The History of Hair

114th Century B.C.

Whether it’s a braided bun or flowing tendrils, hair has always mirrored the cultural zeitgeist. Here’s a look at the locks that turned heads then and now.

Queen Nefertiti, royal wife of an Egyptian Pharaoh is depicted in art wearing a grand headdress. Even without a strand of hair showing, her likenesses brought her new notoriety as one of history’s great beauties.

210th Century B.C.

In Ancient Egypt, royalty and regular folks alike (all ages, men and women) used hair “gel” made from a fatty substance to style their hair into all sorts of ‘dos. Curly, slicked down, short, long, and even with hair extensions.

READ MORE: The scoop on ancient hair gel.

31st Century B.C.

Ancient Roman and Greek women of status wore their long hair in ornate braids close to their heads, and use powdered gold to add highlights to their hair. “The richer they were, the more complicated their hair styles were because they had slaves who braided and curled it—their hair was a status symbol,” says Guido, YouBeauty Hair Advisor.

41000 A.D.

Lady Godiva let her hair down and made her legendary horse ride through the streets of Coventry, England, to protest tax hikes imposed by her husband, the Earl of Mercia—and became an instant heroine. Whether the tale is true or not, paintings depicting the trek have caused carefree, flowing locks to be forever associated with sexy self-confidence.

51300s & 1400s

Medieval maidens (think the women in “Braveheart” or any Camelot/Robin Hood flick) wore their hair long and braided, either down their backs or coiled into buns against their ears, Princess Leia-style. “For women at this time, hair was their crowning glory,” says Jimmy Paul, editorial stylist for Bumble and bumble in New York City.


Queen Elizabeth led her country and set off a hair trend: Women copied her red locks and pin curls and plucked their hairlines and eyebrows to achieve her regally high forehead. Elaborate headdresses—some resembling snoods—and wigs also came into style. No doubt because they were both fashionable and they also helped ladies of the court stay warm in chilly castles.


Marie Antoinette asserted her high social ranking by taking her hair to new heights. Her powdered wigs were adorned with trinkets like model ships. Copycats decorated theirs with everything from feathers and lace to birdcages. The creation, care and upkeep took hours and gave birth to a new profession: the hairdresser. “Until then, house servants tended to ladies hair,” says Paul. A hairdresser’s touch became a must for fashionistas of the day. “Royals were the celebrities of this time, and just like today, people watched what they did and were influenced by their sense of style,” he says.


As Emma, Gwyneth Paltow’s character sported the look that kicked off the century: ribbon-adorned updos with feminine curls that called to mind regal Greek and Roman hairstyles. The style would give way to flouncy, looser updos worn by the Gibson Girls at the turn of the century. The look and lifestyle began as a magazine illustration in the 1890s by Charles Gibson, whose ladies dressed in elegant, hourglass shapes that were contrasted by hair piled into voluminous, unkempt topknots.

“Women were fighting for social change including their right to vote and they became very attached to the cartoon,” says Guido. “It was a proper, ladylike look but with this hair that was not finished and not caring if a few tendrils were falling out. There was a mischievous sense to it all—they were the rebels of their time.”


Having won the right to vote, flappers celebrated women’s liberation with hedonistic aplomb. They raised their hemlines, threw off their corsets and smoked, drank, played sports, drove cars and enjoyed breaking down as may social norms as they could. They even lopped off their locks into a bold new style called the bob. “There was a feeling of freedom and the women who adopted this new lifestyle needed a hairstyle that reflected this,” says Paul. Entertainers Louise Brooks and Clara Bow brought the ’do (and attitude) to the masses.

101930s & 1940s

The first successful perm technique was introduced and enabled women to feminize their bobs with lasting, Jean Harlow finger waves. Even with a perm, having a weekly salon set was needed to rock the sassy, sultry look. By the 1940s, longer locks came into fashion and women styled it themselves into elegant upswept ‘dos like the Victory Roll, worn by starlets like Bettie Page and Rita Hayworth (pictured).

“There was a war going on and women didn’t have the money to spend on clothes or accessories, but hair they could glamorize themselves,” says Guido. Updos served a practical purpose as well. For women who worked in factories during the war, it kept their manes safely up and away from machinery.


Hair bulks up with bouffants. Think Marilyn Monroe (pictured) singing “Happy Birthday, Mr. President,” and Jackie Kennedy. (And yes, both women shared the same mane man—legendary New York City hairdresser Kenneth.) With the war behind them, women returned to their former domesticated lifestyles, and once again there was time and money for weekly beauty parlor sets. “To get the volume needed for a bouffant, women colored and permed their hair, and then had it set on rollers,” explains Paul. “Processed hair is easier to roll onto curlers.”

Once set, curls were brushed, teased and hairsprayed into the classic, posh helmet shape. Younger people adapted the look into the Beehive—the tall tubes of lacquered hair become the go-to look for the Ronettes and Brigitte Bardot, who wore a sexy disheveled version. “Hair got a bit rebellious at the end of the decade – the updos got higher and then they got raggedy and raw, which was the opposite of what their mothers wore,” says Guido. “Women were becoming more outspoken and their hair reflected that.”


Independence and women’s rights helped liberate beauty preferences, sending cookie-cutter ideals out the window. Hair styles varied from Vidal Sassoon-crafted geometric shapes on Mary Quant and Mia Farrow (pictured), like the angular bob and pixie that would fall into place without needing endless hours of rolling and fixing, to loose rumpled hair seen on Brigitte Bardot and Raquel Welch. “Men and women in the 60s youth culture used hair to identify with groups,” says Guido.

Chunky front highlights were also trending, as seen on Anne Bancroft in “Mrs. Robinson” and Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” “It was a time when women were coming out of their shells and hair styles and color like this was an attention-getter,” says New York city colorist Rita Hazan. “The sentiment behind it was like, ‘boom—in your face.’”


Hair takes a natural turn with Afro styles—whether real hair or wigs—seen on Pam Grier, Aretha Franklin and Roberta Flack (pictured). Long and straight hair also rises in popularity, as worn by iconic TV characters Laurie Partridge and Marcia Brady, complete with natural-looking highlights. Women created their own sun-kissed strands using lemon juice and the sun, or in some cases, straight peroxide. By the mid-70s, Farah Fawcett earned her wings and Dorothy Hamill scored her wedge and blowdryers, round brushes, curling irons and regular trims were required to maintain these looks. “As hair started to be cut into shapes, they required styling,” says Palau. “Simplicity wasn’t as important and it became acceptable to become a bit vain.”


Every teenager wanted Madonna’s frosted scrunched hair (pictured on right) from “Desperately Seeking Susan” and it became the look that defined the decade. “Everything was done in excess—the bigger the hair and brighter the streaks, the better under the disco lights,” say Hazan. Helping the cause was the launch of L’Oréal Freehold Mousse, the first commercially-successful mousse. In the late 80s things took a smoother, glam turn thanks to Cindy Crawford’s blown out volume, Naomi Campbell’s sleek weaves and Linda Evangelista’s chameleon color changes.

“The punk culture from England was visually shocking and it brought out a whole new set of parameters for self-expression among the youth culture,” says Guido. “How big, how high, how layered, how sprayed could you get your hair to be—it was an experimental time with new artistic sensibilities.” And of course there was a lot of money as the stock market boomed, which made it possible to pay a stylist to fix your asymmetrical cut or trim your Flock of Seagulls bangs.


Kate Moss (pictured) entered the picture with her waify looks and flippy updo (created by Guido), which was coveted and copied worldwide. Moss’s low-key style was a fresh change from the opulence of the 80s and in keeping with conservative culture rolling across the globe, thanks to the Gulf War and the economic downturn. “It was a new dawning of beauty—you didn’t have to be six feet tall or have big boobs or perfect hair,” Palau says. “It became chic to look imperfect or have dirty hair or go out without makeup.” By the mid-90s, attention was turning toward the millennium and the decade’s “what-ever” spirit gave way to a more polished vibe, including cleaner and bouncier styles like The Rachel, made famous by Jennifer Aniston on “Friends,” which sent women running for blowouts, flat irons…and repair treatments to fix all of that heat damage.


Brazilian model Gisele Bundchen’s (pictured) long beachy waves with sun-kissed streaks became—and still is—one of the most popular looks. Curling iron sales continue to skyrocket as women learn to coil, not roll, two-inch chunks of hair around a rod, and then brush the curls out so hair looked precisely unkempt. “There are now products for every type of hair, like waxes and pomades and styling sprays, which allow you look like your hair hasn’t been ‘worked on,’” explains Guido. Hair color also took a chic leap forward as women request caramel and honey tones worn by Jennifer Lopez (the look was created by Hazan for J Lo’s debut album On The Six).

“This is when colorists stopped using one frosty highlight shade on everyone and started weaving two, three or four shades into hair,” says Hazan. Softer, prettier colors began to get woven into large and small braids, as tiny crowns or side-set behind an earlobe. Fancy salons open braid bars in response to the high demand. “The braid has endured because it’s feminine and effortless and because it borrows from the past—a key trend of the 2000s,” says Guido.