DDBspotlight: Hairstyles – about Calamistra, Wig Inspectors and Bob Cuts
By Theresa Rodewald (Online Editor)
The Venus of Willendorf from the Ice Age wore her hair in curls; in the Rococo period, the high society hid their hair under elaborate wigs and in the 1960s, the afro was a sign of rebellion: hairstyles are cultural artefacts that tell of identity, social status and fashion. We are devoting this Spotlight to the hairstyle and its multifarious forms.
Gold dust, curling tongs and imperial role models: Hairstyles in Ancient Egypt and Antiquity
The Venus of Willendorf is almost 30,000 years old and provides an indication that even the people from the Ice Age styled their hair. Wave-like lines are carved on the figurine’s head, which probably represent curls or a headdress. From 3,000 BC onwards, Ancient Egyptian grave goods provided evidence that hair care was of central importance in Egyptian advanced civilisation. Men and women brought their hair into shape with knives, combs and hairpins, bleached it in the sun and coloured grey streaks with henna, cow’s blood or gold dust. Even wigs were already widespread.
In contrast, the people in Ancient Greece rarely wore wigs; nevertheless, well-groomed hair was a must. Anyone who showed him/herself in public with dishevelled hair had to pay a fine. For curls, both men and women used the calamistrum, a heated metal rod which basically functioned just like today’s curling tongs. Blond was considered to be the hair colour of the gods and heroes, which was why women liked to plait gold threads into their hair.
In the Roman Empire, women oriented themselves in terms of hairstyles on the respective Empress. The blond hair of Germanic slaves was made into wigs. Hair accessories like hairpins, ribbons and beads were also popular. Men wore their hair short and with curls on their foreheads. .
What a bog body has to do with Tacitus and why women are “under the bonnet” when married
A typical Germanic hairstyle is the Suebian knot (German: Suebenknoten). The Roman historian Tacitus had already reported that Germanic warriors combed their hair to one side and then tied it into a knot on the parting.
According to Tacitus, this hairstyle was also a status symbol: the more elaborate the knot, the more noble the warrior. While cutting peat in Osterby in 1948, the brothers Otto and Max Müller found a bog body, whose hair was exceptionally well-preserved. The Osterby Man wore a Suebian knot and thereby not only did he confirm Tacitus’s report, but also numerous Roman illustrations and sculptures. Celtic warriors in Ireland and Scotland had complicated plaited hairstyles and intimidated their enemies with beards bleached with lime.
In the European Early Middle Ages, women wore their hair loose or in plaits with ribbons woven in them. In the High Middle Ages, this became the privilege of unmarried girls. After marriage, the Church prescribed that women had to cover their hair in public, often with a veil or a bonnet - this is where the idiom “to come under the bonnet” (German: unter die Haube kommen) comes from. A half-length pageboy cut was modern for men.
In the Late Middle Ages, a high forehead was then considered to be especially beautiful, which was why many women shaved out their front hairline. Monks and clergymen shaved their hair off completely as a sign of humility or wore a tonsure. For this, the hair was either shaved off completely or only a ring of hair (also called a corona in Latin) was left.
Classical Antiquity role models and new hairdressing techniques
In addition to painting and philosophy, hairstyles also oriented themselves on Classical Antiquity role models in the Renaissance. Women wore plaited hairstyles with ribbons, precious gems and pearls, or twisted their hair into a knot and covered it with elaborately decorated hairnets (snoods).
In the 16th century, noble gentlemen liked to style their hair at half-length and backcombed the lower part somewhat in the width. Naturally, clothing and hairstyles had a mutual influence on each other. In the Baroque period, for example, so-called “Spanish traditional costumes” with high, wide lace collars were popular, which was why men cut their hair short and women pinned their hair up.
In the middle of the 17th century, ringlets and corkscrew curls came into fashion. The reason: a new “papillote” (wrapping) technique made it possible to twist hair into small, naturally falling curls. For this, strands of hair were wound up, wrapped in paper and then pressed into a curl with a papillote iron, a procedure which took several hours. Heated hair curlers, pomade and powder were used to keep the hairstyles in shape, whereby a majority of the high society simply reached straight for a wig.
Wigs as status symbols
The Europe of the 17th and 18th centuries was the time of the wig. It had the advantage that hair did not need to be continually curled and it kept the head warm, since it was difficult to heat the draughty Baroque castles. At the same time, it concealed loss of hair, not only related to age or due to hormones, but which was also a symptom of widespread syphilis – or the consequence of treating syphilis with mercury.
The so-called full-bottomed (“allonge”) wig was first popular at the end of the 17th century – allonge means extension or appendage in French. These wigs, made of flax or horsehair, had a parting in the middle and extended down to the chest. In 1673, Louis XIV made these state wigs in France, so that soon men of standing wore these throughout the whole of Europe. The shorter form of the allonge wig remained for the ordinary citizens, the so-called citizen’s wig.
In the course of the 18th century, men’s wigs became shorter and the full-bottomed wig went out of fashion It was soon only part of official attire, and is still so for judges in Great Britain and Australia today. Instead of this, a form of wig tied back into a pigtail and with horizontal curls over the ears prevailed, like that which we know from Frederick II of Prussia, for example.
Wigs were often powdered white, sometimes violet, pink, blue or yellow. Women wore hairpieces and powdered their hair grey, probably also to conceal the difference in colour between their own hair and the hairpieces. Wig powder was made of flour or starch and scented with lavender or orange blossom. It stuck to the wig with an oily pomade, which is why men put their pigtail into a taffeta bag, the so-called bourse, or wrapped it in a ribbon to protect their clothing.
The triumphal march of the wig in Europe led to creative forms of taxation. Frederick I of Prussia introduced a wig tax to improve the state finances, which had been exhausted by mismanagement. Three thalers had to be paid for every wig worn in public. This was all inspected by the Royal Wig Inspector. In 1795, the British Parliament introduced a tax on hair powder, which was supposed to finance the Napoleonic Wars above all and made powdered hair and wigs into luxury items.
At the end of the 18th century, women wore particularly elaborate hairstyles at the French court in Versailles. Today, we think of hair accessories in the shape of model ships, which sat on top of the hair, but the hairstyles were much more frequently embellished with feathers, flowers, jewellery and ribbons. These high hairstyles could be up to 60 cm in height, but they were less excessive than were indicated by contemporary caricatures. Léonard-Alexis Autié, the court hairdresser of Marie-Antoinette, popularised the pouf, a high hairstyle which was particularly voluminous due to a wire frame and a pad.
The same applied to the Baroque as to the Rococo period: the higher a person’s social status, the more elaborate, magnificent and costly the wigs. The magnificent hair creations in the Baroque and Rococo periods were heavy, impractical and they severely restricted freedom of movement. They therefore had a purely representative function.
The gulf thus created between the wig-wearing aristocracy and the wig-less bourgeoisie was deepened still further by the French Revolution. The ostentatious wigs of the French court in Versailles became the symbol of the decadence of the ruling class. The revolutionaries wore simple hairstyles, yet did not abolish wigs completely. Maximilien de Robespierre, for example, a leading politician of the Jacobins, continued to wear them. It was Napoleon Bonaparte who first put an end to this. He had his hair cut short in the style of the Roman emperors and introduced a similar haircut for the military.
Hair-dressing lamps and permanent waves
At the beginning of the 19th century, wigs were still a sign of a conservative political attitude, until they almost completely disappeared in the course of the decades. At first, fashion and hairstyles continued to orient themselves on Classical Antiquity role models; the Titus hairstyle became very popular for both men and women. For this, men combed their hair from the back of the head to the front; women styled their hair in small curls around their heads.
In the Biedermeier period, the woman’s Titus hairstyle continued to increase in width and, finally, transformed itself into a wide topknot with side curls and a smoothly-combed middle or T-parting. Moreover, bonnets, diadems, floral decorations and gold chains worn as headbands became fashionable again. Women also styled their hair into a voluminous topknot, which was combined with a fringe.
An innovation in the area of hairdressing techniques was the curling iron, which came onto the market at the end of the 19th century. It was heated by means of a hair-dressing lamp and then the hair could be twisted into curls, strand by strand. In 1910, Karl Ludwig Nessler patented the first permanent wave. Here, individual strands of hair were soaked in borax, twisted on hair rollers and curled with curling tongs. A short time later, the first electric permanent wave machine was presented in London.
Hairstyles as protest
Hairstyles do not only provide information about a person’s social status, but they can also be an expression of political orientation or rebellion. At the beginning of the 19th century, men expressed their democratic, respectively romantic convictions by cutting their hair short, combing it into the forehead and wearing sideburns or a beard in addition.
After the First World War, women not only successfully demanded the right to vote, but also cut their hair into a short bob cut – as a sign of emancipation. Even though the bob cut was still far from men’s haircuts at that time, this triggered a heated debate about femininity, morals and self-determination. Actresses from the silent film era, such as Asta Nielsen, Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo, finally made the new hair fashion socially acceptable.
In the 1960s, men went in the opposite direction. Already Elvis Presley’s “oily quiff” (German: Schmalztolle) (also known as a pompadour after Madame de Pompadour and the voluminous hairstyles of the French court at the end of the 17th century) or the famous mop-top (German: Pilzkopf) of the Beatles were a contrast to the neatly-parted, short haircuts of men in the 1950s. The hippie movement set itself apart visually from the establishment, perceived by them as authoritarian, by men letting their hair grow long and wearing full beards in addition. Parts of mainstream society reacted correspondingly outraged to this and slogans like “long hair is communism” were rife.
Hair had a special significance in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, since the degradation of frizzy hair was also part of the stigmatisation of black people. At the beginning of the 20th century, the black entrepreneur Madam C. J. Walker developed a hot comb, a type of straightening iron which made it possible to straighten frizzy hair and thus conform to the white ideal of beauty. The civil rights campaigners criticised this kind of hair straightening in the 1960s. In their eyes, this maintained the racially-motivated connection between straight, respectively Eurocentric hair and social status.
The Black Power Movement not only fought against political discrimination, but also against internalised racism, whereby hair played a central role. With the motto “Black is Beautiful” they encouraged black Americans to believe that their hair and skin colour was perfect - just as they were. Slogans like “Don’t remove kinks from your hair! Remove them from your brain!” called for them not to straighten their hair.
Activists of the Black Power Movement like Angela Davis made the afro popular and thereby opposed white ideals of beauty. For this, they let their natural hair grow and combed it with an afro comb, which had particularly wide teeth, from the hairline upwards.
The history of hair discrimination was, however, by no means at an end with this. On the contrary: afros, dreadlocks and cornrows ( a tightly-plaited hairstyle) triggered a debate about which hairstyles were presentable and acceptable. There are still rules about hairstyles in certain American schools and companies today, which are directed against afros and dreadlocks in particular. That hairstyles are more than just fashionable accessories and expressions of power relationships and rebellion is therefore not only true of the wig fashions of the 17th and 18th centuries, but this continues even today with new discussions about hair.
Do you want to know more about historic hairdressing equipment, hair accessories and hairstyles? The Frisörmuseum’s collection in the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek° comprises over 4,000 objects! In addition, there are more hairstyles here.
British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC): https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/articles/zrjnt39
Speech: “A History of Hair” by Joanna Bourke: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yttdd2C5Ng
Swiss Radio and Television (SRF): https://www.srf.ch/kultur/wissen/pharaonen-peruecken-popper-eine-haarige-zeitreise
Encyclopaedia of the Middle Ages: https://www.mittelalter-lexikon.de/wiki/Haartracht
Sean Williams: https://www.seanmwilliams.com/cultural-history