We are all living in the era of excess and hair treatments are a part of our modern age. Before electricity could power the Dyson Supersonic at $400, Oribe, a company that specializes in hair products and treatments, went all out. Rich and powerful women dyed, cut and adorned their hair with all manner of interesting stuff. These are just a few highlights.
Henna and extracts from plants have been used to colour hair throughout history. This was a luxury that few people could afford, but there have been many other extravagant, dangerous, and downright disgusting ingredients.
As many brunettes have learned the hard way, it can be quite difficult to go blonde.
There are many creative ingredients that go into making your hair whiter, brighter and lighter. Rich Romans and Assyrians used real gold dust to get a goddess-like glow.
In Renaissance times, gold lacquer and white wine made an appearance as well as ambergris and white wine. Many historical lightening methods used toxic and caustic chemicals like lye and sulfuric acid. This was in a time when blondes had less fun.
Fermented grapes could also be used to darken hair. Giovanni Della Porta, a 16-year-old luminary, recommended in his famed work Magia Naturalis (Miracle Naturalis) that women use leeches that have been soaked for 60 in “the darkest wine” to cover their grays.
It’s easier to imagine the cumin, cinnamon, and other expensive spices Queen Elizabeth I’s contemporaries used for her signature ginger glow. This is especially interesting considering that red hair was considered “barbarous” before her ascension. Modern/less monarchical influencers may have contributed to the popularity of light pinks and purples. However, pastel hair was not new. The first time spun-sugar colours became popular was during the reign of Marie Antoinette’s toilette, which is the daily ritual of nobility dressing and grooming themselves to an audience of their closest circle. It’s a precursor to the viral beauty tutorial.
Hair powder, which was similar to modern-day hair chalks, was used to keep your wig (relatively speaking) fresh and fragrant. The use of extracts from lavender, orange flower, and the iris to make hair powders in shades of violet, pink, yellow, and blue were popular.
Powder’s popularity started to decline around the time of Antoinette’s execution. In 1795, the British Parliament passed the Duty on Hair Powder Act. This taxed most of its citizens on French imports. In the 20th century, the iconic blue rinse saw pastels regaining popularity in the English elite.
A set of highlights in most hair salons today will cost you around $300.
Styling and Shaping
Before the Beachwaver, nobility used heat tools to manipulate and create texture. Cleopatra was said to have worn at least three curly hairstyles that were a sign of her power, wealth, and leisure lifestyle.
Curling irons are heated over an open fire and date back to Ancient times. Early tongs were found in Egyptian tombs. To create curly, lush beards, the Assyrians used an identical device. The calamistrum is a hollow metal tool used by the Greeks. This practice was unsafe and torturous and resulted in a lot of hair being damaged and lost. Cleo and her friends never had to worry about whether their heating devices were still plugged into.
More surprising than the desire for curls is the Elizabethan-era practice “frizzing” hair. This, along with padding and wire, creates a trendy heart shape around the wearer’s head. As if that wasn’t enough dramatic, women also shaved or completely trimmed their eyebrows to reveal a high forehead. All that was once old is new again.
The scented animal fat has been a reliable base for historical hair’s sticking and slicking needs. Products for styling products from ancient Africa, where the fat was mixed with ochre or honey to create braid-friendly tavos, and Middle Ages Europe, where lizard fats and swallow droppings were combined for an unappetizing, but effective, one-two punch.
The coiffures of the wealthy have been influenced by the lack of resources of the lower classes. Poor women have a long tradition of cutting their hair for the wealth. This can be in the form either of full-on wigs or extension-esque pieces. Sometimes, wigs are also made from horsehair and silk.
Egyptians were buried with their finest wigs, which they kept alongside them for the afterlife. Queen Elizabeth I had over eighty red wigs which she used as her hair grew and thinned. Mary Queen of Scots also had a wig that fell off at her beheading as a last humiliation.
As syphilis spread across Europe, wigs were used to conceal the disease. The ailing wealthy often suffered from other symptoms such as lesions and sought cover wherever possible, even through huge head covers. The very special, but somewhat counterproductive, periwig.
In every way, wigs were at their peak in the late 1700s. They were very impractical. Doors had to be raised to fit them.
It’s so bizarre that “wig snatching”, in addition to its modern origins in the United States, has roots in England in the 1700s.
One hundred years later, the Victorian era’s privileged women were still able to show their class by having their hair long, and hiding it.
Long hair was the ideal embodiment of femininity for Victorians. The longer the hair, the better. However, women were expected to wear their hair up in public. Their long, magical locks were reserved for husbands in the boudoir. The Seven Sutherland Sisters broke this rule, comparing it to the Kardashians in terms of their fame and press.
The Sutherlands were a combination of seven sisters and 37′ of hair, which they collectively allegedly had, making them a huge sensation. They made frequent appearances in their country for admirers and old men who envied them.
They would have known about lip kits.
Women’s hairstyles are shorter for work, sexual expression and liberation-related reasons. Regular haircuts have become a symbol of wealth over the past century. Prices can vary greatly, but women with sufficient resources can spend hundreds to thousands of dollars every four to six months. Even though salons are relatively new, stylists of a certain caliber have been around for a while earning big money.
Raymond Bessone, a well-known English hairdresser, is widely considered to be the first celebrity hairdresser. He was famously flying to America with actress Diana Dors in 1965 for a shampoo and set. It cost him PS2,500, which at that time was equivalent to a small house. Raymond wasn’t alone in charging thousands for hairdressing. The fabulously named Monsieur Champagne served as coiffeur to French high society during the 1600s. Antoine de Paris was charged around PS1,000 to style the hairs of early 1900s French glitterati.
Although the exact structure and materials used for making them vary, crown-like hair accessories are a favourite of the rich and noble since Ancient Egyptian times. Cleopatra wore a three-uraeus headband, which her archnemesis tried to copy through a less cool ‘do. Romans made their outfit-toppers with flowers and fauna. Western aristocrats prefer elements of filigree as well as lots of sparkle.
In the 1920s, avant-garde flappers were not as expensive as the shiny headbands of today. Audrey Hepburn introduced tiara-combs to the upper classes with Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The tiaras or combs are still expensive and popular among the most privileged, if not royalty, women around the globe.
What other hair products have wealthy women used over the years? Cleopatra was rumored at times to have used poison-filled, hollowed-out bones to kill herself. There are also bodkin pins, intricately carved ornamental (not only functional) pieces that date back to the Bronze Age. Ivory has been a prized resource for a long time. It was used as the base for certain Geishas of 18th and 19th-century Japan to make kanzashi and inlaid kushi.
Marie Antoinette, her posse, and their comrades were putting all kinds of stuff in their periwigs, including dollhouse furniture and toys.
The language of the fan is something you might have heard about, but the language that fancy-ass hair represents an equally important time in history. Hair was a way for women to make a statement when they didn’t have much voice.
La Belle-Poule was, of course. This is the French term for adding notable nautical elements to one’s hair. (The well-known-for-five-minutes French fashion for creating huge hairdos using model ships.
High society women wore boats in their barnets when the French ship bearing the same name went off to war in 1778. Practical? No, but conversation starter?
Business casual nobility is continuing the tradition of bizarrely scaled and sculptural headwear, with a preference for fascinators. Philip Treacy, a milliner, has been creating whimsical fascinators that have graced the heads of eccentric heiresses like Isabella Blow and Daphne Guinness since the 1990s.
Here it is: The most outrageous (or at least in their time) hair styles and hair treatments from history. It is proven and clear that rich people can be persuaded to do anything with their hair if they are given the right marketing.