By the time of the Roman Empire (27 b.c.e.–476 c.e.), both men and women had largely given up the customs of simplicity and frugality that characterized early Rome. One of the most popular ways for people to ornament themselves was through hair dyes. The many traders and slaves that came to Rome and other Roman cities as a result of the empire's great expansion exposed the Romans to a wide variety of hair colors.
The most popular hair coloring in ancient Rome was blond, which was associated with the exotic and foreign appearance of people from Gaul, present-day France, and Germany. Roman prostitutes were required by law to dye their hair blond in order to set themselves apart, but many Roman women and men followed suit. The other most popular hair colors were red and black. The most striking hair coloring effects of all could only be afforded by the very wealthiest Romans; some of them powdered their hair with gold dust. The emperor Commodus (161–192 c.e.), who ruled from 180 to 192 c.e., was especially famous for powdering his snow-white hair with gold.
Romans used a variety of methods and ingredients for dyeing their hair. Some used henna, a plant-based reddish brown dye, and others used berries, vinegar, or crushed nutshells. Perhaps the strangest hair dye was a preparation used to turn the hair black that was made from leeches mixed with vinegar. Women would allow this awful mixture to ferment; after two months they would apply it to their hair and sit in the sun to allow it to bake in. People have continued to color their hair throughout history, but thankfully dyeing techniques have become a bit more pleasant.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Batterberry, Michael, and Ariane Batterberry. Fashion: The Mirror of History. New York: Greenwich House, 1977.
"Coma." Smith's Dictionary: Articles on Clothing and Adornment. http://www.ukans.edu/history/index/europe/ancient_rome/E/Roman/Texts/secondary/SMIGRA*/Coma.html (accessed on July 24, 2003).
Cosgrave, Bronwyn. The Complete History of Costume and Fashion: From Ancient Egypt to the Present Day. New York: Checkmark Books, 2000.
[See also Volume 3, Sixteenth Century: Hair Coloring ; Volume 5, 1946–60: Hair Coloring ]
Hair coloring dates to ancient times, when Greeks, Romans, and others altered their hair by applying soaps and bleaches. Many Romans preferred a black dye that consisted of leeks and boiled walnuts, while Saxons added such unlikely colors as orange, green, and blue to their hair and beards. The initial chemical hair coloring was produced in France in 1909. It consisted of a mixture of ammonia, hydrogen peroxide, and the chemical paraphenylenediamine.
During the post–World War II (1939–45) years, millions of American families were entering the middle class and more women had the luxury of spending money on themselves, including their hair. Initially, however, American women were reluctant to use hair dyes. Hair coloring products were purchased in stores and applied at home, or they were put on by a hairdresser at a salon. A disadvantage of home coloring was that instructions could be misread or a mishap might occur, resulting in the hair turning an unwanted or even garish color. Another downside to early commercial hair coloring products was that they smelled awful, often like rotten eggs.
In 1950 only seven out of every one hundred women colored their hair, with most doing so primarily to eliminate gray and restore their natural color. In 1956, however, the introduction of a dyeing product called Miss Clairol brought hair coloring into the mainstream. Accompanied by a well-known advertising campaign that said "Does she or doesn't she? Hair color so natural only her hairdresser knows for sure!" Miss Clairol made hair coloring very popular.
For years only small numbers of men, in particular, aging movie stars, were known to dye their locks, but the process became increasingly popular among males in the 1990s. Still, hair coloring mostly is the domain of women. In the twenty-first century over 75 percent of all American women reportedly color their hair.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Adams, David, and Jacki Wadeson. The Art of Hair Colouring. London, England: Macmillan, 1998.
Gladwell, Malcolm. "True Colors." New Yorker (March 22, 1999): 70–81.
[See also Volume 1, Ancient Rome: Hair Coloring ]
From as early as the founding of the Roman Empire in 27 b.c.e. women have been known to color their hair. Blonde has often been the most sought after color, perhaps because it resembles gold, perhaps because it is the least common natural color. Europeans in the sixteenth century were no different, though they did pursue new ways to lighten their hair. Women living in the Italian city of Venice in the late sixteenth century were known to sit all day in the blazing sun wearing a special crownless hat that allowed the hair to stick out the top and be bleached by the sun, yet kept the rest of the face covered. One contemporary observer, quoted in Richard Corson's Fashions in Hair, tells of a Venetian woman who sat in the hot sun so long that, "although she obtained the effect of her desires [blond hair], yet withall, shee procured to her selfe a violent Head ach, and bled almost every day abundantly through the Nose; and on a time being desirous to stop the Blood by pressing of her Nostrils, not farr from her right Eye toward her Temple, … as it were by a hole made with a needles point, the Blood burst out abundantly." Women in northern Europe, where the sun was not so constant, sought out various dyes for their hair, which had become sophisticated enough to allow women to obtain a variety of different shades of blond.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Corson, Richard. Fashions in Hair: The First Five Thousand Years. London, England: Peter Owen, 2001.
Trasko, Mary. Daring Do's: A History of Extraordinary Hair. New York: Flammarion, 1994.