When I was young (a long time ago) I had long curly hair as long as my waist. And at the time it was the fashion to let your hair hang loose and of course, I wanted that too. But… the curls came into my eyes and they got stuck in my clothing. Bobby pins are a solution, but I did not like the shape and the color.
In the 1970s I went to Indonesia to travel around and met a very nice chambermaid who loved my hair. She braided my hair every day and decorated it with orchids and other flowers. We became friends and I got a pair of turtle hair combs from her at the farewell.
They did not stick in my hair, so I used bobby pins and hair combs over them. The same hair combs were used at my wedding – ages later- decorated with little pearls and flowers. These hair combs were so beautiful and they were my first hair jewelry.
You have two types of hair jewelry. A first type is an ornamental object that serves as a hair decoration or a decorative construction to keep your hair in shape. And the other type is jewelry that is made of human hair, most of the time that is ‘mourning jewelry’.
To delimit this blog a bit I describe the hair decoration here that can be regarded as jewelry!
The development of hair jewelry
During time hair was important for people, especially when you were not happy with your hair or it was lacking. The ‘problem’ is that you have only 3 seconds to make a great first impression and people usually look at the face first when they first meet. And closest to your face is your hair, which should look good. Anyway, that is what most people think and the reason they go to the hairdresser.
In the Prehistoric Times, people decorated their hair with flowers, little shells, feathers, or beads. In Ancient Egypt, braided golden threads or ornaments were woven in the hair. In China and Japan women with their thicker hair wore wooden decorated rods to keep the hair from falling down. And in America, the chiefs and the lady chiefs wore large feathers in their hair.
Actually, the first proof of the fact that people wore hair jewelry or hair accessories was the finding of the small statue ‘Venus of Willendorf’, dated between 24.000 and 22.000 BC. This statue of a female shows a rather well-figured lady, without any clothing, no marks for her mouth, ears, or nose, but you can see horizontal bands around her head, representing a headband or something similar.
All these decorations of the hair were not only to look good but also to emphasize your status in society. Hair jewelry evolved in design, in the ingenuity of the construction to keep your hair at its place and in the material.
And of course, you cannot think of hair jewelry without thinking about one or another concept of headgear/hats. This is also a development that took place over the years. A crown of a king became a tiara or diadem and later a headband. The laurel wreath, used in Ancient Times to crown the winner of a game or battle, became bridal jewelry, to keep to veil at its place.
But let me show you the types of hair accessories, that could be turned into hair jewelry.
Hair jewelry in Ancient Times
The first type of hair jewelry is probably the hair ring. It is round and made of solid gold or gold-plated clay, bronze, or lead. They were designed to keep the hair away from the face or lock strands of hair. To be honest, we have no idea how the ladies of Ancient Times used the rings, but they did.
We think they are the precursor of our hair elastics. In the Netherlands, archeologists found a bronze treasure with hair rings (9th century BC) and there is a doll, called Julia, wearing these hair rings. But it is just an impression.
Those hair rings were found in graves in England, Belgium, France, and The Netherlands and they date from the Bronze Age (2000-800 BC). But we found in Egyptian graves the same kind of hair rings, made of alabaster, white glazed pottery of jasper.
And it looks like that in Egypt they represent a certain social ranking. The hair rings were not used in real hair, but in wigs. The very wealthy decorated the hair rings with gemstones.
That goes for the bronze treasure in the Netherlands too. Bronze is made out of copper and tin and those materials are not found in the Netherlands. The only way that people could obtain bronze was by trade, and that makes it a real treasure, owned by wealthy people.
Hair beads as hair jewelry
One of the oldest pieces of hair jewelry, like the hair rings, are hair beads. The Egyptians wore beads in their hair, depending on the status were made of cheaper or more expensive material. It is not really functional, but this type of hair jewelry can be very beautiful.
In Africa, women had their hair decorated with beads, shells, little feathers, etc, and this tradition can be seen with white women too (especially on beaches).
In West Africa, people used different bead patterns according to the tribe they belong to, marital status, age, and social standing. In Nigeria, coral beads are used with wedding ceremonies in some tribes. In East Africa, Habesha ladies from North of Ethiopia and Eritrea braid gold chains through their cornrows and they fall over their foreheads.
In Tibet, the ladies braid coral and turquoise beads in their hair and sew them on their head adornment. It is becoming very popular to wear beads in your hair as hair jewelry, especially the American African role models, like the Willams sisters, or Stevie Wonder, which like to show their background.
Hairpins are long pins with beads or ornaments hanging on the top of the pin, that you stick in your hair for decoration or tightening the hair on top of your head. They can be made of wood, but also horn, ivory, and the decoration can be made of gemstones, enamel (Art Nouveau), lacquerware, gold, and silver.
But every hairpin looked different, depending on where they were made and what they should be used for. In Roman Times hairpins or hair jewelry in the shape of a pin were often hollow, so ladies could put perfume or poison in them. But normally the pin was only used to keep the hair tidy or to show your status.
Many associates the long and straight hairpin with the Asian culture. This type of hair jewelry was popular in the 17th century in Japan by the high-society ladies (Kanzashi pins). The hair sticks, which had sometimes the shape of a fork, kept the long hair in place when the hair was wrapped around the hair stick and was stuck into the hair. They were so popular that women used them until the 20th century when short hair became the fashion.
In China, hairpins had an important cultural role. When a girl turned 15 years old, she participated in a hairpin ceremony where she received her first hairpin and could wear her hair up. When she became engaged the future husband received one of her hairpins as a symbol of courtship.
The hairpins were the precursor of the bobby pin. Those bobby pins were important for the Victorian ladies since it was not done that some hair was hanging loose. And you could make the so-called ‘finger waves’ with them, waves where Shirley Temple got famous in the 1940s.
In France in the 17th-century men and women wore wigs. The hairpins, that were rather long and straight or had the shape of a U, were used to keep the wig fixed on the head. The pins were often decorated with precious gemstones and pearls.
And the aigrette became popular. This is a hairpin decorated with feathers, gemstones, and pearls on the head of the hairpin, and was stabbed on the top of the immense high coiffure of those days.
A barrette can be considered modern hair jewelry since it was not used before the 19th century. It is a kind of bobby pin with a large ornamental face that is decorated with gemstones, pearls, beads, etc. A spring clip keeps the hair together and my mother used it to keep her hair at her back.
A hairband has its roots in Mesopotamia and many types of hair jewelry are based on the principle of a hairband, like the crown, a tiara, a diadem. And from Ancient Times until now the hairband is popular. We know that a Priest-King of the Indus Civilization (2200-2600BC) wore a hand band, already.
In the Middle Ages, high-classed ladies wore metal hairbands and a kind of crown. And in the 19th century, the Greek wreath was copied as a new kind of hairband. When ladies started to wear hats the hairband became less popular.
But the flapper movement in the 20th century took care of a revival. This movement consisted of a generation of young women that did not want to accept the cultural norms. And actresses like Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly promoted the hand band in their movies.
Hairnets were first used by the ladies in the Roman Empire and this hair jewelry continues on to the Middle Ages in Europe. A hairnet is supposed to keep the hair away from the face with a (mostly) beaded hair net.
In the 1940s the women started to work in the factory and had to wear hair nets for security and health reasons. These ones were not the kind of hairnets as made before, less shiny and less expensive to begin with.
Hair combs as hair jewelry
From the Stone Age on, women are wearing hair combs to secure their hair in the right place or just for decorative reasons. They could also be just functional to brush or comb your hair and keep it there for the moment you want to redo your hair. The hair comb was also used to keep a hat or headpiece on the right spot.
The material where the hair comb is made off changed a bit during the time. The Romans had tortoiseshell hair combs, but in the Tang dynasty in China women had combs of the horn of a rhinoceros in their hair. The Japanese lady in the 17th century preferred wood or tortoiseshell combs decorated with pearls or mother of pearl.
There are different styles of hair combs and the decoration might differ too.
In the Stone Age and in Ancient Times the hair comb was made out of wood or bone, slightly decorated at the ‘handle’, and the comb had a lot of ‘claws’. But in China and Japan, during the Middle Ages in Europe and in the Renaissance, the hair combs of the wealthy ladies were decorated, engraved, lacquered, and/or painted. They became collectible objects.
The hair comb as an expression of politics and culture
The African hair comb played a role in the political and cultural history of Africa. The African hair comb is longer than the European variety and had long thin claws. The comb can be left in the hair as a decoration and they date back 6000 years.
The afro hair comb is a status symbol, beautifully carved and shaped, and decorated with human figures, natural elements, and geometric patterns.
In the 20th century, the afro hair comb was used by the Black Power Movement as a symbol of independence and wanting to express their own culture.
Most ladies use necklaces, bracelets, earrings, or a brooch as the main piece of jewelry they wear. But also silver handbags (chatelaines) and hair jewelry can be regarded as real pieces of jewelry if made of precious metals and gemstones. And when you want also the less expensive but beautiful decorated hair decoration are ‘jewels’ as well.
The thing is that hair jewelry lasted from Ancient Times until now and the shape did not change that much either. The reason is – I think- that the hair jewelry is not only very decorative and stunning but also functional. What lady does not need something to keep their hair in place. Especially when you have a ‘bad hair day’.
FlorenceJewelshop has no hair jewelry in her collection, but that does not mean that I don’t love them. I even used them when I had longer hair and even now I really clip to restrain the curls.
Whatever (hair) jewelry you wear, you have to know what looks good on you and what jewelry makes you more beautiful than you already are. Therefore FlorenceJewelshop had made a PDF, with all the tips & tricks you need to choose the right piece of jewelry for you.
The good thing is that this PDF is free of charge. You just have to let me know where I can send it to.
Hug, Florence from FlorenceJewelshop