Meet The Top Knot's Edwardian Ancestor

An Edwardian hairstyle to go with all the English Country House books I've been reading.
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An Edwardian hairstyle to go with all the English Country House books I've been reading.

I've fallen into an "English Country House" rut with my reading lately. These novels tend to call for a stately family home and at least one headstrong female character, so I decided to channel that strong femininity with an Edwardian hairstyle.

The genre isn't restricted to the first decade of the twentieth century, of course. Some of my favorite books set in imposing mansions include Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (1847), and the loosely associated Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938). 

There's something particularly iconic, however, about the way women wore their hair around 1900-1910. 

edwardian hair gifford johnston

LEFT: A young woman, Susie Gifford, in 1900. (Photo: "Jones, George: Negatives of the Jones family" via). RIGHT: Miss N. Johnston, 1911 (Photo: S P Andrew Ltd of Wellington via

Young women were allowed to wear their hair up from the age of 17, and they generally chose a loose, voluminous pompadour, as popularized by Charles Dana Gibson's illustrations, now known as "Gibson Girls." Gibson was American, but the style was popular in Britain, too. 

I revisited To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (1927, but set earlier) and Howards End by E. M. Forster (1910), but couldn't find a detailed description of how the characters wore their hair. Instead, I searched for photographs from the period. In the pictures above, Susie Gifford, on the left, is wearing a top knot that wouldn't look out of place in a 2015 college lecture theater. 

This gave me hope that I could reconstruct an Edwardian hairstyle without looking like I was dressing for Halloween.

STEP 1: Build volume

blow drying hair

Blow-dry your hair with your head upside down. Use a heat-protectant, of course!

schwarzkopf volume powder

Looking adequately windswept.

To add more volume, I grabbed Schwarzkopf Volume Powder, which looks like baby powder but adds a million times more volume to the roots than talc or even dry shampoo could. Bonus: it's super cheap. Downside: it makes your hair feel kind of sticky.

schwarzkopf volume powder after

I could sell this photo as a stock image of dandruff.

One shake at the roots is enough to add volume to a 3x3 inch area. I repeated this all around my hairline, because that's where I wanted the most volume.

I didn't tease my hair at all, because I am always scared it will cause breakage, but if you're into teasing, now is the time.

STEP 2: Form a bun.

hair in a high ponytail

Gather all your hair on the very top of your head, and make a loose ponytail. Pull the elastic so it is a good few inches above the roots of your hair.

loose high bun

Push the hair elastic down onto your head--this will create the pompadour effect. Here's where you'd want to move it around a bit, to change the form of the pompadour until it looks even.

spiral hair pins

Stop here if you're channeling Helen Schlegel.

I twisted the rest of the ponytail into a loose bun, and secured it using a spin pin. These are boss! So much easier to use than regular bobby pins.

hair top loose bun

Two spin pins are all that's holding this bun in place.

STEP 3: Tidy and pose.

l'oreal hairspray

I stole my boyfriend's Mason Pearson beard comb for this step.

I used a light misting of hairspray to tidy up loose bits and hold everything in place. You don't want to use too much here, because the look is meant to be graceful and organic, rather than crispy and contrived.

bronze eyeshadow

Too much eye shadow and bare skin for me to be period-appropriate.

Now it is time to sit down, take some tea, and discuss the politics of the day. 

  • Should women be allowed to vote? 
  • Will charity aid or abet the lower classes? 
  • Who shall inherit England? And what is that spooky sound coming from the south corridor at night?