Since ancient times, people have been wearing braids and the oldest historical examples are rooted in the African continent. It seems that braids from natural hair and also false braids have been one of the most popular people's hairstyle element of all times. In ancient Egypt, false braids were not only a hairstyle-decorating piece, but also a sign of high rank. During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the braids were extremely popular among women. Meanwhile, some of the men's wigs in the Rococo era stood out with braids. Multicolored silk braids from silk, wool and other fibers are part of the traditional costume of many nations. Braided hairstyles began to characterize some of the style variations of 20th and 21st century festive hairstyles. Braided hairstyles and braids are peculiar testimony of ancient times even today. How did the braided hairstyle appeared and how did it evolve over the centuries?
The Ancient Braids
Ancient Egyptian probably was the first ones who tangled their hair in braids. However, for the most part, these were wigs that reflected the hairstyles of fine braids. They adorned their wigs with jewels, beads, and extensions. Men and women would separate their hair into tiny braided strands that had beads woven in. Sometimes, braids made of human hair were added as extensions to make hair look thicker or longer. [3.] Interesting enough that the Egyptian hairstyles of children consisted of a shaved head except for one, long plaited lock which hung at the right side. This lock of hair was referred to as the "Lock of Youth". [9.] However visual sources show that the "Lock of Youth" sometimes consisted of fine braids. This hairstyle was the traditional style worn by boys and girls until the age of puberty. [9.]
Perhaps the most beautiful braids - fishtail braids were created in Ancient Greece as seen in a sculpted female figures called caryatids. The Greek term karyatides literally means "maidens of Karyai", an ancient town of Peloponnese. Caryatids were serving as an architectural supports taking the place of a column or a pillar supporting an entablature on her head. [4.]
As we know, the Greek traditions were also inherited in Ancient Rome, where women wore more elaborate hairstyles. From the early years of the Roman Republic (509–27 B.C.E.), women began to coil their long hair into a crown on their head. They might braid the hair first and then wrap it into intricate designs. As seen from the masterpieces of Roman sculptures, those were tower-like structures that were literally built on the heads. And here too were braids. Romans also used a device called a calamistrum to curl their hair. [10.] During the Roman Empire (27 B.C.E.–476 C.E.), when Roman civilization was at its height of power, women took their braided and curled hairstyles to extremes. [10.]
Complex Braids Of Medieval & Renaissance Era
During the high and late Middle Ages, modesty was very important virtue. During the early Medieval era, ranging from the 5th to the 11th century, women usually had long hair, extended to knee length or sometimes, below, and also with two long braids at the sides of the head or tied in a chignon. [8.] "One of the most popular hairstyles from the Middle period until the Late period was to secure the braids in chignons at either side of the head, above each ear, held by golden or silk threads. Another popular style in the 13th and 14th century was to make three or four braids and to tie them at the back of the head with fine nettings with ornaments."[8.] However, variations with braids were potentially endless. Among the most popular Medieval braided hairstyles were the double braids, the braided crowns, the double braided buns, or the fishtail braids. Such hairstyles became commonplace among the noble single woman. [3.]
During the 15th century the beauties of the Renaissance broke out with complex hairstyles with false braids. But these were not just braids obtained from the hair of another woman. Plaits, tassels and hair curls made the most complex labyrinths that we can see in the works of the artist Sandro Botticelli. Renaissance era also looked back on the heritage of antiquity, so in the 16th century crowns of braided hair were characteristic features for women's hairstyles.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, braids became a feature of the simple folk hairstyles. During the era of Baroque and Rococo ladies of the court gave preference to curls and curled hairstyles. Meanwhile, some 18th-century men's wigs on the back were supplemented with long braid.
At the beginning of the 19th century, braided hairstyles returned once again. Their variations during the Empire and Regency era took inspiration from the sources of antiquity. Era of Biedermeier fashions once again highlighted the grotesque braids that were arranged into tall braided towers. Hairstyles of the Renaissance beauties were also imitated. And then during the Victorian era the stylistics of hairdos were based on the sources of the past. There were also braided rings and buns that were arranged in the most extravagant ways.
Already at the end of the 19th century and the 20th century, braided hair became a retro style feature. Just like in the 21st century, when they occasionally feature vintage stylistics, creativity, and individualism.
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My name is Edīte Parute and I am a fashion historian and researcher from Latvia, association member at "The Association of Dress Historians" (UK) and author of the book "Stila un modes enciklopēdija"/"Encyclopedia of Style and Fashion" (2010) as well as author of many publications.
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