The Renaissance was a European era of kings and queens, exploration of new worlds and cultural growth. Renaissance means "rebirth," and the 1500s mark the most progressive century of this movement when many new ideas emerged in the areas of art, music, science and philosophy. Fashionable styles also expanded as people left the economically depressed Dark Ages behind. Hairstyles from the 1500s could be simple or elaborate, and elements still influence hair design today.
The Elizabeth Look
The Tudor monarchy ruled during the 1500s, and no Tudor was more of a style icon than Queen Elizabeth I, whose red curls were the envy of many women. Though sulphur, rhubarb and pulverised flowers were among the ingredients used to dye hair blond or gold, some women were willing to experiment with urine in hopes of matching their hair to the queen's colour. Other women simply wore red wigs, which were very popular. Big hair was often seen in Elizabeth's court and was achieved by a styling method called "frizzing." As with backcombing, hair was brushed over a wire frame to make it appear taller and fuller, then held in place with a sticky paste made from gum, hog grease or a mix of oil and marrow.
Not just for little girls and country gals, braiding was a Renaissance style that could be quite involved and was worn by women of all classes. Long hair was the norm, and it was not unusual for it to fall past a woman's hips, resulting in many hours of coiffing. Braids were often laced with ribbon or wrapped around the head to resemble crowns.
Many women parted their hair in the middle and pulled it back into a chignon or bun worn at the nape of the neck. This style was preferred with the hoods that were often seen until around 1580. These ranged from understated black hoods with veils to attention-grabbing "gable hoods" that included a wire headdress shaped like the gable of a house. The "French hood" had a horseshoe-shaped crown of black velvet and was made immensely popular by Anne Boleyn. Another favourite of the day was the "Mary Stuart hood," named after Mary, Queen of Scots. This hood was fashioned with a heart-shaped wire and adorned with lace.
Most young women wore their hair loose and free because this was symbolic of virginity. The wedding day called for long tresses to flow beneath a headband or wreath of fresh flowers, with orange blossoms being the bridal favourite. Other acceptable headbands were made of silver or enamel and decorated with gemstones.
Considered a beautiful feature, broad foreheads were a Renaissance rage during the 1500s. For beauty's sake, women endured painfully plucking hair from their hairlines in hopes of achieving a wide, smooth brow. This style accompanied the headdresses that were often worn by wealthy women, came in various shapes and could be richly embellished with jewels or embroidery.
Most men wore their hair bobbed, but there was no standard for length. Straight or curly hair was also dictated by personal preference. As the 1600s approached, most men did begin wearing their hair in shorter lengths, often with a low-crowned brimmed cap that was turned either up all the way around or on one side only. Some of the hats were trimmed with jewels.