History Of The Nightcap – Victorian And Edwardian Hair Care

Nightcaps or sleeping caps were worn while sleeping to keep the hair tangle-free and – especially silk nightcaps – to make the hair glossy. Nightcaps have a long history and even today silk caps are recommended for long or curly hair. Read on to find out why and how Edwardian and WW1 women wore nightcaps and how to make a vintage silk sleeping cap for yourself!

Related: 200+ Historical DIY Natural Beauty Products

History Of The Nightcap - Victorian And Edwardian Hair Care


History Of The Nightcap

In the Victorian era, nightcaps were worn by all women, young and old. Usually made of cotton or wool, they were not very pretty but were worn out of necessity because bedrooms were usually chilly. However, at the turn of the century nightcaps have gone out fashion. In the Edwardian era (1901-1910), nightcaps were not fashionable. If an Edwardian woman wore a nightcap, she was usually described as eldery and unfashionable:

‘Aunt Eliza was a stout, elderly lady, with a good-natured, florid face. She wore a night cap when she went to bed, an article that is now almost, if not entirely out of fashion.’ (San Francisco Call, 1901)

Still, in the Edwardian era elaborate pompadour coiffures were in which required curled

History Of The Nightcap
Victorian Cotton Nightcap & 1920s Silk And Lace Nightcap

hair. So in the late 1900s and early 1910s, women went back to wearing nightcaps to keep their curls from getting tangled during the night:

‘Hush-h-h! It is quite possible you know it already, but it is a secret, just the same, and it never would do to have it talked about; but the fact is that all we girls are going back to the fashion of our grandmothers and – yes, wearing nightcaps. But the nightcap of to-tay is a very different affair from those that were worn fifty or sixty years ago.’ (Inyo Independent, 1910)

Edwardian nightcaps resembled mob caps. Mob caps are very simple caps: just a fabric circle gathered with elastic. 1900s and 1910s nightcaps were made out of white or colored silk, sometimes trimmed with gathered Valenciennes lace. While nightcaps were rather plain, breakfast caps, which were worn at the breakfast table, were more elaborate lace or lace-trimmed caps.

And later, in the 1920s, nightcaps – now called boudoir caps – were fashionable again. 1920s boudoir caps were dainty caps made of lace and colored silk.


Why Wear A Nightcap?

‘The nightcap may be donned merely for the fun of it, or for the sake of becomingness, or it may cover up the carefully bandend “water-waved” hair, or even humble curl paper.’ (Sacramento Union, 1912)

For Glossy Hair

‘Some women wear a cap at night, but it must be of silk. […] The silk, these devotees of the nightcap say, creates gloss or polish by communicating electricity to the hair.’ (Los Angeles Herald, 1903)

The cap ‘made of white silk and is supposed to keep the head warm and to add luster to the hair. Many women who pride themselves on their beautiful, shiny locks owe this sheen to their silk nightcaps.’ (Los Angeles Herald, 1912)

For Warmth

1921 Nightcap - History Of The Nightcap
1921 Nightcap

The ‘nightcap of […] fifty or sixty years ago […] were frankly ugly, usually made of some coarse and heavy material, which covered the head completely, extending over the ears and under the chin. They were worn for warmth, for there was no steam heat at that date, and bedrooms were often chilly.’ (Inyo Independent, 1910)

‘Winter or summer the bedroom windows should never be closed except on such occasions as blowing rainstorms. Sleeping in cold air is all right if heavy enough clothes are used and the head is properly protected by a nightcap, or woolen hood or whatnot to suit the season.’ (Chico Record, 1911)

Related: Keep Your Home Cool In The Summer Heat – Edwardian Decor Ideas

‘The [influenza] patient should be protected by light but warm bedclothes, and by a silk nightcap.’ (Inyo Independent, 1908)

To Keep The Hair Tangle-Free

Nightcaps ‘cover the hair, and have the added virtue of protecting it so that it neither snarls nor tumbles during the process. This makes combing in the morning a simpler operation, and the hair is benefited by being protected from the air.’ (Health And Beauty Hints, 1910)

‘Nothing is so “messy” as untidy hair, and the cap not only covers the hair, but keeps it from getting snarled and rumpled.’ (Los Angeles Herald, 1912)

Edwardian Nightcap Mob Cap - Nightcap History
Edwardian Mob Cap-Style Silk Nightcap

To Make Women More Attractive

‘The effect of the silk on the hair is said to be most beneficial, besides being a bewildering little cap designed to make the sleeping beauty doubly attractive. Nightcaps have become so much the vogue that few women look upon them as affectations any more.’ (Los Angeles Herald, 1912)

‘A woman should never look ugly for a moment, even to herself. She should never, never get in the habit of being plain, even in the dark, behind the locked door of her room. The cold cream should be well rubbed in , then wiped off, with a delicate dusting of some harmless baby powder to take the shine off.

Related: DIY Edwardian Cold Cream

If curl papers there must be the effect should be mitigated as far as possible with binding the rest of the hair over them or donning the charming and fashionable nightcap.’ (Sacramento Union, 1912)

To Protect The Expensive Marcel-Waved Hairstyle

1903 Nightcap
1903 Nightcap (Los Angeles Herald, 1903)

‘Paris has gone back to the nightcap[…] to protect the elaborate coiffure in vogue.’ (San Francisco Call, 1910) The ‘New York Press says, and, though the man who buys one might be inclined to doubt it, they have the reason of their existence in the motives of strict economy.

With the elaborate styles of coiffure that now are in fashion women find they can fritter away a most unwelcome proportion of their pin money on their hairdressers, and they have taken to nightcaps so that after their hair has been fixed up for a dinner or theater party in the evening they can save it from being mussed up at night and preserve the effect of a single visit to the hairdresser for at least two or three days.’ (Inyo Independent, 1910)

While Traveling

‘A nightcap – I mean the kind made of silk or lace and muslin – has its serious uses. For traveling at night, for instance, they are quite indispensable, as they keep the hair perfectly clean, besides giving the woman traveler the comforting sensation that no cone can tell whether she is wearing false locks or not should she be routed from her berth suddenly before adjusting her “extra” hair.’ (Los Angeles Herald, 1912)

Related: Victorian & Edwardian Travel Accessories

To Perfume The Hair

‘Perfuming the hair is among the simple and dainty details of a complete toilet that can be done by any woman at little trouble or expense. To apply, scent caps should be worn’ (Health And Beauty Hints, 1910).

Perfumed locks are made sweeter still by the habit of sleeping in nightcaps. The nightcap is another of the revivals. There are close little caps, which are fitted to the head and which are lined with sachet powder. The hair, when one takes off the cap in the morning, is deliciously fragrant.’ (San Jose Mercury News, 1904) More about scent caps below.

To Protect The Pillow

‘At night the scalp should also be massaged with the fingers […] After this a good hair tonic should be applied with a medicine dropper directly to the scalp and rubbed in a little.’ (San Francisco Call, 1909)

Massage the scalp at night with the ‘fingers dipped in an oily tonic […] just enough to keep the tips of the fingers moistened’ (Chicago Tribune, 1903). ‘A final brushing is given, and the hair loosely braided for the night.’ (Health And Beauty Hints, 1910)

‘No application is better for lustrous hair than salt. Rub well into the roots of the hair at night, then tie up in a large handkerchief or wear a nightcap. Brush out the salt in the morning.’ (Los Angeles Herald, 1907)


1910s Nightcap - History Of The Sleeping Cap
1910s Mob Cap-Style Nightcap


Why Not To Wear A Nightcap

Nightcaps Are “Heating”

Nightcaps are ‘heating […] Nightcaps, anyway, except for persons very bald, are objectionable.’ (Beauty Culture, 1911)

The Hair Should Be “Aired” At Night

‘The constant wearing of a boudoir cap – no matter how fetchingly becoming, is bad for the hair which must have a certain amount of light and air each day. A perfumed nightcap may be donned once a week, but on other nights the hair should be simply braided after the massage and allowed to hang over the shoulder.’ (Sacramento Union, 1914)

Related: Victorian & Edwardian Night-Time Hair Routine – “Airing” The Hair Etc.

Nightcaps Were Unfashionable In The Early Edwardian Era

‘Aunt Eliza was a stout, elderly lady, with a good-natured, florid face. She wore a night cap when she went to bed, an article that is now almost, if not entirely out of fashion. But Aunt Eliza belonged to the old world, and could not accomodate herself to new fangled ways. She was sure she would catch cold if she slept out of her night cap.’ (San Francisco Call, 1901)


Edwardian Silk Nightcap Mob Cap How To Make A DIY Sleeping Cap
Edwardian Mob Cap-Style Silk Nightcap


How To Make A Nightcap

How To Make A Scent Cap

‘For this headpiece a dusting-cap pattern is practical, the covering being merely a circular cloth large enough to keep the hair free and allow circulation of air. It is fitted to the head

1915 Mob Cap Silk Nightcap
1915 Mob Cap-Style Nightcap (New Crochet and Tatting Designs in Caps, Collars and Jabots, 1915)

by an elastic, care being taken that the latter is not too tight, or circulation will be stopped.

The material for the cap depends entirely upon the amount of money a girl wishes to spend. Silk, of course, is best – a thin China or India. Silkolene is an excellent substitute. Besides this fabric for the cap there should be an interlining of thinnest cashmere, a wool material being necessary to hold the odor satisfactorily. For the lining stiff goods should not be choses, or the head may be overheated.

Between the inner and outer cap any kind of sachet desired is sprinkled thickly. I am always a strong advocate of orris root, for it is sweet, and never cloying. If the cap is tufted at intervals there will be less danger of the powder settling in one part.’ (Health And Beauty Hints, 1910)

Mobcap-Style Nightcap With Rosettes

‘Then there is the boudoir or breakfast cap, of lawn and lace, or with lace-edged frills of net. In shape it is like the old nightcap or the still older mobcap, but of course it is much more ornate; and instead of fastening under the chin with unbecoming strings it is brought in at the side of the head by a ribbon drawstring run through beading and ending in a little flat rosette, that can be pinned in place. Or narrow elastic may be run through the hem, and then the rosette can be sewed, and the cap adjusted immediately.’ (San Francisco Call, 1910)

‘One quaint style is a mobcap of china silk, with a band of white ribbon ending in a flat bow in front and a very wide fall of lace, reaching to the nape of the neck, in back.’ (San Francisco Call, 1910)

All-Lace Caps With Silk Ribbons

1912 Nightcap - History Of The Nightcap
1912 Nightcap With Silk Ribbons (Los Angeles Herald, 1912)

‘The little cap is made of rows of Valenciennes lace sewn on a very fine net foundation. It can be copied quite easily by making a pattern out of paper first, fitting it carefully to the head. The long ribbon loops are of the pink satin.’ (Los Angeles Herald, 1912)

‘The nightcaps of to-day are beautiful affairs of laces and silks and all kinds of dainty weaves’ (Inyo Independent, 1910). ‘Nightcaps are now an essential item of the wardrobe. These caps are mere handfuls of lace, shaped to fit the head and trimmed with bows of the softest ribbon that could not possibly make a lump under the cheek as one sleeps.’ (Sacramento Union, 1912)

Silk Handkerchiefs

‘Some women have adopted the very pretty fashion of wearing nightcaps made of white silk handkerchiefs, very large and trimmed with a fine lace edging. These are adjusted like bathing caps, or as our good old black mammies wore their bandannas. They serve for dusting caps and breakfast caps.’ (Los Angeles Herald, 1912)

‘Some women wear a cap at night, but it must be of silk. A silk handkerchief, knotted at the four corners, is sometimes the most convenient arrangement.’ (Los Angeles Herald, 1903)

Peasant-Style & Knitted Silk Nightcaps

1915 Nightcap - History Of The Nightcap
1915 Peasant-Style Nightcap (New Crochet and Tatting Designs in Caps, Collars and Jabots, 1915)

‘A simple nightcap can be made of batiste or a very thin India linen. This is done in the shadow embroidery. Many use the colored floss and have the ties to match. These caps protect the hair and are quite cool.’ (Sacramento Union, 1909)

Related: How To Sew An Authentic Victorian Peasant-Style Cap

‘The other nightcap, made in the style of the old French peasants’ caps, has a utilitarian, as well as an artistic, value. It is made of white silk […] [Another cap] is made of knitted silk, like the polo caps for children, only longer and with a tassel at the end.’ (Los Angeles Herald, 1912)


How To Wear A Nightcap

‘Many women who pride themselves on their beautiful, shiny locks owe this sheen to their silk nightcaps. Before retiring the hair is thoroughly brushed, braided, the braids wound around the head and the ends caught under the braid, but not fastened with hairpins. The silk cap keeps the hair in place.’ (Los Angeles Herald, 1912)

‘To use the cap for best results the hair should be thoroughly brushed and combed at night and then done in a loose braid. The more every hair is exposed to the [scent] cap the more it will take the sweet odor. It is not well to make any kind of coiffure that requires pins, for the braid is simply tucked up and the cap pulled on, covering the head entirely. It is worn all night.’ (Health And Beauty Hints, 1910)

‘If curl papers there must be the effect should be mitigated as far as possible with […] donning the charming and fashionable nightcap.’ (Sacramento Union, 1912)


1910s Nightcap - History Of The Sleep Cap
1910s Nightcap


Breakfast Caps

Breakfast caps were usually more elaborate than nightcaps – made of lace or heavily trimmed with lace . While nightcaps were worn in bed, breakfast caps wear worn at the breakfast table to cover up uncombed hair and hide the hair curlers.

‘All the charming invalid caps or lace and ribbon are intended for breakfast wear, and as the cost is very small when made at home, there can be no further excuse for coming to the breakfast table with untidy or uncombed hair, or, what is worse, a large row of curl papers. If curlers must be worn they can be hidden under the caps. At least the early breakfaster will be spared one special eyesore.’ (Los Angeles Herald, 1912)

1910s Nightcap
1910s Nightcap

Negligee caps ‘are worn in bed sometimes and in the room and at the breakfast table. The idea is not very foreign to that of the old nightcap with which grandmother was familiar. The cap is made of silk, overlaid with lace, and it is fastened to the sides of the head with fancy pins. Its object is the concealment of the curling pins and of the hair.

The coiffure that lies in waves all night is not apt to be dressed early in the morning and for that reason the little lace morning cap is a very useful thing. If drawn on over locks that are half curling and wholly disordered it takes on a picturesque appearance, which is very attractive. The caps come in blue and in white and in either color they are becoming.’ (San Francisco Call, 1902)

‘Prettiest of all are the negligee caps; some quaintly prim in old-timey nightcap style with a frill around the face and ribbons to tie beneath the chin; and others distractingly coquetish and piquant, with a full crown and drooping mob-cap brim, and a band and chou of one’s becoming color as trimming.’ (Sacramento Union, 1911)


Nightcaps For Dogs

You can even make a nightcap for your dog to protect their fur! Lol! 😀

‘”Jean and the Waif” is a very touching story, with comical sides to it, especially when Jean, a collie, is put to bed, with night-gown and nightcap on, by the Browns, who have no children.’ (Santa Cruz Sentinel, 1911)

Khaleesi, my black GSD, would probably not tolerate that thing on her head! She’d think it’s a toy that she can destroy like her other toys! 😉


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