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Hair across the Ages

July 25th, 2014

Greek Hair WomanPeople have had hair since the dawn of time, since the era of cavemen, once we evolved and learned to walk. Human hair has been through a lot over the years, and it hasn’t been the same since. Take a look at everything we go through just to fix a bad hair day in these modern times; all the styling, the waxes and machinery, and of course we hit the salon now and then to spruce it up a bit. What did they do back in the day, once humans survived the first couple hundred (or thousand) years? Let’s take a look.

Egypt

Back in the days of Egypt, the most common hair color was a very dark brown or black, and the hair itself was usually curly. Any type of old art, or even modern images of Egyptians will make that clear. Their hairstyles back then mainly depended on age, not gender. Children, from birth until they hit puberty, were clean shaven and generally kept bald. Once they hit puberty, they were given a choice to let it grow to shoulder-length or to the nape of the neck.

In the later years, when age starts to weigh down on the body, one tends to lose their hair. To keep up appearances, henna was used to dye greying hair. If one was losing their hair, they made wigs out of real hair and/or black sheep wool. They also designed false braids and hair extensions to increase their own beauty/appearance, a common practice still found today. When Egyptians came into contact with the Greek, their hairstyles started to mix a bit, lending themselves to short and wavy hair, and the addition of wearing bands in one’s hair—possibly the first type of hair scrunchy made.

They say the Egyptians were ahead of their time, and when it came to hair treatment, they were definitely ahead of the pack. Here are a few of the things we may have picked up from them:

–Washing and cleaning hair and/or wigs – A mix of water and citric juices; the citric acid would dissolve fatty oils, leaving hair smooth and shiny. They also used almond oil as a hair conditioner.

–Hair removal or shaving – Sharpened blades made of copper or bronze

–Coloring or dying hair – As mentioned, they made use of henna to dye hair. The henna was usually a hue of orange or red, but the Egyptians would mix it with cow’s blood and crushed tadpoles for different variations of color.

–Early hair gel – Following some grooming and manually setting up their hair for the style they wanted, they would put beeswax in their hair and then sit out in the sun until it hardened.

–How to strengthen hair – Egyptians used different types of oils (almond, rosemary, or castor oil) in their hair to stimulate hair growth and to make it stronger.

Ancient Hebrews

Like the Egyptians, early Hebrews also had mainly dark or black hair that was usually very curly. They wore it long, mainly because they were forbidden to shave their heads or face in honor of the Gods; the only exceptions were in a time of mourning, or if they had their head shaved as a punishment for sinning. This is because baldness was believed to be a curse back then, so the longer someone’s hair was, the more it was esteemed or cherished. Not much has changed since then, wouldn’t you say (cue rock star head banging)?

To give their hair some shine, early Hebrews would powder their hair with golden dust. They also used oils for a variety of uses—possibly the oddest one was spilling perfumed oils onto visitors as a sign of welcome. That doesn’t sound like the best idea in the hot sun; thankfully the Hawaiians figured out a good ol’ fashioned lay was a bit more welcoming. Later, Hebrews got mixed in with Central Europe, North Africa, and Spain. This led to Hebrews with different hair colors, such as brown, blonde, and red.

Greece

Greeks were known worldwide for their hairstyles. The Greeks actually revolutionized a lot of things, sex being one of them. Their hairstyles resembled the ever-changing world, so it was mostly styled with waves or loose curls to symbolize impermanence. Greek hairstyles were mostly based on gender and social status. Slaves had their heads shaved, whilst those of higher class had elaborated hairstyles, and put dressings in their hair. Men tended to have naturally wavy hair on their heads and in their beards, whilst women had long, shoulder-length hair, or past the back. Interestingly enough, women wore their hair in long braids to signify they were married.

It wasn’t until later that the Greeks started to tamper with their hair, artificially curling or straightening it. They had a variety of hairstyles to choose from once they started experimenting:

–Worn with braids, and/or bangs
–“Melon hairstyle” where the hair is pulled back and set with a pin, tied into a bun at the back of the head. Sometimes, women tied their hair with tiaras or other jeweled crowns.
–“The Bartlett Head” – Hair tied in two knots atop the head
–Men’s hair was still wavy, but they were no longer unkempt. Some men started to curl their hair at this time.

Back in the day, being a barber was an important profession in Ancient Greece. Taking care of other people’s hair was a big deal. Then, these barbershops eventually turned into the first ever “Man-Caves”, where men would gather around and commune. The Greeks also invented some fascinating uses for oils and plants for hair treatment:

–Perfumes – Made of flowers, spices, and olive oil blends. These were applied to the body as well as the hair.
–Softening hair – They mainly made use of brushes and scalp massages to make their hair soft
–Hair dye – Gold was at one point very desirable (as was the usual illustration for the hair of the Gods), and could be achieved by mixing saffron flowers and potassium water to make the dye.

Rome

Rome had some similarities with Greece, as the pattern goes. Their hairstyles varied more depending on the time of the age and society. Throughout the different empires and rulers of Rome, Romans constantly went from keeping their heads and face shaved to letting it grow out. At first, men had long hair and beards until Greek influence brought the clean shaven look, along with a type of bowl cut. As noted, this only lasted as long as the empire did. Baldness wasn’t seen as a curse, but viewed as less physically appealing/attractive.

Later, it was common to see men with long hair and beards in braids and ponytails. Those of high social status in Rome had complex and sophisticated styles, usually tended to by servants. Those of low status had simple styles, typically kept short. Many curled their hair with a heated, hollow, iron tube—sound familiar? Wigs were also worn to augment the look and size of one’s hair, much like hair extensions. Wigs in Rome were also made with human hair, and oddly enough, blonde hair came from German slaves and black hair came from India.

Romans also discovered hair dying, done with henna. To achieve different colors, they mixed herbs/flowers together; herbs for red, saffron flowers for gold. Black hair was made with rotten leeches mixed with red wine for a little over a month, and then dousing the head/hair with the solution. Bleached hair could be achieved by washing it with potassium water and hydrogen peroxide.

Barbershops were also a popular place in Rome, specifically for men to commune. Although the hairstyles changed throughout the time, primarily for men, women had a little more variety. They had three main hairstyles to choose from:

–Tutulus – This was a maternal hairstyle, or a style worn by the mother in a family. The hair was sectioned and shaped into a bun. They tied it with fillets of wool, and the end result would be hair that was conical in shape.
–Nodus – The hair was parted into three sections; the hair at the sides was tied to the back in a bun, whereas the middle section was tied in a knot at the top of the head.
–Sine Crine – Six locks of hair, independently braided, usually worn by brides and virgins

Hairstyles and hair treatment have evolved a lot since then. We’ve also improved upon a lot of what humans did back in the day. Other things, such as attitudes towards hair or a lack thereof, have changed as well, and change is usually a good thing.

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