Hairdressing, arranging or otherwise altering the hair for enhanced beauty, for practicality, or to indicate status. The process may involve cutting, plucking, curling, braiding, bleaching, dyeing, powdering, oiling, or adding false hair (such as a wig or fall) or ornaments. Hairstyles have played an important part in the cultural identity of men and women since prehistoric times.
II ANCIENT STYLES
Members of the ancient Mesopotamian and Persian nobility curled, dyed, and plaited their long hair and beards, sometimes adding gold dust or gold and silver ornaments. Both Egyptian men (who were beardless) and women shaved their heads for coolness. On occasion, they wore heavy black wigs and often a cone of perfumed oil on top of the head. The Hebrews were prohibited by biblical law from cutting their hair or beards. Thus, following ancient tradition, Orthodox Jewish men today, as through the centuries, wear their hair and beards long. After the exile, in the 1st-century ad, Orthodox women, upon marriage, cropped their hair and wore wigs, a custom which to some extent is still practised.
Among the ancient Greeks, boys under the age of 18 generally wore their hair long; except for the Spartans, men were clean-shaven and wore their hair short, curled into small ringlets. Greek women wore their long hair parted in the middle and drawn back into a knot or chignon. Sometimes it was dyed or dusted with colour or twined with ribbons. The curling of hair was so popular in Athens that it gave rise to the first professional hairdressers. In Rome, men were also, generally, beardless and short-haired. Roman women in republican days wore their hair in simple styles; those of the empire adopted elaborately curled and braided coiffures, often filled out with blonde hair taken from German prisoners of war. The Germanic and Celtic peoples of northern Europe sported beards and long hair; short hair was a mark of slavery or of punishment.
III NON-WESTERN HAIRSTYLES
In Islamic countries, both men and women continue to follow tradition, covering their hair in public under a headcloth, turban, fez, or veil. Followers of the Sikh religion do not cut their hair, the men wearing it in a tight bun on the top of the head, under a turban. Indian women traditionally wore their hair in long plaits. In China and Japan men formerly shaved the front of the head and tied the back hair in a pigtail. Chinese women combed their hair back into a low knot, and Japanese women—before the 17th century—wore their long hair unbound. Subsequently, they wore the hair drawn up off the neck and elaborately arranged, pomaded, and ornamented with ribbons, hairpins, or other objects. Warriors of some Native North American peoples traditionally shaved their heads, leaving a centre tuft of hair. Intricate patterns of braiding and beading decorate the hair of sub-Saharan African women, and in the early 1980s, an adaptation of this style became fashionable with black women in many parts of the world.
IV WESTERN FASHION
In Europe, in about the 8th century, the tonsure, a clean-shaven circular patch on the crown of the head, was adopted by members of Christian monastic orders to indicate the dedication to the service of God. Roman Catholic priests continued to wear the tonsure until 1972. By the 9th century, European noblemen wore their hair cropped at the neck, and women’s hair was long and generally plaited; married noblewomen, following the Church’s stipulations about modesty, covered these plaits with a veil. In the later Middle Ages and during the Renaissance, men’s hair was generally worn short and rolled under at the neck or above the ears. Fashionable women of the 13th and 14th centuries coiled their plaits over their ears or bundled them up at the back of the head, in both cases covering them with gold net cauls or with linen drapery, surmounted by a veil. In the courts of 15th-century France and the Netherlands, women plucked their foreheads to give an effect of added height and combed the rest of their hair under huge wimples draped with veiling. Italian women of the time set off their plaited, curled, and coiled hair with neat jewelled bands or caps. In Elizabethan, England noblewomen frizzed and powdered their front hair over hoops or pads and netted up the back hair.
In the early 17th century fashionable European men wore long flowing locks, often curled, piled, and perfumed. Trim moustaches and short, pointed Vandyke beards (so called from the style shown in portraits by the Flemish painter Sir Anthony van Dyck) were in vogue. Fashionable women wore a fringe across the forehead and puffs of hair or long curls at the sides, often incorporating false hair and threaded with ribbons and pearls. The back hair was coiled up on the head. In the late 17th century, men began to wear large curled wigs over close-cropped hair—a fashion introduced by Louis XIII of France to hide his baldness, and continued by Louis XIV, who wore a towering wig to make him appear taller. Towards the end of the century, these men’s wigs were matched by women’s headdresses, consisting of great superstructures of wire, frills, lace, and ribbons.
V THE ERA OF COIFFURES
In the 18th century, men’s wigs, now smaller, were customarily whitened with powder and tied behind with a black ribbon. Women initially wore their hair very short, and powdered, curled or waved. By the 1770s they had adopted a style of combing their hair up into lofty constructions supported by wire, pads, and false hair; it was powdered and decorated with such ornaments as flowers, ribbons, plumes, jewels, hats or even miniature replicas of objects such as coaches, windmills, or a warship.
With the French Revolution, hairstyles became simpler. Thereafter, men have generally worn their hair short, with recurrent periods when beards become fashionable. Women’s styles moved from the simplicity of the Empire style—heads encircled by a fillet in the ancient Greek mode—to Victorian complexities of curls, ringlets, fringes, and chignons.
VI MODERN STYLES
After World War I, it became fashionable for women to wear their hair bobbed, and often permanently waved. Since then, increasing numbers of women regularly go to professional hairdressers for cutting, styling, curling, and dyeing according to the latest styles. For men, the closely cropped crew cuts adopted for practical reasons during World War II gave way to longer hair and untrimmed beards. Shorter, shaped hairstyles and neatly trimmed beards reappeared in the 1970s; by the 1980s permanent waving was not uncommon among men, and moustaches were more in evidence than beards.