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The History of Hairdressing. Part 2: What Hairstyles Were Found Trendy in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period?

What hairstyles were ruling the world of hairdressing one thousand years ago? Just a few people, mainly those interested in the very subject, have knowledge about this because normally we don't occupy our minds wondering how people used to arrange their hair in the Middle Ages or what hairstyles were found trendy in the Baroque. Nevertheless, it's worth learning a few facts about the history of hairdressing and the trends of the bygone eras - after all, this is an endless source of inspiration.

It can be said that hairdressing, depicted at its broad sense, came into existence particularly together with the first human appearance on the Earth. In its most primitive version hairdressing depended on trimming, frequently with blunt tools, too long and thinning hair. This practice needed time to evolve to finally became perceived as a form of art.

The Development of Hairdressing over the Years

The Middle Ages and the early modern period are two historical eras during which fashion was undergoing changes almost in each century, yet the most significant development in the field of hairdressing is noticeable after the end of the Middle Ages. It was the time of immense and extraordinary diversity in terms of hairstyles and hair care, although our knowledge on this subject doesn't exceed over what has preserved in various historical sources. Enjoy the journey through the history of hairdressing.

What Hairdos Were Found Trendy in the Middle Ages?

While exploring the history of hairdressing, it's worth realising that in the Middle Ages the spiritual sphere was recognized as far more crucial than the human itself. Thus, the most desirable were modest hairdos because taking care of oneself was perceived as a sign of vanity, and it wasn't accepted by the society. As it isn't hard to guess, the development of the art of hairdressing was significantly slowed down during this period.

Women's Medieval Hairstyles

The very modesty was obviously reflected in medieval hairdos. The prevailing trend of those times was blond or fair red hair. Basically, young girls could wear hair loose but adult women had to hide the hair under appropriate headwear. What's interesting, in order to make their body look more slender, women used to remove the hair starting with the forehead line going further reaching almost the top of the head. They wanted to clearly accentuate high forehead.

The way in which the hair was braided under the headwear didn't really matter. It was comfort that counted most. The most popular was a central parting accompanied with thigh hairdos arranged on the back of the head, similarly to how the present-day braids are done. However, sometimes long, wavy, loose hair could be noticed worn under the vials attached to cauls. Still, wearing loose hair without any headdress on was allowed only to little girls and maidens.

Men's Medieval Hairstyles

When it comes to men, medieval hairstyles looked a little bit different. The truth is, men had more freedom which was clear to notice due to uncovered heads. Still, all kinds of headgear - including helmets especially when talking about knights - was highly popular. While talking about the most popular men's medieval hairstyles, we can distinguish two types of hairdos:

  • shoulder-length (but not longer than that) loose hair
  • en ecuelle (so-called 'bowl cut') which can be described as hair cropped slightly above the ear level and shaved right below it

What's really interesting, these were medieval men who paid greater attention to hair care then women did. This trend applied especially to knights who spend long hours on taking care of their hair applying only preparations of natural origin such as vegetable oils.

On regular days men used to keep their hair in order by wearing hairnets arranged on shoulder level. This solution had its advantages because a helmet braced on it didn't pinch the neck that much. For special occasions men tied their hair in kinked and twisted strands arranged above the neck and shoulders. Also, this hairdo was often covered with egg white to add shine and fix the hair. Quite an issue though appeared at combing such hair. After all, hygiene wasn't the strongest suit of medieval people.

Medival hairstyles

What Hairdos Were Found Trendy in the Early Modern Period?

Some people say that the Middle Ages considerably slowed down the development of hairdressing and significantly weakened the meaning of the right hairdo. There is a grain of truth in this statement especially when we realise that hair could be left uncovered and styled no sooner than in the early modern period. However, while discussing the subject of hairdressing, it's better to divide this historical era into corresponding literary eras since along with the cultural changes appeared the changes in fashion and hairdressing.

Hairdos in the Renaissance

The Renaissance can be described as the rebirth of the art of hairdressing that finally managed to flee from the medieval rigour. During this period, people started paying greater attention to the look of their hair, and this favoured creating new hairdos.

Beau ideal was redefined and from then on the renaissance beauty was associated with long, golden, well-groomed hair. Certainly, not every single women was lucky enough to have naturally golden hair and this is how natural methods of hair bleaching must have been developed. People devised various techniques and these included using the bleaching power of the sun and sea water as well as hair rinses and herb-based dyes.

The beginnings of renaissance hairdressing can be described as a mosaic of medieval trends and redefining of the hairdos popular in antiquity. Therefore, high forehead ruled at those time so both women and men used to shave their temples and remove fringes. Moreover, people knew What Hairstyles Were Found Trendy in Antiquity and weren’t afraid of making use of ancient Greek-and-Rome fashion. The very hairdressing trends of diligently arranged hairstyles inspired renaissance people. Therefore, natural-looking and diligently arranged hair was find attractive again.

The most popular hairdo of the Renaissance is a straight centre parting with two ram horns braids arranged on each head side. Such ram horn hairstyle was braided using numerous thin wires and pins as well as fancy hairnets or vials (that were to gain popularity later). Another fairly similar renaissance hairstyle was brought into life thanks to one of hairdressing masters: two heart-shaped hair rolls decorated with a toque and hairnets made of for example pearls.

Hairdos in the Baroque

Many people perceive the Baroque as one of the craziest era in terms of hairdressing. After all, it was the era characterized by the tallest, the biggest and the most mysteriously braided hairstyles. Some of them resembled small towers which in fact wasn't possible to create using natural hair only. Richness and splendour counted most and this trend was the strongest in France. The later Baroque, the taller hairstyles. And it was the very trend in renaissance hairdressing that was the starting point of wearing wigs.

The first ones to wear wigs were men. This trend emerged due to Louis XIV of France who used false hair to hide his baldness. Arranged in long, loose strands the wigs became recognized as the symbol of dignity - men perceived it as a compulsory element of outfit despite being extremely heavy and uncomfortable.

In terms of women's fashion, these were tall and heavily ornamented wigs which were found fashionable, and they underwent many evolutions. In most cases they were used to replace hairstyles that were difficult to do having at one’s disposal natural hair only. Initially, the wigs were rather small and ornamented with accessories made of muslin, lace and ribbons with wire framework known as fontange. With time, female wigs of the Baroque era started to grow bigger achieving really massive sizes. They were assembled on special fillings or wire frameworks. Lush curls and braids didn’t suffice any longer therefore people started decorating wigs accordingly to mood, season and current affairs. To do this, people used feathers, tulle netting, crystals, fake flowers and fruit, tiny representatives of various items and other type of decorations that were laced into wigs.

Although baroque wigs looked gorgeous and reached truly impressive sizes, they weren't hygienic. Despite being worn almost every day, baroque wigs weren't cleaned so it became louse habitat pretty fast. And this is how small golden hammers used to exterminate lice become so popular in France. Furthermore, wigs weren't comfortable to wear - they impeded free moving (ladies had to support themselves with special sticks), getting into vehicles (frequently the tops of cars had to be removed) as well as sleeping.

Due to the fact that baroque hairstyles were almost impossible to do on one's own - arranging tall wigs and decorating them forced hairdressers to work on a ladder - the professional hairdressing service became wanted. At those time there were no professional salons therefore this type of service was offered at the clients' homes.

The end of 18th century, or the return to naturalness

Only the final phase of the Baroque, known as Rococo, was recognized as the big comeback to naturalness, although still being affected with baroque appreciation for curls, decorations and hairstyles in general. Luckily, rarely people were willing to reach for these massive wigs as hairdos were getting less complex. People started considering loose curls cascading down the back as being in style. Moreover, people focused more on how to grow hair in order to let it regenerate after being in contact with unhygienic wigs. Still, definitely more time and attention were paid to hair care than we do this nowadays.

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