Tag Archives: medieval fashion

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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The Evolution of Fashion to Antifashion

The 14th century hood with a modest liripipe (tail). From medievaldesign.com

Fashion changes and often goes through anti-fashion. In the middle ages a popular piece of clothing was the hood (your first medieval hoodie). It came with dagged edges in a variety of shapes like scallops, fleur de lys, pointed, etc. And it came with different lengths of liripipe or the tail off the back of the hood. The hood was first worn as you would expect, where it was pulled over the head, the face peeking through the opening, the tail hanging down the back or sometimes wrapped around the neck as a windbreak.

But as the essential fashion progressed, the young guys would take the hood and

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The hood got tossed on its side and the liripipe was lengthened. From: medievalenterprises.com

place the opening on the top of the head, flopping the dags to one side and wrapping the liripipe around the head to hold it all in place. A rakish hat, to be sure. This exhibits how fashion has always been created to serve a purpose and then it may become more decorative or serve a different purpose than what was first intended. Some fashion was dictated by climate, some by what the rulers were wearing, such as the high forehead of Queen Elizabeth I (caused by a syphilitic dad) but popular with the women who may have plucked their hair to give them high foreheads.

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One way not to lose your baggy pants, suspenders. Sexy. Uh yeah, sure. Creative Commons: Signature9

Sometimes fashion goes so far afield that it is only popular with a small group, notable for its bizarre look but not catching on with the majority. I would consider the overly large pants, with crotches to the knees that young guys wear. The style has adapted so these pants that still look like you’re a 12-year-old who stole his grandfather’s pants have a smaller waist. Often, they’re worn overly loose so they hang halfway down a guy’s butt, showing off his underwear. I’ve seen some ludicrous reaches of this unfashionable fashion. One was the kid whose pants were hanging under his butt cheeks. The other was a guy in a tight tank top/wifebeater and pants worn low with about six inches of his waist-high, bright red underwear showing. It wasn’t sexy at all.

The good thing about the baggy ass fashion is that it’s popular with the skateboard crowd, which has eschewed yoga pants and lycra, and gives the liberty of movement. The other good thing is, you know if a guy is wearing pants like that, he’s not likely to rob a store because he’d have to run holding his pants up.

Plumber crack fashionsare just never good. The lower pants also came in for women, but more formfitting and displaying pierced

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The Backtacular Gluteal Cleft Shield to hide the butt crack. Really? Just…don’t.

navels, and sometimes hipbones. Thong underwear seems to go hand in hand but showing the T-bar at the back over a butt crack is still not attractive. There is about one percent of the population of either gender who might be able to get away with this. Presume you’re not that one.

Another really silly style is the platform, high heel runners (tennis shoes) or the heelless ones. But then one could argue that all high heels are silly, even though we (men and women) have been wearing them for about four hundred years or more. Chopins of the Renaissance were really clogs to put your shoes into for walking in the muck. They got to ridiculous heights of twelve or more inches and required an attendant on each side to keep the person upright. Conspicuous consumption? You bet.

This made me think back to what my friends and I wore as teenagers. Bell bottom jeans that were overly long. Some people hemmed them but having frayed and full of holes was an acceptable look. T-shirts. I had one that said Panama Red before I knew what that was and my friend had one with Bugs Bunny on it. We obviously wore these often enough that my nickname became Panama and hers Bugsy. Completing our lovely ensembles were lumberjack shirts, as we called them (sometimes known as mac or mackinaw) and they were a thick flanneled cotton in red and black or black and green plaid. They were the jacket of choice before we got jean jackets.

I know my mother didn’t like this fashion and thought jeans were something worn for working on the farm, but we were within our teenage realm. Not everyone wore what my friends wore but there were enough of us that we probably formed our own antifashion. Fashion will continue to come and go and go through its antithesis of anti-fashion. I’m sure at some point in our lives, every one of us shakes their heads at what people are wearing.

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