Things I’ve Learned About: Hair

     I decided to start a mini-series, just because the series I had really isn’t able to pan out at this point. It’s difficult for me to decide on all of the “On This Day” posts when everything seems to take place during the books I’m writing or still need to write. I know it’s kind of hard to spoil history because it’s just so easy to Google things now more than ever, but bear with me. 😉

     So, here’s another mini-series, and I hope to make this one work. These are kind of my “this is what I’ve researched!” posts, my posts about places and things and sometimes even people. This post has to do with hair, and what I’ve learned about it in regards to my stories, both LA BASTARDA and the super-secretive Book 2 (which deals with the first few years of Enrique’s son Juan’s reign, through the eyes of another court member).

     Honestly, it was a bitovanasty shock when I learned about the way hair was treated in the Middle Ages. I mean, now, people can pretty much wear their hair however they like, but “back then” there were actually regulations!  In most places, Christianity was still relatively “new”, and it still had a bit of that highly conservative attitude that one can see in religious converts; couple that with the ongoing Reconquista, which started in the 700s and would not officially end until the conquest of Granada in 1492 (spanning the medieval era almost in entirety), and it’s easy to see why the Christian men and women would take such pains to separate themselves from “heretics” once you really look at it.

     First, and quite honestly the shortest bit of this subject (mainly because I couldn’t find much on them) would be the male hairstyles: men were obligated to keep their hair short [1 Cor. 11:14], in a sense, because long hair was considered pagan, and seemed to often adopt a pageboy style with the ends curled under.  Perhaps the nearly-short locks of the Roman Empire didn’t appeal to these men, but their reasons for that disdain we will never know, but even now there is a similar sentiment within the Western world – men with long hair are generally seen as “rebels” and “uncouth”, while those with neatly-trimmed, short hair are considered professional and quite often more attractive.  I will admit that this is anecdotal, but quite a few women I know were suddenly unattracted to Brad Pitt once he grew out his hair.

     Obviously, as the “opposite” of men, women were to keep their hair long [1 Cor. 11:15] and veiled while in prayer [1 Cor. 11:5], the exact opposite of men [1 Cor. 11:4], or else she carried the same shame of a woman who had her hair “shorn” [1 Cor. 11:6].  The Bible goes on to say that the reason for this discrepancy was due to man being created by God in His image and for His glory, and Woman being created in the image of Man for Man’s glory, and that Woman should wear a veil over her head as a symbol of authority, as she is under the authority of Man as the angels are under the authority of God [1 Cor. 11:7-10].  Fine, fine, but why did medieval women always wear a hair covering of sorts?  That, again, comes back to the Bible, which says that believers are to be “fervent” in spirit and “constant” or “persistent” in prayer [Romans 12:11-12].  A modest, biblical woman is a woman fervent in her spiritual desires, constantly praying, and therefore constantly wearing a head covering.

     Alright, I know, I know, “why” is hardly as interesting as the “how” to most, so I’ll cut that short.

     The next part gets a small preface in the form of a confession: I have long hair.  I guess my hair is relatively long, considering it comes down to my hips, and I seem to be about the average height for a medieval Englishwoman (5’2, or 62 in.), but I do have very fine, thin hair.  I can easily wear hairties for young children, and if I rub one of my hairs between my forefinger and thumb, I can hardly feel it. I did attempt the braided style mentioned after this, and while it didn’t work for me in the least, I think I managed to get the basics well enough that if I had more hair, I could have actually done quite well. It’s actually a pretty style, if I do say so myself.

     Now, I took a lot of my hair research and inspiration from photos and (which I will include below).  In regards to the hair covering, I originally saw pictures of the tombs of: Enrique’s wife, Juana Manuel; his daughter, Leonor; and his daughter-in-law, Alionor (or Leonor, as she would have been known to the Castilians, but for the sake of clarity I’ll refer to her by the name she was given at birth).  Juana Manuel died a widow, and was therefore buried in a widow’s “weeds”, complete with the high-necked gorget and wimple, hiding her hair and even her neck completely, allowing the facial opening to start just below her chin.  Alionor and Leonor, on the other hand, both predeceased their husbands, in 1382 and 1416 respectively.  Oh, how the hair fashion changed in just over 30 years.

     For starters, what Alionor wears on the side of her head isn’t a snood or anything of the sort.  From what I can tell, it appears to be thick braids looped in around or sitting on top of her ears, covered by a ribbon criss-crossing over the plait.  Due to the angle of the photograph, I can’t tell if her hair is parted down the middle and each plait has half of her hair in it, but judging by the thickness of the braidbun, I wouldn’t be surprised.  The band around her forehead was called a fillet, and was used to hold up the veil.  I’ve actually used this in LA BASTARDA, though the point where I mention it was when Constanza was still a maid and actually wore her hair down underneath her veil for Mass.

     Now, if I remember correctly from, Alionor’s sepulcher style actually went out of fashion in England around the same time, if not slightly before, Alionor died, which means the fashion is probably about the same in this time period, at least for a little while.

     Leonor, though, seems to have her hair in a gold netting, with a garland of some sort around the outer edges.  It seems like a pretty obvious move from Alionor’s hair, and this one was out of fashion in England slightly before Leonor’s death, which makes sense, as, at this point, Navarra wasn’t a huge player in the games of power, education, and fashion.  I don’t want to say too much more in regards to this, though, because Leonor comes into play later, and I don’t want to give too much away.

     Finally, and this was interesting to me on a somewhat personal level, came hair care.  The part which I remember best (mainly because I do something similar) was the use of bacon fat or even animal tallow in the hair to keep it soft and silky after a bath.  While I don’t really want to attract the attention of the neighborhood animals or even my human neighbors, I do wash my hair and then oil it with coconut oil, because I find it helps keep my hair soft. 🙂

     Anyway, this is a bit of what I learned about medieval hair.  Hope you enjoyed!


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