Deconstructing hair jewellery

Hair has been seen as a signifier of beauty throughout history, and as far back as 3500 BC the Ancient Mesopotamians were wearing gold headbands as adornment.

A look from the autumn winter 2017 show by Dolce and Gabbana. Courtesy Dolce & Gabbana
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In the Bronze Age, the ancient Anatolians used small plates of beaten gold, secured with a pin, to hold hair off their faces. By contrast, the ancient Egyptians shaved their heads completely, opting instead to wear wigs decorated with beads of gold, alabaster and jasper, to reflect status.

Chinese women of the Tang Dynasty (621BC to 907BC) wore hairpins of gold and rhino horn in their hair, to which flowers and butterflies were added by the Song Dynasty (960BC to 1279BC). Further elaboration led to the creation of coronet crowns, intricate and elaborate headpieces made from white horn, metal work and tassels. At up to a foot in height and width, these not only made the wearer move very slowly indeed, they made getting through doorways a precarious business. These have survived in modern China as bridal headdresses.

The European landed gentry of the 16th and 17th centuries wore wigs, too, and following the lead of Queen Elizabeth I, decorated them with pearls. Over the next 200 years, as wigs grew in size and weight, with ever more lavish decorative features, satirical cartoons of the day depicted women with birds, small animals and plants entangled in their hair. By the Victorian era, in Britain the term hair jewellery had changed meaning, from a jewel worn in the hair to a brooch made from a lock of hair – usually belonging to a loved one and intended as a keepsake.

India, meanwhile has a long tradition of hair jewellery, which is worn by both sexes. Muslim princes wore a gold bejewelled brooch on the front of their turbans called a sarpech, while south Indian brides still decorate their hair buns with jewellery called raakodi, or cover a long hair plait with a filigree piece called a jadanagam.

For its autumn/winter 2009 runway show, John Galliano covered models’ heads with ghostly metal flowers. Kutchi had models with flowers in their hair for spring/summer 2012, while for autumn/winter 2013 they all wore jewelled crowns. The following season, it wove gold coins through hair, and at its spring/summer 2017 show, models wore intricate jewelled hairpieces. But it is Dolce & Gabbana, with its elaborate headpieces consisting of piles of fruit, oversized crystals and a whole host of other unexpected materials, that takes the crown when it comes to contemporary jewellery for the hair.


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