Have you ever looked at pictures of your mom when she was your age and commented—maybe even laughed—at her hairstyle in the photo? If you’re lucky (and your family is the sentimental type), you may have even seen pictures of your grandparents’ hairstyles, and possibly even their grandparents’ hairdos. So, you’ve seen the “artifacts”, but have you ever actually taken a moment and wondered where or when this all started? Taking into consideration the extreme importance we put on hair styling and cutting, it’s surprising how little most us know about the history of hairdressing. It may seem like we’ve come a long way from trending hairstyles of the 70’s or 30’s, but this wasn’t even the start. Read on as we take you through time and learn how it all began.
It’s believed that the appreciation of hair started thousands and thousands of years ago in the Egyptian civilizations. If you’re a history buff, you’ll recall how accomplished the Egyptians were for their time, so we’re not surprised that they were styling and accessorizing their locks. Experts believe that, like us today, Egyptians used henna to cover gray strands. Beyond that, we have found artifacts which lead us to the conclusion that this ancient civilization was braiding, beading, and accessorizing their hair, too!
A few generations later, women in both Greek and Roman Empires used a multitude of plant extracts to color their hair and, according to historians, they should be credited for the creation of permanent black hair dye! Their original concoction made people ill which lead them to change the formula. Their new, non–toxic permanent black hair color was made with leeches that fermented in lead vessels for two plus months.
Towards the end of the Roman Empire prostitutes were expected to have yellow hair (what we call “blonde” today), as this was an indication of their occupation. While some chose to sport wigs, others lightened their locks by applying a concoction made of burned plant ashes and/or nuts. By this time, other ancient civilizations (i.e., the Gaul, the Saxons) were coloring their hair all kinds of bright shades in demonstration of their rank while intimidating opponents during battle.
The Dark Ages were the first to document natural red hair—which they thought to be a genetic mutation. Until about 1500 AD, those born with red locks were suspected of witchcraft—that is until Queen Elizabeth took her reign; it was then that society began to accept natural red-heads.
One might say that the pain and beauty correlation that women joke about today started in the Renaissance Era. Apparently, upper-class women of the time would routinely pluck their hairline to present themselves with higher forehead. At that time, the bigger the forehead, the higher-up you were in society.
It’s not until the nineteenth century when an English chemist, William Henry Perkin, accidently created synthesized dye while trying to formulate a cure for Malaria. Not long after, Perkin’s chemistry professor, August Hoffman, derived the color-changing molecule from Perkin’s formula. That molecule, para-phenylenediamine (PPD), is the foundation for many permanent hair dyes to this day.