Early Hairstyling of the Hellenistic Period in Ancient Greece
Around 90 B.C.,
the Greek poet Melanger wrote the following of his beloved:
I shall plait white violets, I shall plait the
soft narcissus, together with myrtle-berries and sweet crocus so that the garland on the temple
of Heliodora, with the perfumed curls shall
wreathe with flowers her beautiful cascade of hair.
The Golden Age of ancient Greece was a time of innovation, ideals, and perfection. Philosophers and mathematicians, politicians and aristocrats, poets and pioneers; this was the first model, bar Egyptian times, of a truly opulent, aristocratic society. This period in Grecian history not only innovated many forms of hairstyling to meet their exacting ideals, they created influences that are evident in modern times and continue to be recreated even to this day. As enduring as those influences are, they also provide oodles of inspiration for the willing Goth, wanting to experiment with true hair-dressing.
Allow me to share an abbreviated history lesson.
The fifth century B.C. is known as the Golden Age of Greek society. It inspired many ideals in the eyes of its citizens, such as the natural muscular form of males as perfection; so much so that women also strove to attain a well-proportioned muscular physique. But that was not the only marker of beauty; another important theme of this period was balance. Balance and its counterpart, symmetry, were considered the ultimate measuring sticks for beauty, and therefore the focus in all areas of art and architecture. Balance and symmetry was evidence of perfection, therefore both desirable and essential and was often found in the hairstyles of the day.
Blonde hair was also thought of as an ideal, and in a time ruled by divinity, appearing to be god or goddess-like equaled superior social standing. This meant blonde hair was another necessity, and it was considered to signify purity, innocence, divinity, and sexual desirability. Consequently, the Greeks of this time depicted many of their deities as, more often than not, blondes. Blondes with great muscle tone.
Ah yes, vanity in many guises was alive and well in ancient Greece.
So to focus our history lesson on hair, lets look at how these influences were behind some of the most romantic and enduring innovations in hair crafting. Overall, the different regions of ancient Greece created their own identities with different looks, influencing looks in hair-ware forever. Curly locks were a trademark hairstyle during this time, and is a look that has endured for many a century. No woman, or man, was complete unless their hair was styled into a perfectly balanced halo of tight curls, often, and especially in the case of the men, hugging the head.
The hair they wore could easily identify the origin of aristocratic women of ancient Greece. Athenian women wore their hair in a chignon at the back of the crown or the nape of the neck, often secured by gold or ivory handcrafted hairpins. In Sparta, women preferred ponytails threaded with pearls and beads. Meanwhile, it was the women in Cyprus that invented some of the earliest types of hairpieces. Quite ingenious in design, they involved a single or several wire meshes extending from ear to ear, used to support and display spiral set locks. Often these were not their own, and the meshes also served the wearer to support other decorative touches. These were most commonly used to push the wearers hair forward, from the occipital bone up to the apex of the head, to build up height and the shape of the soft, elliptical designs that were so popular. This silhouette was to become the inspiration for later generations, such as the opulent hair crafting of pre-revolutionary France and their British counter parts.
The driving inspiration behind all these early innovations in hairstyling was to appease their deities, for the beliefs of these ancients was the governing factor in all efforts of the time. In their desire to emulate their deities, both men and women in early Greece created some of the first innovations in hair coloring, in keeping with their reverence for blonde hair. In fact, some of the earliest documentation of hair lightening comes from this time. Before they discovered how to lighten their hair, men would sprinkle their hair with gold dust and pollen after styling, while women would wash their hair in a solution of potassium, yellow flower petals and pollen. In the 4th century B.C., a more permanent method was developed. First manufactured in Athens, men and women would rinse their hair in an ointment; the ingredients are long lost to antiquity, however I suspect citrus juices, potassium, gold flecks, olive oil and pollen. Then they would sit outside for what must have been hours to let suns rays bleach their hair naturally. However, various early concoctions were not predictable and there would have been more than a few patchy orange locks gracing society. The Greeks, like their ancient Egyptian counterparts, also wore dyed wigs of red, silver, and especially, gold. No small wonder there.
Hairstyles were also never complete without some kind of adornment. These had to also abide by the laws of symmetry. And as they were creative in how they dressed and adorned themselves, they created many hairstyling trademarks that have been used extensively throughout history. For example, it was the ancient Greeks that created the first chignon: the bun or drape of hair most often held at the nape of the neck. The snood was also another Greek innovation, being ribbons, or a scarf, used to cradle and decorate a chignon. Sometimes these ribbons extended around the forehead, offering even more elaborate ornamentation, especially when flowers and precious gems were woven into them.
The finishing touches also included a wreath of bay or laurel leaves worn around the head; these were commonly worn by men and was carried over into Roman times. Fresh and dried flowers and ribbons were more commonplace in women. The most common hair accessories were decorative, as well as also serving a logical, and often a structural function. Some of the most popular adornments were wreaths made of flowers, myrtle, ivy, scented oils and precious stones. Handmade ivory, gold and silver combs and clips as well as the earliest hair pins were created to secure these hair creations. Worn by both sexes, wreaths made with the above materials were often presented to guests at banquets and celebrations. These wreaths were not only decorative, but also gave the wearer a pleasant perfume that was an essential part of grooming. Decorating hair with flowers, jewels, ribbons or anything beautiful, interesting or unusual is a timeless art and still one of my favorite things today.