A reader has asked about hair fashions in 17th century England, as depicted in its art, so I thought we’d take a fun look at some of the more striking styles (natural or wig!) that I’ve come across in my research.

From the time King James came to the throne in 1603, women in art were usually shown still wearing the tudor styles, with their hair tied high on their head, decorated with jewels. The below portrait of Queen Anne of Denmark  by John de Critz is an example of this:


…and this one of Princess Elizabeth Stuart (Queen of Bohemia) by Robert Peake, in around 1606 (Metropolitan Museum)



Gradually, these high styles calmed down and became looser ringlets or curls:

Countess of Dorset
Lady Francis Buckhurst, Countess of Dorset, by Van Dyck (1637)

Countess of Lincoln
Bridget, 4th Countess of Lincoln, British School (?), date unknown

While the women stuck to variations on the above theme throughout the rest of the century, men seem to have had an ‘anything goes’ attitude to their hair.  Of course the quality and artistic licence of the painter has a lot to do with the impression we are left with, but a wide variety of styles were on offer, some more high-maintenance than others!

Sir John Ackland
Sir John Ackland by Robert Walker (1644), ©National Trust

Cmnwlth soldier
A Commonwealth Soldier, after Robert Walker
©York Museums Trust

A Royalist Officer, c. 1646-1649, attrib. Gerard Soest
©The Samuel Courtauld Trust

A Young Man in Armour, attrib, to Studio of Van Dyck

Of course, when you’re talking about big 17th century hair, nobody beats the royal Stuart brothers and their wigs during the Restoration and beyond. I wonder what their heads looked like underneath?

King James II, c.1690, ©National Portrait Gallery, London

King Charles II, c.1680, attrib. Thomas Hawker
©National Portrait Gallery, London

Leave a comment


  1. Women’s hair had some dramatic changes later, too. The hurlu-burlu style of the 70s, with the hair in short curls on top and around the temples, was strikingly different, and according to Mme de Sevigné was all anyone at the French court was talking about when it appeared. Then hair grew high again, almost like the start of the century, but built up with the towering lace headdresses.

    Charles II had the BEST hair. He’s in a wig in this late picture of course, but in Wright’s great coronation portrait, that’s his own hair. Bourbon blood ftw. 😉


  2. Forgot to say – that young man in armour looks rather like the the duke of Richmond, I think. Someone familiar, anyway.



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