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Evolution of Ancient Greek Hairstyles

Evolution of Ancient Greek Hairstyles

Ancient Greek hairstyles changed as ancient Greece changed, reflecting the preoccupations and aspirations of its residents. Hairstyles signified something about the wearer’s age, taste and city of origin, but not much about his or her social class (except for slaves, whose hair was usually short). In their private lives, Athenians were, according to Demosthenes, “severe and simple,” with no great difference between how the highest and the lowest citizens dressed, lived or ate. In Sparta, men and women often went about naked, or with their chitons (draping white garments) opened at the sides; the word “spartan” means an indifference to luxury, which was widespread in ancient Greece.

The Grecian ideal of beauty was the same for men as for women: youth, detailed muscles, and naturally colored cheeks. In ancient art, men and women are drawn almost exactly the same, except for their chests (when exposed).Substances like olive oil and honey were used by many Greeks to improve their skin’s appearance, while men spent much of their time in the gymnasium, where they would exercise, wrestle, and converse with other men in the nude.

Blond hair was considered attractive, and both men and women bleached their hair with potash water, as well as drying it in the sun to achieve a blonder effect.

Makeup was used, though frowned upon by some as pretentious; many women used white lead to lighten their faces, and perhaps red pigment for blush and charcoal as eyeshadow. The heterae, ancient Greek equivalent to the geisha or courtesan, sometimes wore makeup.

This androgyny led to some uniformity in hairstyle. Men and women wore their hair in long curls; it’s unclear whether their hair was naturally curly, or if they curled it with tongs or similar implements. In a famous passage from Homer, Athena makes Odysseus’s hair flow down from his head in “hyacinthine curls.” We might therefore deduce that these curls were natural, at least for some of the native population.

Women’s Hairstyles

Women’s position in ancient Greece was shockingly low. Married women were isolated in their homes, not even allowed to socialize with other women, let alone other men. This might explain the relative indifference to luxury in ancient Greek society.

Women wore their hair long and in curls, sometimes plaited, sometimes with tresses draped over the shoulders. After the defeat of Persia in 449 BC, oriental styles grew less popular, and women began pinning their hair in a knot or bun at the nape of the neck, sometimes with a band or a net wound around the head. Scarves and diadems were also available.

During mourning, women cut their hair short.

Men’s Hairstyles

Men grew their hair long. A boy cut his hair short (about chin or jaw-length) when he reached adolescence, and remained with a short haircut until he became older and more distinguished.

The beard was also a mark of distinction and virility. Most young men went clean shaven, which was then a sign of effeminacy. However, shaving the upper lip was not uncommon. It was only when Alexander the Great ordered his soldiers to be clean shaven that the beard lost some of its grandeur; still, it was a mark of a philosopher or a sage.

There were several popular ancient Greek hairstyles, worn by men as well as women: the krobylon was an up-do with hair gathered, tied and pinned over the forehead; the Kepos, a bowl-cut used for youths and slaves; the Theseid was a sort of proto- mullet which was short in front and long in the back; the Hectorean was combed back into curls.

Garlands and diadems were worn by eminent Greek leaders, including Alexander the Great and prominent statesmen. A garland was typically placed on a great man’s head at his funeral.