Paintings and sculptures from the past and explanations from historians and scholars have provided us with a timeline of the evolution of tastes, fashions and practices for hairstyles and hair care dating back to the Neolithic era during which combs made from bone (which were discovered in archaeological digs) were used.
The Egyptians shaved their heads so that they could wear voluminous wigs and women adorned their wigs with metal clips and ribbons that were tied around the top of the head. Men covered their heads with a KLAFT, a rectangle of material, often stripy, that was fixed with metal clips and left to fall around the face. The headwear of the pharaohs and Gods were very sumptuous: a hard crown (PSCHENT), miter (ATEW) or a snake headdress was placed on the head of the sovereign or God and it hung over the forehead: these three types of headwear were symbols of royalty.
In eastern Mediterranean populations (the MESOPOTAMIANS and PHOENICIANS), men used to curl their hair in horizontal waves to contrast with the vertical curls of their beards; the women, however, tied their hair up on top of their heads, often in very complicated ways, and decorated it with tiaras made from gold, silver of semi-precious stones.
After the liberation of the slaves in Egypt, the hairstyles of the Hebrews became very simple and natural: Moses forbid women to style their hair in the Egyptian way.
The hairstyles of the Minoans were also very elegant and these can be seen on the wall paintings of the buildings in KNOSSOS and PHAISTOS: the women either curled their hair and fixed it at the nape of their necks with ribbons and beads, or they left it down, like the men did, in large ringlets.
In Archaic Greece, the hairstyles of the women were not that different from the hairstyles of the men: short, tight curls on the forehead and at the nape of the neck, and long ringlets, made with metal curlers, falling down their backs (some curlers made from gold were found in some archaeological digs!), normally held in place with clips, metal hairbands and/or crowns of leaves. In pre-Roman Italy, amongst the Etruscans, men wore long ringlets down the sides of their faces, held in place with a metal circle, and left the rest of the curled hair to fall softly onto the shoulders. The women, as well as having the curls on the forehead and the two long curls either side of the face, often tied the majority of their hair in a plait at the nape of the neck. The plaits were sometimes as long as the floor or many thin plaits were bunched together.
THE CLASSICAL ERA
In GREECE, during the classical era, in the stage between childhood and adolescence, young people cut off their hair and, depending on the sex, consecrated it to Phoebus or Artemis, and wore short, curly hairstyles. In preparation for their weddings, young girls even shaved off their hair completely. Greek women wore a centre parting down the whole of the head and tied the two bunches at the nape of their necks with ribbons and held them in place with hairnets, tiaras, plaits, hatpins or metal circles decorated with semi-precious stones. They often wore a CALANTICA too, a light textile that could be used as both a band and a veil.
The men mainly preferred to wear a hairstyle called ‘in the garden’: lots of
short, tight curls. In the 6th century, the vainest men tied some of their hair
in a knot above the forehead (CROBILOS) which was a style that women liked too:
when this style was worn by women, they moved the ‘knot’ to the top of the head
and called it CORIMBOS. Greek women also liked to dye their hair blue-black with
The victorious ROMAN military and the constitution of their immense empire put them in contact with all the civilisations in the Mediterranean and from these people they learnt, among other things, how to style hair. In fact the profession of hairstyling was not known in Rome until the 3rd century B.C. and the professional hairdressers came from MAGNA GRÆCIA when it was conquered. In the previous period, people wore their hair at the nape of their neck, tied with ribbons (vittæ) or hatpins (acus), or in plaits and the men, austere and sober, cut their hair short and did not use any accessories. Contact with the refined classes of conquered civilisation changed the taste too: the men became good at styling their hair (if they had any!) in the ‘in the garden’ style and they adorned, especially during banquets, crowns of leaves and flowers. According to tradition, on their wedding days, Roman maidens had a special hairstyle: the hair was divided with the top of a needle (HASTA CÆLIBARIS) in six locks or plaits, tied up and held in place with purples bands or with a crown of roses and myrtle.@@@MPU@@@
In the aristocratic houses there were always ORNATRIX, slaves that were trained
to always know the most sophisticated hairstyles for women: reticellas (needle
lace hairpieces), embellished with gold and semi-precious stones, tiaras, jewels
and flowers were needed to hold and complete hairstyles for real hair or wigs:
the hairstyles were true pieces of art, curls and plaits placed in order on top
and around the head. However, the poet OVID (1st century A.D.) was worried that
his fellow citizens could lose their hair by using very hot irons for curling and strong dyes to dye it as bright red as possible, as
the fashion demanded. With the arrival of Christianity, however, came a certain sobriety: a central parting, that softly divided the hair, was
worn and a ponytail was tied at the nape of the neck in a flat, rolled plait.
A veil was often worn that framed the face.
THE MIDDLE AGES AND THE RENAISSANCE
Christian morals imposed strict customs that even influenced hairstyles: men cut their hair short, whilst women wrapped bands around their heads so that their hair was covered, like nuns who come from certain monastic orders (ones with medieval origins) still do today. Only in the feudal period did queens and aristocratic women once again start wearing their hair down on their shoulders, with a tiara holding it in place on top.
At the end of the 13th century, men and women from the common classes covered their heads and hair with simple hats tied up under the chin, whilst men from the middle and aristocratic classes wore soft, slouching berets. In the upper classes it was common to darken, thicken and perfume ones hair, which was often shoulder length and decorated with wreathes and flowers. In Venice and Florence, men with short hair looked ‘suspicious’ and were considered ‘wrongdoers’. A long plait (COAZZONE) of hair and ribbons was often worn by very gentile women otherwise they would tie their hair up in a knot at the nape of the neck, held in place with a golden or silk reticella, and they would wear a FERRONIERE, a ribbon/cord with a pearl or a semi-precious on it, that is tied around the head so that the stone lies on the forehead.
THE CONTEMPORARY ERA
After the 16th century the hairstyles of men and women became ever more garish: wigs with copious amounts of curls covered the heads of men from the upper classes, whilst the women wore very big, curly hairstyles to frame their faces, decorated with ribbons which were tied at the nape of the neck. Quite soon after, wigs became an essential part of male and female elegance: men wore their hair in a ponytail (tied with a black silk ribbon) with lots of horizontal curls at the temples, whilst women preferred to pin the hair at the nape of the neck and then leave curls, from hairpieces, to fall onto the shoulders, giving volume and becoming a place (on the parting) to expose precious jewels.
The FRENCH REVOLUTION removed, among other things, garish and exaggerated hairstyles: women wore their hair in a ponytail tied at the nape of the neck and often covered it with a hat, as ‘common’ women usually did. Amongst men, the ‘Brutus’ haircut became popular; the hair is cut short and an uneven fringe is left covering the forehead. After the NEOCLASSICAL period, during which hairstyles inspired by Ancient Greece became fashionable, for the whole of the century, in vogue women preferred to wear rich, artificial hairstyles: long ringlets fell from the temples to the shoulders or, occasionally, ringlets were pulled out of buns that were tied at the nape of the neck. Men often chose a short haircut, cut just above the ear with a central parting and long sideburns (favoured by many), however, that does not mean to say there were not those who left their mops of hair to flow freely over the shoulders!
It was during the 1920s when the biggest revolution in the history of female
hairstyles occurred: woman wore boyish, short haircuts and bobs, whilst men adopted
the ‘Umberto’ style. Soon after, with the invention of the PERM, the fashion to
have curly hair, whether it was short or long, caught on quickly at first but
then died out slowly. The perm was sometimes used to make the face seem shorter
by tying the curly hair at the nape of the neck and occasionally wearing a silk
or velvet reticella too. By the end of the Second World War, characters from films and glossy magazines
were the models that inspired people. Brigitte Bardot’s long ponytail was the
role model for teenage girls all over the world, whilst women asked their hairdressers
to create hairstyles like those of Grace Kelly, Liz Taylor and Audrey Hepburn.
Then came the helmet haircut, backcombing, wigs and highlights and, in 1968, long,
shaggy hair covered in flowery wreathes became popular.
1968 was a decisive year for men too and they were inspired by Clark Gable and James Dean, wearing side partings and using hairnets at night and gel to shape their short hair, whether it was straight or curly. Successively, unisex fashion was born and men grew their hair like women and hippies longed to feel free from the constraints of tradition. The whirlwind fashions of the late 20th century, amongst nostalgic revisits and searches for something new, gave way to never-before-seen possibilities: different coloured hair and unusual hairstyles lived together in harmony in our towns where races and cultures were mixed together creating new tastes: the afro became popular amongst many Europeans and cornrows were worn by many, both artificial and coloured ones, whilst the desire to have straight hair, that was easy to comb, was common amongst Europe’s African immigrants.
Today, more than ever, ones hairstyle of choice is an expression of social integration or discomfort and, amongst very high fashion hairstyles and Mohicans, we can see the vibrant and multicoloured facets of an ever more complex, and perhaps unsatisfied, society.