Fancy haircuts and hairstyles have been around for as long as recorded history. Razors can be traced back to 3500 BC, the Bronze Age, and the popularity of barbers was seen to soar in the mid twentieth century. The barber, derived from the Latin word ‘barba’ meaning beard, was a renowned personality especially in ancient Egyptian culture. There was a superstitious belief that an evil spirit’s port of entry into a person’s body was through their hair. So, barbers who cut hair and thereby blocked entrance to, and in fact drove out the evil spirit, made them much respected! They were so highly respected that they were given the power to conduct marriages and baptismal ceremonies.
Manicures, hair and beard trimming and styling, were quite common in Ancient Greece. In Rome, barbers were called ‘tonsors’ who performed surgery and dentistry in addition to cutting hair! The red in the red & white stripes of the barber pole denote surgery.
The early 1900s saw barbers performing pain relief procedures similar to chiropractic like neck manipulation. In Egypt, hair was not allowed to grow long. Instead it was cut very short and elaborate wigs were worn instead for special events. Greek women grew their hair long but pulled it back into a chignon. Hair colouring started even way back then with henna. Gold powder was sprinkled liberally on the hair and was adorned with fresh flowers and ornamental tiaras. Men in Greece preferred to maintain a short hair cut and sometimes even preferred the bald look.
In Ancient Rome, curling irons were used by upper braid wig class women who also dyed their hair blonde or preferred wigs. Soon wire frames were introduced to help pile up hair on the top of the head in tight curls around the wire frames.
In the East, Muslims were expected to conceal their hair but women, even though covered, liked to colour their hair with henna. In China, married women combed their hair back completely from their face and wound it tightly into a knot at the nape while unmarried young girls had to wear their hair long but braided. Chinese men wore their hair long and braided with jet black silk while shaving off the hair in front of the head. This was predominant during the Manchu regime. In Japan, men did something similar – shaved the front of their head but wore their long hair in a ponytail.
Medieval times saw women wearing their hair long and loose and by the seventeenth century, hairstyles were more stylish! Women had their hair swept up and piled on top of their head with the help of jewelled pins and combs. The classic example of elaborate hairdos can be seen on Geisha women. The hair was usually heavily lacquered and adorned with spectacular hairpieces.
In Africa, the Masai tribal warriors sectioned off their frontal hair into several tiny braids and allowed the hair at the back to grow even upto waist-length. Women and those who were not warriors usually shaved their head completely. Interestingly, hair was dyed with red earth or grass and sometimes stiffened with the dung of animals!
Native Indians in the Americas, often left just a longish patch of hair on the crown and shaved off the rest of the hair on the head. Other Indians wore feathers in their hair and grew their hair long and braided it.
The Western World was also not without its quirks, with women in the 15th century plucking away their entire hairline in front to gain a high forehead and 16th century women wearing red wigs! Italians also preferred to cover their hair with bejewelled turbans or caps and would bleach their hair by lounging in the sun.