Hair Styles PDF Print E-mail

Hair Styles in the Fifteenth Century

Taken from the book “Fashions in Hair, the first Five Thousand Years” by Richard Corson (Published by Peter Owen, London)

This book was a complete ‘find’ in the local library while looking for information on the ever-increasing topic of hats. It occurred to me, that although we have often talked about the various millenaries available, the most we have ever talked about hair is the usual ‘cover it up or you’re a wanton woman’!
Richard Corson, the author, has really done his research, the list of sources precluding the index is rather large. Covering 5000 years has obviously meant that he can only say a brief amount from each period. Having said that the entire book itself is fascinating. It shows, as in most fashion trends, history repeats itself. For example, the modern 1970’s pageboy cut, which many children suffered, including myself, has strong echoes of the haircuts sported by English men of fashion in the fifteenth century. It’s amazing how popular the bob was! It was also interesting that facial hair was also included in the text… I’m sorry, boys, but goatee beards are out! Read on to find out why.
Staying on the subject of beards, there is an interesting piece from the reign of Henry VI. History has popularised him as a religious mad man and the following, with our twenty-first century minds, seems to well substantiate this.
An act was passed in 1447, during the reign of Henry VI which stated that;
“No manner of man that will be taken for an Englishman shall have no beard above his mouth; that is to say that he have no hairs on his upper lip so that the said lip be once at least shaven every fortnight or for equal growth with the nether lip; and if any man be found among the English contrary hereunto, that it shall be lawful to every man to take them and their goods as Irish enemies”
Does this mean that all you men with moustaches should now be deemed Irish and the clean-shaven amongst us could confiscate your belongings? We could have a lot of fun with this one!
During the reign of Edward IV an act was passed, again targeting the Irish (history doesn’t seem to like them over much does it!). They were required to “wear beards after the English manner". In other words, although a slight beard was permitted on the chin, most English men were clean-shaven.
However, fashion, as always, can go from one extreme to the other. Reynolds (if anyone can tell me who this person is I would be most grateful) reports occasionally false beards were worn.  Imagine if you will, France, the date is 1476. Reports have reached us that the Duke of Lorraine has attended Duke Charles of Burgundy’s funeral wearing a golden waist length false beard!
Looking at an overview of the fashion in hair over time, it is possible to understand the popularity of long hair and wigs in the seventeenth century. The short bowl cut popular during the reign of Henry V lasted only until the reign of Henry VI, who wore his hair medium length. Edward IV and Richard III wore almost shoulder length bobs. Henry VII wore his hair longer again. Long hair was popular in France for nearly the whole century, due to copying Louis XI. In these cases of different length bobs, the ends were generally curled under.
However, this doesn’t mean that shaved heads weren’t popular. In 1461, it is reputed that when illness forced Phillip of Burgundy to shave his head, 500 nobles followed suit. So the shorthaired gentlemen in our society can rest easy. 
There is one haircut though, that since discovering has to be mentioned. Influenced by the Fashions in Florence, this style was seen from Italy to London and was very popular. In Italy it was known as the Zazzera. The spelling of this word may give you a clue to the style. Known as the Florentine cut in this country, it was a simple shoulder length bob frizzed all over. Backcombing rules!
Wigs were sometimes worn by men of fashion as well as false beards. Popular hair colours were black and blonde, the hair being either dyed or bleached. Red however, was not popular. Seems being ginger was just as unpopular then.
The general rule for young unmarried women and girls was for long flowing hair. After marriage a linen cap or coif covered up the hair. A number of different styles were available on the continent. The hair was often multi-braided or roped (long lengths of straight hair bound separately). These were then wound round the head or hair. Often ribbons, jewels, or strands of pearls would be sewn in. The bound up hair, also sometimes caught up into nets, was a legacy from the previous centuries fashion. During the first half of the century, especially during the popularity of the horned and heart-shaped headdresses, hairpieces were often used. Along with braids, ropes and nets. These hairpieces were sometimes made from silk floss, if you could afford it, of course.
Centre partings were de-rigor, which tended to make things easier for braiding, which was extensive. (Ever tried plaiting hair with a side parting? Makes bunches impossible!). This carried on into the next century where hairlines became visible once more and the centre parting was still very popular. Therefore, ladies, I am afraid that fringes (Or “bangs” if you ever wondered what the Americans were talking about) are a fashion no-no.
As previously mentioned, hair was normally covered up in this country. To enhance their looks and follow fashion, women plucked their hair back from the hairline high into the hair giving themselves a high forehead. Can you imagine what those women would have given for natural balding! Talking of plucking, every fashionable woman had thin arched brows, so tweezers were a must, and they were not afraid to tweak in public! It was not seemly for any hair other than refined eyebrows to show from underneath the hennin or hood. So for all you fashion conscious 15th century girls out there, a small hand mirror and tweezers in your pouch are essential, but unless you have a naturally high forehead I think plucking the hairline in the name of authenticity is taking things a little too far.
So there you have it, those moustached gentlemen among you can now be deemed Irish and the infamous re-enactors fringe is definitely a female re-enactor problem, (the only cure for which I have found thus far is to grow it out!). A shaved head is okay, as are plucked eyebrows, which I am sure is quite a relief to some of you. What I would really love to see, however, is a man dedicated enough to go for either the Florentine cut or the fashionable fifteenth century beard, or maybe both? Or even a woman prepared to do the high hairline in the name of authenticity? May St. Dymphner bless them both!
                                                                                                                        Catherine Wetton