

Any mischievous locks or flirty curls were a sure sign of evil, a “wile of the devil.” In April of 1682, warrants were issued against young local girls for "folding their hair, frizzing and knots, and for wearing silk scarves." A total of eight girls, two of them servants, were arrested and made to crop their sultry, sinful styles.

A sermon by Increase Mather served up a stern message to these femme fatales, calling them “Apes of Fancy.” His disapproving words rang out from the pulpit: “Will not the haughty daughters of Zion refrain their pride in apparel? Will they lay out their hair, and wear their false locks, their borders, and towers like comets about their heads?” This reference was to a hair accessory known as a “commode,” a wire lace frill that kept the hair erect when attached to a smaller cap.

The wearing of wigs was a sin as well, and Samuel Sewall was in knots over the issue. His diary notes a visit to cousin Josiah Willard, inquiring about his wicked wig. He informed him that artificial hair was against the laws of God; God ordained our hair, and we are not to put that in question. Regardless, Willard liked his new look and made it clear he would not give it up.

In Sewall’s instance, God chose to leave him hairless. His courtship with Madame Winthrop parted ways when she could not entice him to cover his cold head with more than a velvet cap. She suggested enhancing his wooing charms by paying more attention to his own appearance, which included wearing a wig like his competition. However, Sewall was content with God’s design and rested that his Maker would send him another dame.

In their attempts to control every aspect of daily life, the Puritans were concerned with all modes of personal appearance and clothing choice. The Puritan fashion police would certainly have a field day with the outrageous hair styles seen these days. Surely Lady Gaga would easily earn herself 50 lashings and a day in the stocks for each of her crazy hair contraptions.


  1. It seems our ancestors would be entirely comfortable with Muslim Sharia law, or at least its intent - including burkas!

  2. If the road to Hell was paved by those with crimped hair just think what Increase Mather would do with twerking! Sara Doherty

  3. I am extremely happy to have found this information, as I am currently costuming a production of Arthur Miller's The Crucible. I am relieved to know that my suspicions about the men not wearing wigs is correct, as I did not want to deal with that! However Cotton Mather seems to be a fly in the ointment. He was a prominent puritan minister at the time, and it certainly appears to me that he is wearing a wig-either that or he has an extremely dedicated hair dresser! What are the opinions on him? Was he an outlier or do I need to consider that some clergy might have worn wigs?