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Give Thanks It’s Over: History’s Worst Hair Trends

by Madison Reed {{"2016-11-23T20:51:00.000Z" | blogDate:'MMMM d, y'}}

Image by Madison Reed

We have a lot to be thankful for this year: friends, family, beautiful hair color, and Hamilton the musical. When you look back and see what worked and what didn’t work, it’s a great way to make sure the future is even better. History is rich in fascinating, ridiculous hair trends and treatments. But thanks to modern day science (and some good ol’ common sense), we’re thankful certain trends no longer exist. This Thanksgiving, we're grateful for healthy-looking tresses and natural-looking hair color. No leeches required. 

Do or Dye
When we say Madison Reed contains ingredients you can feel good about, we mean it. But hair color hasn’t always been so gentle. Take the black hair dye proposed by the famous Roman physician and naturalist Pliny the Elder of the early Roman empire–he proposed using leeches stored in red wine for 40 days in a lead container. He points out NOT to use another recipe calling for leeches and vinegar as your teeth may go black. Thanks for the warning, doc. 

Curl World
In ancient civilizations, hair was curled using sticks and wet clay, then dried in the sun and combed out. Another recipe: a jelly of water-soaked quince seeds or a hair gel of lizard tallow blended with swallow droppings. Neither a recipe we’ll repeat. 

Red Reign
During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, red became the IT hair color, as many wanted to emulate the queen’s raven tresses. Men and women dyed their mane fiery hues using a combination of borax, saltpeter, saffron and sulfur powder, resulting in crimson hair, but also headaches, and nosebleeds. Now that’s a triple threat. 

Buttered Up
The reign of Queen Elizabeth I brought about many new trends and innovations in beauty and fashion, some worse than others, like using lard and powdered lead to set the extravagant hairstyles of the day. Women wore protective cages or hair nets while they slept just to keep away the rodents from nibbling while they slept. Long scratching sticks were also introduced to help the ladies itch their (probably) lice-ridden coifs in style. 

Renaissance Pain
Chichi ladies of the upper class during the Renaissance tweezed their foreheads, literally pushing back their hairline to give the illusion of a higher forehead. Feigning higher intelligence perhaps? The rest of their poor strands were tightly pulled back and capped with entrance-making headdresses. No pain, no societal gain. 

Bleach Babes 
The 15th century found many people eyeing the fairer strands of the Northern European set. To achieve lighter tresses, those struck with blonde envy used a combo of urine, saffron, or onion skins, then sat in the sun to let it fully saturate. Onion skins + heat…all you’re missing are the bacon bits. 

High Times
If you wanted to show off your wealth and social standing during the 18th century, Baroque fashion often meant horse, human, or goat hair wigs…the bigger the better. By the end of the era, some wigs stood over 23 inches tall, supported by wooden or iron frames and filled with ornaments and trinkets to flaunt the wearer’s profession or popularity. And pastel colors were all the rage. Pink, light blue, violet…you name it. It was a color show, and those who could spent big bucks on wig designers and quality materials to show just how rich they were. Sometimes these wigs weighed so much, they caused inflammation of the temples.  

Pest Control
Early hairbrushes weren’t only used to work out knots and tangles. Made of natural materials like shells and porcupine quills, they served a much more practical purpose: picking through strands to remove teeny tiny pests. Anyone else just get itchy?

Save the Strands
The Gibson Girl bouffant of the late 19th and early 20th century, popularized by a graphic artist and magazine illustrator, required women to fill the front of this hairstyle with additional hair usually saved from their brushes and stored in glass or ceramic containers. We suppose that’s one way to recycle.  

Questionable Conditioners 
We prefer our Color Protecting Conditioner, but in the 1300s, European women deep-treated their hair with a reptilian concoction of lizards boiled in olive oil to create conditioner. Chinese women used a finishing rinse made from cedar seeds (much more our style), while Americans eventually introduced the conditioning cocktail of oil and eggs in the 1600s.

Skip a Day…or 42
You may skip a day in between shampooing to keep tresses looking healthy, but specialists in the 1900s took it one—or ten—steps further. They recommended washing hair every month to 6 weeks with castile, lye-based, or tar soap…some of which were too harmful to use more often than that. And for split ends, the fix was lighting a match and singeing them off. 

Look Alike
In the 17th century, the Qing Dynasty ruled the land and set forth an interesting law: a mandatory hairstyle for men, or execution for treason. The look wasn’t too flattering either. The front portion of hair was completely shaved off. The rest was grown long and worn in a braided pony. 

Just a few reasons to be extra grateful...if nothing else, at least you don’t have to wear a cage to prevent rats from eating your hair while you sleep. Happy Thanksgiving!

Read More:
Hairstyles Through History
Hair Color History

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