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“Hair is at once the most delicate and last of our materials and survives us like love”
Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1850

For over three centuries, friends and lovers have exchanged a lock of hair as a sign of intimacy and a pledge of everlasting love and commitment. Hair’s enduring quality, containing the very DNA of a person, was a tangible physical link which, when woven into intricate patterns and plaits, formed love tokens and keepsakes. Crafted into rings, lockets and brooches, sentimental jewellery was particularly popular in the 19th century in England and the United States. Hairwork was an intricate art, performed by skilled craftsmen who created exquisite jewellery for the aristocracy.

As a marker of social status and as a potent symbol of affection, middle class ladies soon emulated this fashion and embraced haircraft as a popular pastime. Locks of hair were sorted into strands before being threaded onto a circular table. In a process similar to lacemaking, complex patterns were created using bobbins and weights. Guided by instruction manuals, the hours spent on this elaborate craft made this a true labour of love.

Even more poignant were those keepsakes created in bereavement. Such tangible evidence of the departed loved one was an allegory of love beyond death. Tokens of grief were especially pertinent during the 19th century when life expectancy was low and people were surrounded by death. Sentimental jewellery incorporated “Momento Mori” (“Remember you will die”) which added a spiritual context to these tangible expressions of grief.


Text Angela Purnell
Artwork Emma de Clercq
Photography Panos Damaskinidis

Angela Purnell is a Lecturer in Fashion History and Revivals.
She currently teaches Fashion Historical & Contextual Studies
at Regent’s University, London.

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