Historical Hairstyles to Try at Home

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Ever since the earliest of times, we humans have valued our hair.

The origins of such strange long head hair, contrasted with a relatively hairless body, has been a topic of debate for some years, but perhaps the leading theory is that sexual selection was at work. While long hair offers benefits of warmth in cold climates or protection from a hot sun, nevertheless it's likely that the existence of longer hair in largely due to associations of femininity or health. Whatever the reason, the longer head-hair was here to stay and humans, always eager to define their identities through their looks, jumped on the chance to get creative with their locks. This week I'd like follow the lead of the wonder Medievalists.net's recent post, and show some historical hairstyles that you can try at home.
Statue of Faustina the Younger

These come courtesy of  Janet Stephen, a hairdresser and amateaur archaeologist who was fascinated by how historical hairstyles were created. While many archaeologists and historians suggested that these hairstyles could only have been created with wigs, Janet instead discovered that through using a form of sewing in hairstyles, they could easily and quickly be replicated and used in the day to day. This breakthrough came in 2005 when, studying translations in Roman literature, she found that  the term 'acus' was likely being mistranslated. In the books, this was translated as a 'single-prong hairpin' but in fact it could also be translated as 'needle and thread'. Her theory was published in the Journal of Roman Archaeology in 2008 and she made a name for herself in historical circles.

"I could tell even from the first version that it was a very serious piece of experimental archaeology which not scholar who was not a hairdresser - in other words, no scholar - would have been able to write." John Humphrey, the journal's editor, explained.

Janet's practical work is shown on her youtube channel, where you can find out how to make such beautiful historical hairstyles for yourself, while also learning of where she found her sources.

Agrippina the Younger


Ancient Roman Hairstyles For Men


 Empress Plotina

Faustina The Younger 

 18thc 'Butterfly'/Papillote Curls

 I thoroughly recommend that you spend some time browsing Janet Stephens' youtube channel if you have any interest in fashion or history. 
For one she is an inspiration showing us how, no matter what your background, if you have interest, confidence, creativity and passion you can make a lasting contribution to the study of history. 
For another, her work is living proof of the value of experimental history and archaeology in how to bring what we read in the texts to life for for practical purposes and for emotional ones. In her study of these hairstyles Janet offers a unique insight to what had been an ongoing debate on historical hairstyles, but in doing so she also let us see with real intimacy into the lives of the people that made use of these hairstyles in the day to day. In how their family lives were set up (for example, why they needed someone else to do their hair), how they valued their appearance, and how much physical time and patience that these people would have had to give to making these creative styles happen. With such a life breathed into such a small but important part of these historical figures' daily routines, they are grounded and - as observers from the future - we can see just how like us our ancestors really were.


-Why is Human Hair So Long?
-Medievalists.net: Medieval hairstyles
-On Pins and Needles: Stylist Turns Ancient Hairdo Debate on Its Head
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