19th and early 20th-century hair appears to be everywhere when you start to look, from the abundant locks of the pre-Raphaelites to the myriad objects on show at the Great Exhibitions. The latter, hosted at venues such as the Crystal Palace, hinted at the level of global trade in hair economies, from hair harvest, hairpieces, and hairwork to commodities for styling and adornment. It was a period when hair became fetishized in all sorts of ways, from fashioning hair to moralizing constriction, from suggestions of sexuality in abundant free-flowing locks to intricate hair-incorporating jewellery which offered spiritual connections to the dead. In a period of increasing globalization and associated anxieties, hair came to express identity not just for the individual but for different cultures. Perhaps inevitably, hair itself became a contested site of signification whether as the strands of the diaspora, the cut locks of the underclass, or the coiffures of the court.
A Cultural History of Hair in the Age of Empire presents an overview of the tangled tresses of hair in this period, with essays covering: religion and ritualized belief; self and society; fashion and adornment; production and practice; health and hygiene; gender and sexuality; race and ethnicity; class and social status and cultural representations.