Hair-Raising History

Once we were much hairier. Well, our evolutionary ancestors were anyway. And depending on what ethnic stew you come from you may find yourself of a hairier variety. But hairstyles have been coming and going for thousands of years. I’m sure Grog the caveman (he’s popular, this Grog) and Progla the cavewoman didn’t much care what their hair did and they hadn’t invented scissors yet. The best they could do was chip a piece of stone and saw away at the rat’s nest.

Hairstyles progressed in different ways in various geographies. The Egyptians were big on shaving their heads in the heat and making elaborate wigs, for the nobles at least. Hieroglyphics show that they’d put a cone of perfumed fat on their noggins and let it slowly melt over their bodies. I can only think that that would have made me itchy in the heat.

Babylonian men were curling and coiling their naturally wavy locks and beards into elaborate patterns, as were other cultures. Along the way, some places developed moral codes that affected how people could wear their hair. Men were to have beards but not before marriage, heads were to be covered or not. Unmarried women could wear their hair loose (and were usually young girls) but once married they were braided or coiffed and often under veils and headdresses. Turbans, veils, hats, caps and other headwear were used to hide hair. Many of these moral codes had to do with the religious bodies of the day and perceived wantonness/evil/bucking authority depending on the flavor.

Within those countries there was often an accepted style to hair that you could be sure the upper classes wore. We have fewer images less of the poor and lower classes but they would, by fact of having less money, have worn their hair plainer but affecting the stylish modes as much as they could. There weren’t as many varieties of hairstyles and new ones would have come from neighboring countries. Egyptian slaves had shaved heads and no wigs. During the baroque and rococo periods women’s hair attained new heights with hats and shapes, such as a full galleon cresting the waves of curled and pinned tresses. The merchant and working classes would have had simpler styles, less lofty and easier for a person to arrange on themselves, rather than needing a team of hairdressers.

When I was researching medieval and renaissance Sottish and Irish dress I came across a style worn by young warriors. The head shaved close over the back and sides but hair left long to hang forward only over the brow. While this may have been partly expedient for wearing under fighting helms and coifs and part vanity, it also shows the punk hairstyles of the 80s were not so new.

Variations on the theme continue with some new twists being added. The punk movement brought along a literal rainbow of colors. I wouldn’t doubt if some dyes had been tried in centuries past, maybe something mixed with mud and applied. Not everything is recorded. We cut our hair short, we leave it long, we perm it into curls, we madly straighten it, we shave our heads, a few of us still do comb-overs (Donald Trump…ick). We make it uneven, we cut patterns into it, we braid, twist and otherwise add adornments like scarves, hats, pins, clips, etc. Some people have had implants put under their skin so that the skull takes on a bumpy pattern or to snap prosthetic hair pieces or horns even, onto their heads.

I’ve worn my hair short and mostly long, straight and curly and turquoise, blue, purple, magenta and red, in streaks, mind you, plus the regular blondes and brunettes. When doing shows, hairdressers treat hair as a medium on which to create their transitory art. Humanity tends to treat the body, from hair to nails, as a canvas. We play with it, we decorate it, sometimes we permanently change it. Hair is a renewable medium, for most of us. It allows us to experiment and try something new and either cut it off or grow it out if it doesn’t work. There have even been a few memorable movies/plays about it: Shampoo, Hairspray and give me down to there, Hair.

What will be the next follicle fad? What will be repeated? Who knows but I’m waiting for the day that they can actually create true metallic colors: copper, silver, gold, gunmetal. Maybe by the time I’m gray I’ll be able to go for robot silver instead.

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