Elizabeth Stewart Clark & Company

Getting Snoody

If you’ve been involved in living history for any length of time, you’ll have run across The Dreaded Snood (often in chubby rayon crochet iterations), and the Dreaded Snood Question (should I be wearing one? and if so, how, exactly?) You’ll have seen women with poofy bangs, and long, undressed hair swirled into an elasticized doily swiped from Grandma’s side table, like so much cooked pasta.  You’ll have seen them worn low on the brow, a’ la Lunch Ladies. You’ll have seen them used and abused (mostly the latter.)

Here’s a somewhat controversial opinion, though: wearing an actual snood for the mid-19th century is just fine in some settings, for some women.

I know. I just typed that out loud. Just breathe for a minute, while I explain.

The Oxford English Dictionary has a few options for figuring out the mystery of the Dread Snood, and how it might relate to mid-19th century living history wardrobes. (I love the OED. Such a useful publication!) According to the OED for “snood”, we have a few options, style-wise:

1: Several sources refer to the Middle English “fillet” or ribbon tied around the hair of a young, unmarried Scottish woman as a sign of her chastity and maiden status, and

2: Most of the derivations in multiple languages and eras come from words meaning ribbon, cord, string, or band,  or

3: It’s the floppy bit of fleshy appendage that dangles and covers a turkey’s beak.

That floppy bit over his nose is a snood.

Let’s go with the former two, rather than the slightly ooky latter, shall we?

Setting aside fleshy turkey bits, we’re left with something shocking: the snood isn’t the net part.

Beloved by Lunch Ladies everywhere, but Not A Snood.

It’s the ribbon bit.
Not the net… look to the ribbons! (1866)

Ribbon = Snood


Take a look at original images from the mid-19th century, and you’ll see a lot of women, from young to fairly mature, sporting nifty, fine-silk nets, many similar in scale to a modern “invisible” setting net (and those make a great, cheap approximation, actually). The net appears to be attached to some sort of structured, wired band over the crown of the head, and the band is often ornamented with folded or pleated ribbons, bows, and other such frippery. Simply-dressed hair is kept tidy by the net, and the visage is ornamented by the snood portion: the ribbon bits.


Why do we see them at mid-century? Blame Queen Victoria and Sir Walter Scott, the former for her penchant for Highland Romanticism and Nostalgia (and no one did Nostalgia quite like Queen Vic!), the latter for his romantical semi-medieval Scottish adventure novels that were all the rage in the era. They’re a fairly natural evolution of earlier hair ornaments, and very suited to so many faces and heads.


So, wear a snood if you want to wear one. Just make sure you know which bits you’re talking about, and how to use them well. A decorative hairnet with ribbon embellishments (snood!) is great for any upper working class, middle class, professional class, or higher impression, as a pretty accessory item for non-working settings, worn over simply-arranged and pinned hair. It can also be a great option for helping blend the join between real and false hair, for those of us with short modern styles, so long as the settings and activities are also compatible with using a fashionable accessory.


L to R: Snoody Friend, Reluctant Bride, Snoody Friend, Swipey-Stealy Friend; by Toulmouche, 1866

by Fattori, 1861; notice the snood (ribbon) on top, and also: she is rocking the fine white bodice and silk jacket combination!

Studious, and Snoodius!


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About The Sewing Academy
With a focus on the 1840-1865 era, The Sewing Academy is your home on the (internet) range for resources to help you meet your living history goals!

Elizabeth Stewart Clark has been absorbed by the mid-19th century for over 20 years. She makes her home in the Rocky Mountains with her husband, four children (from wee to not-so-wee), far too many musical instruments, and five amusing hens.

Email Elizabeth Or call 208-523-3673 (10am to 8pm Mountain time zone, Monday through Saturday)
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