Renaissance 14th to the 17th century
In the 15th century, upper-class ladies of northern Europe painfully
plucked their hairline to make their foreheads seem higher, and
scraped their hair back under an elaborate headdress. In the warmer
climate of Italy, women displayed their hair in plaits and under
low, jeweled turbans or caps. Blond hair was considered to be a
sign of beauty and high class. As a result, both men and women attempted
to turn their hair blond by using bleach, saffron or onion skin
dye, or, in the case of Italian women, by sitting for hours in a
crownless hat in the sun.
Elizabethan 1558 – 1603
In the 16th century, after Francis I of France accidentally burned
his hair with a torch, men began to wear short hair and grew short
beards and mustaches. Of course, Queen Elizabeth was instrumental
in setting the female trends for this era (thus the name). Society
women copied her naturally pale complexion and red hair, using white
powder in great abundance, along with red wigs. The most successful
means for re-creating Elizabeth's pallor, unfortunately, was ceruse,
or white lead, which was later discovered to be poisonous. Inspired
by Italian women, the Elizabethan lady would also give a healthy
glow to her cheeks by using lead-based rouge colored with dye. She'd
color in her eyebrows, lips and even blue veins with alabaster pencils.
For the final touch, she'd apply a thin glaze of egg-white paste
to hold it all together.
18th Century 1700 -1799
In the 18th century fashionable wealthy men wore white-powdered
wigs tied back into a long braid at the back of the neck and encased
in a black silk bag, or tied with a black bow. Some men wore their
own hair in this same braided style. In the early part of the 18th
century, society women had trim, crimped or curled heads, powdered
and decorated with garlands or bows. By the 1770s, coiffures built
over horsehair pads or wire cages and powdered with starch were
all the rage. Some extended three feet in the air and had springs
to adjust the height. They were extravagantly adorned with feathers,
ribbons, jewels, and even ships, gardens and menageries. Such constructions
required several hours of work every one to three weeks. Between
sessions the undisturbed coiffure was likely to attract vermin.
In the 1780s, a reaction against formality and extravagance led
to the hérisson (hedgehog) style for men and women, a loose, bushy
mass of curls.
Victorian 1837 - 1901
The puritanical Victorian era advocated a modest, natural beauty,
restrained and without makeup. Middle- and upper-class women used
cosmetics less, but did not abandon them completely. Beyond face
powders, more audacious colored makeup was reserved for prostitutes
and actresses, who wore it only on stage. Society placed great emphasis
on hygiene and health, and many women's magazines warned against
the toxic qualities of lead-based industrial cosmetics. Beginning
in the 1840s, women's heads were sleek and demure, the hair oiled
and smoothed down over the temples with long sausage curls at the
side and later with a heavy knot of curls or plaits in back. In
the 19th century men tended to keep their hair relatively short,
sometimes curled and dressed with macassar oil. Most men wore some
variety of mustache, sideburns or beard.
During the "Roaring Twenties," societal trends reacted against the
puritanical Victorian standards of beauty. Popular new short "bobbed,"
waved or shingled hairstyles symbolized the growing freedom of women.
The impact of cinema was felt for the first time, as women increasingly
took their beauty cues from film stars such as Louise Brooks and
Clara Bow. The heavy use of makeup also returned to fashion in this
era. Generally, white women applied pale powder and cream rouge
circles to the cheeks, plucked their eyebrows and penciled in thin
arches, and painted their lips very red, emphasizing the cupid's
bow of the upper lip. Fashion-conscious white men wore their hair
parted in or near the center and slicked back with brilliantine
— an oily, perfumed substance that added shine and kept hair in
place. This look was popularized by screen idols such as Rudolph
Valentino. Some African-American males adopted the "conk," a hairstyle
popularized by entertainer Cab Calloway. The conk was an attempt
to straighten the hair and was accomplished by enduring a truly
painstaking process of "relaxing" with a solution dominated by lye.
Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Hollywood starlets continued
to set the trends in women's fashion. Longer, more feminine
hairstyles became popular again, and women immediately copied
Bette Davis' curls, Betty Grable's topknot with ringlets,
and Rita Hayworth's gleaming waves. Veronica Lake created
a sensation by wearing a lock of hair that covered one eye.
The hairstyle that most symbolized the era, however, was
parted on the side, with soft curls falling over the shoulder.
Also, for the first time, tanned skin (for both men and
women) began to be perceived as a symbol of high class —
again showing the influence of screen stars on standards
of beauty. Men continued to wear their hair short and often
slicked back with oil, and skinny, trimmed mustaches were
popularized by stars such as Errol Flynn.
In the uncertain times following the end of World War II,
tradition and conservative values made a big comeback. The
glamorous woman at home, able to attend to all domestic
chores without a hair out of place, became a popular image.
As a result, many women spent an inordinate amount of time
living up to the '50s ideal of beauty. The "doe eye," created
with shadow on the lids, eyebrow pencil, mascara and heavy
eyeliner; along with a pale complexion and intensely colored
lips, became fashionable. Women's hair suffered even greater
abuse. It was teased, styled, sculpted and sprayed at the
salon every week into a helmet of perfectly formed curls,
waves and bouffants. Hip white men wore their hair in a
D.A. (short for Duck's Ass). Formed by combing the hair
back on the side of the head and holding it in place with
hair grease, the hairstyle was created by Philadelphia barber
Joe Cirella in 1940 and took off when it was worn by television,
movie and music stars such as James Dean and Elvis Presley.
The D.A. was usually coupled with long, thick sideburns
— making their first appearance on men's faces since the
19th century — and a high-crowned poof of hair brushed straight
back off the forehead called the pompadour.
In the 1960s women were once again moving out of the domestic
sphere and into the workplace, pursuing careers as well
as an education. As a result, in the early to mid-1960s
women reacted against the time-consuming, complex hairstyles
of the '50s and opted for more practical short styles (often
variations of the 1920s bob), or long, straight hair. There
was only one makeup look throughout the 1960s: dark eyes
paired with pale lips (or, by the late '60s, no makeup at
all). Popular culture, especially rock 'n' roll, gained
ascendancy in generating standards of fashion and beauty.
When the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964,
their "mop tops" created a revolution in men's hairstyles
— making long hair fashionable for the first time since
the 18th century. Social movements such as Black Power and
the anti-Vietnam War campaign also helped shape the conception
of beauty in the '60s. Many African-Americans rejected white-influenced
styles such as the conk, and adopted the Afro as a sign
of black pride. The influence of psychedelics and the hippie
movement advocated a natural, wild look for men and women
and a complete rejection of cosmetics.
The social revolution spawned in the 1960s took root in
the '70s, and the standards of beauty reflected this upheaval.
In fact, hair became the symbol of the era in more ways
than one, evolving into perhaps the most powerful means
of projecting an image or making a statement. For most of
the decade, men and women of all ethnicities wore their
hair long, natural and above all free. Farrah Fawcett's
loose mane of freely falling curls, bronzed skin and glossy
lips created a sensation in 1976, as did Olympic figure
skater Dorothy Hamill's short-and-sassy wedge cut. Men adapted
Farrah's "wingback" style into the center-parted, "feathered"
hairstyles worn by teen idols such as Leif Garret and the
Bee Gees. The Afro hairstyle remained popular and was also
adopted by many white men and women, though a closer-cropped
version, such as that worn by Muhammad Ali, was becoming
fashionable. Toward the end of the decade the punk movement
arose in opposition to the hippie-influenced values of the
era. Punks created a deliberately shocking, provocative
look that included spiked hairdos dyed bright fluorescent
colors, shaved and tattooed scalps, facial piercings and
In the 1980s the "age of excess" was easily translated into
hairstyles, in general — the bigger, the better. Pop stars
such as Madonna and Cyndi Lauper popularized a style that
included heavy makeup with vibrant neon colors and intentionally
messed-up and off-colored hair. Michael Jackson sported
the "jheri curl," a sparkling wet-looking, heavily processed
version of the Afro. Decidedly less audacious middle-class
white teen-age boys adapted the punk-influenced spiked hairstyle,
which sometimes included a small braid at the back of the
neck (the "rat tail"). Androgyny also made a stunning impact
in the '80s, from Sinead O'Connor's shaved head to heavy
metal "hair bands" with their makeup and explosion of long,
dyed hair. In opposition to these trends, a neoconservative
"preppy" look was also in, popularizing traditional short
hairstyles for men and women.
In the 1990s standards of beauty were incredibly diverse
and constantly changing. Model Kate Moss created a disturbing
standard of extreme thinness, sometimes referred to as "heroin
chic" from the strung-out, emaciated appearance of the face
and body. The "grunge" movement in rock music popularized
an unkempt, natural style in opposition to the heavily artificial
looks of the '80s. Long, matted and unstyled hair characterized
the grunge look. Tongue, eyebrow and nose piercings (for
both men and women) also came into vogue in the '90s and
even crossed into the "mainstream" of youth culture. Michael
Jordan made shaving the head a popular "hairstyle" for men
of all races. Jennifer Aniston of the sitcom Friends created
a brief hairstyle fad with her modern version of the '60s
shag. The "Rachel" cut was sleeker, with longer layers and
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