Hairstyles have evolved from displays of power and wealth to expressions of self and individuality, sometimes used as a medium to make political statements, rebel against social norms, or to tell one’s story. Throughout history hair has been braided, coloured, teased, and adorned to reflect not only the fashions of the day, but also the values of the era.
An exhibition charting the history of hair is now on display at Chertsey Museum in Surrey, displaying a number of items from the Olive Matthews Collection which are rarely on public view.
Hairstyles of the Elizabethan era were characterised by high, frizzed hair often placed over wires or pads to create a heart-shaped frame around the head. Roman hairstyles had modest beginnings usually with simple tresses bound with a band on top of the head.
The 17th century saw a departure from the hairstyles made popular by Queen Elizabeth I, and a move towards the latest French trends. Inspired by Charles I’s wife, Henrietta Maria, the height of fashion for women was to part the hair in the middle, flatten the top, then frizz and curl each side of the head.
When Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660 his use of wigs renewed public interest in flamboyant styles: horse hair, yak hair, and human hair were customarily used in the wigs of the affluent. Men tended to keep their hair long and curly, and often used wigs as substitutes for their own hair.
The formality of hair in the 17th and early 18th centuries eventually gave way to the frivolity of the latter half of the 18th century, and hairstyles rose to great heights. Adornments ranged from ribbons and jewels to flowers and even stuffed animals
Women rarely wore whole wigs in the late 18th century, as these were intended for men. Instead, they hired professional hairdressers who added false hair to their natural locks.
Eighteenth-century women were expected to augment their own hair with false hair, padding, powder, wires, and ornaments. Because these hairstyles were often held into place using lard, rats were attracted to the creations and often made homes in coiffures
A small rectangular black silk wig bag with a silk tape drawstring at the top and a large black rosette with flat bow in the centre. The outer edge is trimmed with black pleated ribbon in three layers.