Human hair has been around for, well, as long as we humans and history is full of hairy anecdotes like these:
A mummy dug up by scientists in Egypt still had its original hairstyle — right down to the curl!
Civil War soldiers often wore watch fobs made out of the hair of their wives, to have a piece of home with them on the battlefield.
Mounds of human hair are still sitting near the ovens at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Germany. The hair hasn’t been touched since it was shaved off of the Jews being murdered.
Often, a family member would collect hair from several generations of relatives and weave the hair into a wreath. More often than not, the wreath included intricate hair-woven flowers and were shaped like a horseshoe — always pointed up, to keep luck in the family.
Human hair additions were used so extensively in the mid Victorian era of elaborate hairstyling that 51,816kgs of (false) human hair were sold in France in 1871 and 102,900kgs in 1873.
Hairdressing did not emerge as a profession until the reign of Louis XV of France and the influence on hair fashions by his mistress, Madame de Pompadour.
More Hair Lore
Hair over the ages came to epitomize style, uniqueness, and certainly extravagance as shown below:
Elaborate theme parties were given by patrons of the French Court. Women started commissioning artists to create hairstyles depicting the theme of these royal balls. The hair was draped over a framework stuffed with cotton, wool, or straw and cemented with a concrete-like paste that hardened. The hair was then powdered and decorated. Hairdos had live birds in cages, waterfalls, Cupids, and naval battles, complete with ships and smoke. One widow, overcome with mourning, had her husband's tombstone erected in her hair.
Problems were many during this era. Women developed backaches from the weight of these artistic hairdos. They rode for miles in a carriage to these parties, doubled over in the coach because with their weighty hair, they could not travel upright. The combination of being corseted and wearing confining bustiers added to the discomfort. Imagine their misery!
The pomades to hold these styles together were made of beef lard and bear grease. Because these women paid a high dollar amount for the hairdos, they kept them in place for a week or two. Thus their hair became rancid and would often attract fleas and other vermin while the mistress slept. That is where the term, “her hair is a ‘rats nest’” originated. French perfumes became renowned for their ability to cover the smell of the rotting pomades.
Hairdressers performed their services at the client's palatial home. Because of this they were not only sought after for artistic talent, but also for their inside knowledge of what other highly-placed women of fashion were wearing. So Hairdressers were Barbara Walters, The National Enquirer, and Entertainment Tonight all rolled into one!
A Few Closing Wisps
It isn't known just when men and women took an interest in removing hair from their bodies, but we do know it has gone on since the caveman days. There were several reasons for this early procedure:
Primarily, it was to reduce the bodily habitat for lice, fleas and small rodents. Also for eliminating the beard as a hand-hold during combat.
Early man found it difficult to eat without some trimming around the mouth, and being superstitious by nature, man associated heavily bearded men with old age and death – it signified a man nearing the end of his life.
Soon enough, vanity entered the picture, as well. The first electric haircutter was used in 1903. It was a comb with a fine platinum wire connected to the electric lighting system. The wire was heated to incandescence, and as the comb was run through the hair, the ends were burnt off.
During the Second World War, many women who copied Dorothy Lamour’s long tresses were working on wartime production lines and were at risk of getting their hair caught in the machinery. The United States government made a plea to Paramount Pictures to change movie star hair styles. Also, the razor became used on a large scale for female grooming purposes when silk stockings became impossible to obtain; shaving and "leg markup" were substituted.
Haircoloring was still a very precarious adventure. Peroxide was mixed with ammonia, and Ivory soap flakes were added to make a paste. The hapless customer’s hair often wound up on the beauty salon floor!