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The History of Hair

FROM 3000 B.C. To present Day

Ancient Civilizations

History of Hair the Ancient Civilizations

Egyptian hairstyles very much depended on the wealth, age and social group the individual circulated in. Both men and women would have shoulder-length hair or hair cut short to the nape or even clean shaven heads! However a shaven head was worn by young adults before they become of age, they would leave a small curl in the side of their head, named ’Lock of Youth’, to symbolise their age. Then they would have a choice of short or long hair. Young girls wore plaits, braids or sometimes ponytails. The older men and women would wear wigs to hide their lack of hair or the greyness of it. Due to being exposed to the sun the wig would help protect the Egyptian’s hair from sun damage.

Women from the Old Kingdom would have shorter hairstyles whereas women from the New Kingdom had longer ones. Women would wear their hair with a natural-looking curl (when their hair was long) or plaited. Both kinds of women would decorate their hair with flowers such as the lotus blossom and linen ribbons. Egyptians would also use Diadems (similar to tiaras) made from gold or garnet but the poor people would decorate their hair with berries and petals. They would also wear headbands that circled the whole head and would serve to hold the hair in place as well as ivory and metal hairpins and beads to keep extensions in place. On each ringlet of hair (tress) they threaded gold tubes to show their wealth and dyed their natural hair with henna. Like women today their hairstyles were very unique.

The Veil was rejected by the privileged women but poor women adopted the veil because it was seen as a sign of social mobility. Men kept their hair short or shaved, the wealthier men would wear elaborate wigs.

To contrast from the Egyptians, classical Greece hairstyles where pulled back into a chignon style and was grown much longer.

Many styles involved braiding the hair and fixing it to the head and decorating with flowers, headbands, ribbons and pieces of metal. Blondes were very rare and therefore many women tried dying their hair blonde and also red.

Ancient Greece hairstyles also involved sprinkling Gold powder into the hair. Men would have short or shaved hair and they would wear beards unless they were a soldier.

Simple hairstyles would consist for women wearing their hair down and confining it from the face by using a band circling the head. Young girls wore a simple bun at the base of the neck. However, in the reign of the Emperor Augustus simple hairstyles changed and detailed hairstyles came into fashion. In Ancient Rome hairstyles became an expression of a person’s identity as much as it is today and again the style determined the persons wealth, status, gender and age. For women, their hair indicated how attractive and wealthy she was.

Today elaborate hairstyles like Lady Gaga’s are deemed controversial and radical but in the Roman times the more complex and outrageous her hairstyle the more attractive she was because she has spent hours perfecting her style which indicated her wealth. They would use false hair pieces like we do today to make their hair look thicker and longer. Women would either wear their hair down in ringlets or up in highly, sophisticated braids and knots. They decorated their hair mainly with pearls and jewelled hair pins. For men hair and bread styles varied.

In early Roman times, men would have long hair and full beards but this changed to them having short hair and clean-shaven faces. This changed again about 1CE as they kept the short hairstyle but grew their beards. Caesar’s hair began to go thin in his later days in which he would wear a laurel crown to hide this as it was a sign of degeneracy. To contrast the Emperor Nero wore curling hairs that framed his face and later started the trend for sideburns.

The East
In the Vedic period (1700-1100BCE) they arranged that Indians should shave the whole head, leaving a lock of hair at the back or at the side, similar to young Egyptians, allowing "God to pull people into heaven" .This kind of hair cut was limited to people with high social positions over time, whilst women were to use head pieces with gems and jewels in the forehead. The Greek culture changed all this as Buddha was shown with curly hair in the style of a bun, atop his head. In the period between 320 - 550 women’s hair was generally cut short and they would use longer hair to create a style, if their hair was tied it was in a bun to the side of their head or near the nape of her neck.

Men would also have long shoulder-length hair that was often braided. Since the 6th Century, in India amongst the Muslim community the hair was concealed in public for both men and women. Men would wear a turban or fez. Women would wear a traditional veil. In the 7th century, several sultans from Damascus, Persia and Afghanistan started to invade India, which caused a blend of Muslim and Indian costumes. Their hairstyle did not change much as most of the women’s hair was black, long, with braids or tied in chignons at the nape.

Chinese hairstyles vary depending on the age of the woman and her marital status and the reason for their hair being extremely long was because it was considered disrespectful to cut hair because it was inherited from their parents. Girls (and unmarried women) would usually wear their hair long and braided as for unmarried women. For married women this is reversed as their hair is tied up, with the odd loose curl to show that she is already married. Many Chinese women used a hair piece called a Buyao ("Shake as you Go").

The Manchu regime of the time dictated that men must shave the front of the head and style the rest of their hair in braids, tied with black silk. This has been a tradition only recently broken by the last emperor as he trimmed his queue(ponytail) symbolising the of changing habits, in 1922.

In Japan women’s hairstyles where quite different from Chinese styles. In the 7th Century noble women wore their hair tight to their head with a sickle-shaped ponytail at the back (kepatsu). However, after this period and up until 1345 fashion dictated that women should wear their hair long and unbound as a sign of beauty. In the Edo Period (1603-1868), women took on much more elaborate styles, in particular they would wear a variety of different buns, decorated with hairsticks, ribbons, flowers and combs.

The next 100 years indicate the same style but with a much larger comb onto of the head, which would have had ribbons ad sticks located near the back of the head (being very heavy). But there were also women who would adopt a much simplistic style such as the "box shimada" which consisted of hair being looped on top of the head and a projecting box at the nape of her neck. The bun was also worn on top of the head and secured with a pin. Men in Japan wore similar hairstyles to Chinese men, pulled tight into a ponytail with the front part shaved. Or the wrester style in which the hair would be pinned to the back of the head and the front part shaved.

In Africa there where many tribes and with that plenty of different customs. Masai warriors would spend hours braiding each other’s hair. They die their hair red with a natural hair pigment found in volcanic regions which is mixed with animal fat to create a paint texture. This tribe also wears a headdress. Women will have their heads shaved when they are married to symbolises a new beginning. Boy’s hair is also shaved before they are circumcised allowing their hair to grow until they become a warrior, then it will be braided.

Mangbetu women have a different kind of hairstyle as they braid their hair into a cone-shaped basket ( creating a crown)which is held in place by bones shaped like needles. The Miango tribe had simple ponytails that were covered by headscarves. But these styles represented different meanings to each tribe. Dyed and stiffed hair which was achieved by applying dung were common hairstyles in ancient Africa.

Native Indians to America were divided in hairstyles like many African tribes. Tribes close to the East Coasts would shave most of their hair apart from a ridge of hair along the crown. Many warriors shaved their heads except for a fringe of hair around the head(known as tonsure), a single lock of hair on the crown of their head(scalplock), or a stiff crest of hair running down the middle of the head known as a roach or in today’s world a Mohawk. A roach was both made with real and artificial hair and it was brightly coloured. In other Indian tribes men believed their hair to symbolise power and the longer their hair the more wisdom and power he possessed. His hair would be separated into two braids and into one braid down the centre of his back if he was an older and more experienced warrior.

Women would also wear such styles and would decorate their hair with jewellery, beads ad feathers. Braiding today uses three strands of hair but Indians used more strands to demonstrate in intricacy of their hairstyle. Many men and women would have a simple flowing hairstyle and would sometimes paint horizontal stripes in the centre with bright colours. Southeast tribes such as Navajo and Pueblo, would tie their hair behind their heads and twist into what is known as a chongo (also worn by men).

Hopi maidens wore big hairstyles that are known as squash blossom or butterfly whorls. This kind of hairstyle was only worn by unmarried women and was created by the mother circling the hair around (temporary) wooden blocks to create a butterfly look.

The Western World
The 5th century right up to the 15th century, known at the ’middle ages’ or the ’medieval’ period, had a strong Catholic alliance. Germanic tribes (from Germany) settled in England after it was invaded and abandoned by Roman troops in the 5th Century AD. The Germanics made new customs, that separated them from the Roman Empire as their hair held great significance like the Indian and African tribes. Military leaders would tie their hair in a knot atop their head to appear more intimidating to enemies as it symbolised authority, to lose ones hair would to bring shame on the individual.

Most men in this period wore their hair down with a part in the middle and great, bushy beards! Men who were of a lower status than the King would wear shorter hair. By the 8th century men shaved off their beards and groomed their hair vigorously as there was an alliance made the Pope of Rome. This style was kept for some time and even Pope Gregory VII banned beards and moustaches among the clergy and clergymen, in 1073. In the 11th century many men chose the ’pageboy’ hair style like Charles VIII, the hair curved over the ears and round the back of the neck.

A woman’s hairstyle in this period was very simple as she would wear her hair long, usually to her knees or longer, with two plaits running down both sides. She would also wear her hair in a chignon, for those hotter days! The Catholic church wanted all women to wear veils as female hair was considered erotic and owned by their husbands. In the 13th - 14th century it was popular to create three braids that were tied at the back of the head and decorated with nets and ornaments as was the forehead.

Married women would have covered their hair with Barbettes, veils, hairnets and hats to avoid showing her hair. In the Renaissance period women plucked out the front hairline to give the appearance of a higher forehead, the hair was pulled back tight so an elaborate headpiece could be used to show off their wealth. The style also involved many braids that entwined within and around each other, much of which we see at weddings today.
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