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The History of Hair Styling

Both men and women have, through the ages, arranged their hair in varying and sometimes elaborate ways.

Sumerian women of noble stature, dressed their hair in a netted chignon, arranged rolls and plaits around the head, then powdered the hair with gold dust or scented yellow starch and assorted ornaments.

Babylonian and Assyrian men dyed their hair and beards black and curled them both. In classical Greece, hair dying was popular for women, some women dying their hair blue.

Haircare and hair styling has been of the utmost importance to various societies and peoples. Today, popular styles are those that look great, but are quick and easy to maintain.

Social Standing and Hair Styling

At different time periods throughout history, hairstyle has been used to show marital status or other social circumstances.

For example, in 17th century China, married women wore their hair combed back in a low knot, while unmarried girls wore long plaits.

In medieval Europe, unmarried women wore uncovered flowing hair, while married women bound their hair under veils. In ancient Greece, boys cut their hair upon reaching adolescence.

Religion has often played a part in hair styling. Some monks shave their heads. One group of clergy in the 15th century was distinguished by a shaved patch on the head.

Athenian woman ancient hairstyle

Intricate hairstyle of caryatid, displayed at the Acropolis Museum in Athens Odysses, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In the 13th and 14th centuries, the church in England encouraged women to be modest and cover their hair, using veils.

Hairdressing as a profession emerged in the mid-1700s. In France, a former baker became the court hairdresser, publishing a book about hairdressing and opening a hairdressing school.

Events were changing by the 1800s. Men spent less time on their hair and more time on business. Most men kept their hair short and used hair oil. Heated irons were used to help women achieve the curls and crimps that were in style.

Events changed even more in the 20th century as movies and world wars influenced styles. In the 1920s, women bobbed their hair and followed the styles of film stars like Veronica Lake.

Permanent waves, invented in 1905 by Charles Nessler, became very popular. The very first permanents took 12 hours and often resulted in frizz. Fortunately, inventions and improvements were on the way to make waving, styling, straightening and curling quicker, easier and much more reliable.

Hair Styling Products

As with hairstyles, hair styling products have changed throughout history. Many methods of styling hair were improvised, such as using kitchen tongs heated on a stove to curl the hair. These were far from perfect, however, as burning the hair or fingers was a distinct possibility.

History of Hair Dryers

Before hair dryers were invented, an innovative way to dry hair was to use the blowing attachment on a vacuum cleaner. The origins of hair dryers as we know them today, however, were in Germany in the early 1920s.

It combined the technology of the electric heater with a smaller version of the motor used in a vacuum cleaner. Looking more like a household appliance than a hair dryer, the early models were very large and hard to handle.

Hair dryers were the first domestic electric appliance to benefit from the use of plastics. Making the dryer out of plastic drastically improved the safety of using a hair dryer and it made the dryer much lighter and easier to use.

Plastic also allowed the dryer to become a fashion piece because it could be made in different colors. After the second World War, new hair dryer models began using induction motors, which greatly reduced the noise level.

Ancient Egyptian hair from tomb

By the late 1950s the hood-type of dryer was being used by salons and portable vanity-case dryer was being sold to the public. This type grew into hair dryers that we use today.

History of Curling Irons

The earliest electrical tool for curling hair was the electric curling tong. Finding the correct temperature with these early tongs was a challenge. There were two types: 1) two separate pieces; the tongs and a separate heating chamber and 2) self-contained with insulated handle and wired-in heating.

A permanent waving machine also appeared at this time, but it was big, expensive and was used strictly by salons. By the 1950s, curling tongs had come to look very much like the curling irons we use today.

Nowadays selection of curling irons offers a wide variety of features. Traditional curling irons as well as innovations such as spiral irons, instant heat, hair braiders, big curls, varying diameters for varying size curls, curling brushes, straightening combs, accessories, attachments and more.

Curling irons as well as hair styling products and hair care products make hair care easy and fast these days.


About the Author Alesha Ware

Hey! I'm Alesha - just your average girl from Ohio who has had her fair share of bad hair days...and lived to tell the tale. I started this site to help women skip my mistakes and have a positive hair experience