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Ringlet hairstyles, some history and their continuing popularity

Ring a ding, ding...the ringlet style has long history

If you hear the word "ringlet" and think only of Shirley Temple (below) or Cindy Brady (farther below), then you just haven't been paying attention! Ringlet hairstyles have lasted across centuries and throughout the decades of the 20th Century and now in the 21st Century. From iconic ringlet-wearers like Cindy Brady, or Shirley Temple or even Phyllis Lindstrom (don't remember her? just keep reading), ringlets have always had their special place on women's heads. Today's ringlets range from everyday casual 'clip on curls' to elaborate ringlet-dos for special occasions.

Ringlets have been popular for thousands of years, since some woman first realized that by gently heating a rod with a candle's flame and wrapping hair around it, she might NOT burn her hair off (!) and she just might get a gentle feminine curly ringlet. Then, of course, she realized that she'd need a maid or two to maneuver around her entire head and keep a series of rods warming and at-the-ready to create a head full of ringlets. but ringlets have maintained their appeal without maids, or candle-heated rods...take a look!

A bevy of ringlets from female portrait early 1800's


First Century Roman Woman statue shows ringlet's popularity even thousands of years ago


A brief historical review of ringlets

Ringlets are closely associated with many eras, the large long neck draping ringlet of Marie Antoinette's 18th Century France. The petite forehead and before-the-ear ringlets of the Federal (USA) or Regency (England) eras of early 19th Century. The ponytail full of ringlets of the Victorian era (mid 19th Century) and so on to this very day, although ringlets now usually reserved for special occasion hairstyles.

As the 20th Century began, ringlets were very popular for women of all ages. Silent Era movie stars like Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish frequently wore ringlet hairstyles. By the time Shirley Temple came along in the 1930s, ringlets no longer required heated rods, just soft rag scraps to tie up rings of hair that one's mother, (or one's servant) had wrapped around her finger (like a ring, get it? A ring of hair around one's finger?). Sleeping all night in these knotted rags wasn't always comfortable, but the next morning...Voila!...ringlets!

By the 1960s two inventions made ringlets once again fashionable for grown tape, to hold in place that oh so precious ringlet worn just in front of each ear, and the electric curling iron which heated to produce ringlets all over, without a maid or candle in sight.

(Image above from

The extravagant ringlets of England's 17th Century King Charles II's mistress, Nell Gwynn


Shirley Temple made ringlets a 'must do' for girls in 1930s and '40s


Actress Julia Roberts, with a head full of loose tiny ringlets


Meg Ryan goes for full head of loose ringlets in 2008 movie 'The Women'


Marie Antoinette, a ringlet lover from 18th Century


A more modern Marie Antoinette and her king...look even he had ringlets, horizontal style!

Jason Schwartzman and Kirsten Dunst as King Louie and Marie Antoinette

Jason Schwartzman and Kirsten Dunst as King Louie and Marie Antoinette

Early 19th Century Ringlet popularity

The ringlet style stayed popular as time moved from the 1700's into the 1800's. From the ornate costumes, wigs and hair-dos of the European courts to the relative simplicity of the Napoleonic era, called the Federalist period in the USA, and commonly known by many women as the age of Jane Austen in England (the Regency Era). The ringlet became simpler than Antoinette's elaborate styles, but was still extremely popular. Women wore them across their foreheads, in front of their ears, across the back of their necks under a bun, or a ponytail made of nothing but long ringlets!

USA's Dolly Madison portrait reveals ringlet popularity in 19th Century. Forehead ringlets, before-the-ear ringlets were all the rage for stylish First Lady


Actress Kate Winslet gets a head full of ringlets for her role in the Jane Austen tale, 'Sense and Sensibility'


Tons of ringlets needed for this cast from PBS production of Jane Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice' Series


Emma Thompson as Jane Austen's Miss Dashwood with casual ringlet hairstyle


And continuing on through 19th Century

Ringlets didn't end with Jane Austen's women though, but adorned heads, popular as ever, throughout the 19th Century. Can one wear a hoop skirt without a head full of ringlets? Check out these images Bette Davis (Jezebel) and Vivien Leigh (Gone With The Wind), with their ringlets, from period movies about the mid-19th century.

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Actress Bette Davis, as "Jezebel" with a head full of ringlets displays the Victorian Era fondness for ringlets


Viven Leigh as Scarlet O'Hara with a very prominent 'sausage' ringlet


Actress Mary Pickford, from silent movie era, famous for her 'sausage' (long and large) ringlets


Forget the drudgery of creating ringlets, just clip them on!


Another version of clip-on ringlets, the 'Tony Pony Curly Hair' accessory, suggested retail $24.95


Sleeping with a head full of knotted rags was the Shirley Temple method for a head full of ringlets


Model Lauren Hutton with ringlets on 'Vogue' magazine, 1960s


Cindy's 'Brady Bunch' Ringlets...they can't be ignored...or forgotten!


Side ponytail ringlet early 1970s!!


The Queen of 1970s ringlets, "Phyllis" character on Mary Tyler Moore TV Show, played by actress Cloris Leachman


Ringlets in recent decades

Ringlets have been popular in recent decades, more or less. The Vogue magazine cover above shows a lovely version of the ubiquitous ear tendril ringlet so popular in late 1960s and 1970s. The 1970s ringlet popularity hits its zenith with the TV character, Phyllis Lindstrom (played by Cloris Leachman) from the Mary Tyler Moore TV show. The Cindy Brady photo also reminds us of the popularity of ringlets for young girls' hairstyles as well. The small before-the-ear ringlet was extremely popular for everyone from Tricia Nixon on her wedding day to teen model Cybil Shepherd in Seventeen Magazine, and all women everywhere in USA who went to bed with their little ringlets taped to their head with the newly invented hair tape.

Invented in the 1960s, the product that created ear ringlet frenzy, Scotch Hair Tape


If any woman's ringlets would kill this style it would have to be the vicious Glen Close in 'Fatal Attraction' movie


A current ringlet hairstyle, great for special occasions. This one from Michael Christopher Salon, Lyndhurst, Ohio


Sarah Jessica Parker in shorter hair, loose ringlet look


Ringlets through the ages

It seems that ringlets are here to stay. Let's face it....are their any 2,000 year old statues of women with stacked bob hairstyles a la Victoria Beckham? Have we seen any portraits from the 17th or 18th Century of women sporting closed cropped 'man' styles like Ellen DeGeneres, Suze Orman or most every woman over age 50 in the USA? Would Vivien Leigh be the same spirited southern woman in her green dress without her bouncy, sassy sausage ringlets? And let's face it, would Shirley Temple have captured the hearts of movie audiences if she'd had hair that was flat-ironed board straight?

More columns about hairstyles

Here are other columns about hairstyles

Fun and informative looks at HAIR!


zarnge on November 20, 2013:

Kn u hlp on olden day fotos to nowa dayz im duin study on roman women

Graham Lee from Lancashire. England. on July 01, 2012:

Absolutely brilliant hub. Well researched and informative. The photographs do such justice to the text. Your knowledge and enthusiasm shines through.

Voted up / interesting / following.


Angela Susan Harrison on January 19, 2012:

Lovely article, and makes one want to try it out, to see if it makes a difference. Use to do this as a girl, think I shall look for some rags, lol! Better than a perm that could frizzle and then afterwards regret!

newzealander101 on August 18, 2010:

hey its like a whirly curly ringlet

adorababy from Syracuse, NY on July 01, 2010:

Ringlets are just so Victorian in style. However, all of these styles are coming back right now. It depends on the occasion though on how you can rock these ringlets.

Research Analyst on April 07, 2010:

I like ringlets because they have a romantic style

desert blondie (author) from Palm trees, swimming pools, lots of sand, lots of sunscreen on April 01, 2010:

Sorry you take offense. Since 'fun' is what I was after, not a ringlet dissertation, I hope all readers will forgive what you call my error of terminology regarding the "pipes." Actually, I had no idea what these rolls were called on men's wigs and was just attempting ringlet humor. AND just because they don't fall around her neck...I sincerely believe that the Roman Lady is a beautiful example of ringlets.

Thank you for agreeing that this article was fun, as that was my entire goal!

madknotter on April 01, 2010:

I have to say I think you should do a bit more research. A lot of what you call ringlets are not at all. Men do not have "horizontal ringlets" on their wigs. They are called "pipes" the Roman lady does not have ringlets. The sight might be fun but many faults in the accuracy of the history of hair.

desert blondie (author) from Palm trees, swimming pools, lots of sand, lots of sunscreen on December 29, 2009:

Nina and Nancy...glad you enjoyed!

Nancy on December 29, 2009:

I really like the pictures you posted. I tried it and really enjoyed it!

Nina on December 28, 2009:


desert blondie (author) from Palm trees, swimming pools, lots of sand, lots of sunscreen on May 13, 2009:

To Gypsy Willow...tickled my column brought back a childhood memory for you!

Gypsy Willow from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand on May 13, 2009:

Wow! this brings back memories of my mother patiently wrapping my stick straight hair round damp lengths of cloth the night before parties (and the uncomfortable night that followed) I had completely forgotten about it. Thanks for the memory!

Em on April 13, 2009:

The ringlets have been tighter than that but that's more of an average day to day basis.


desert blondie (author) from Palm trees, swimming pools, lots of sand, lots of sunscreen on April 12, 2009:

Wow, ringlet-y hair...a blessing and a curse it sounds like!

Em on April 11, 2009:

My hair is naturally... well ringletty.

As I speak my face is framed with natural ringlets, just add water :P

A few days after washing my hair and they get so tight and start to resemble dreadlocks.

It's a burden to have natural ringlets as hair dressers have no idea how to cut my hair. They brush it and look all puzzled when it's knottier than straight hair, and ten times frizzier. Because of that I just don't get my hair cut. It's been a year or so since my last trim.

desert blondie (author) from Palm trees, swimming pools, lots of sand, lots of sunscreen on February 28, 2009:

Fortunately for me, I was as the tale end of the hard knotted rags used to tie up curls and into the era of the soft pink foamy curlers -- complete with hands full of pink Dippity Do styling muck, but my mother only 'did up' my sister and me on Saturday nights for Sunday church. Just once a week, lucky us compared to what you went through! Thanks for stopping by and glad you enjoyed!

Lisa HW from Massachusetts on February 21, 2009: