Ancient Greek Hair, Aveda Era Project!
I'm half way through my book theory at school and soon to be working full time on our clinic floor! I'm looking forward to taking all the lessons I've learned so far to future and potential clients, but for now I'm still just getting through my regular classroom assignments.
One of the last projects that we're required to do before moving on into our next phase is something that our educators call the "Era Project." Our teacher gives us each a decade or civilization and then we're partnered off. I chose ancient Greece of course, and together with my girlfriend, we made costumes, prepared joint presentations and wrote quick little papers.
For hair, I drew inspiration from the gorgeous Caryatids! I posted this picture to my instagram, and someone asked me if I'd do an updated video on this, and I'd absolutely love to! Maybe this week?
Anyway, I thought I might share my paper with you! I wrote it very quickly, but I hope you'll enjoy it if you decide to read it:
Some of my fondest childhood memories are ones in which I would watch my Aunt Angela wax her legs with a homemade recipe called "halawa." She had a private garden on the back side of her apartment in Athens, and in the summer months, she'd perform this beauty ritual right outside in the fresh air and sunlight, amidst her olive trees and oleander flowers. As a little girl I was mesmerized by the intimacy and femininity of these moments during which my eccentric Aunt would pamper herself. In fact, it continues to color many of my feelings about womanhood and beauty.
Halawa is actually an ancient Egyptian invention, but Greeks have been using the same method for centuries too. The ingredients are simply sugar, honey and lemon cooked together in a pot, right on the stove. Coincidentally, my father told me that he enjoyed halawa also, in that it made a tasty candy he'd look forward to as a boy. A parent myself now, this small side note in my recollection makes me smile, because it seems to me that women have always found a way to include their children and young siblings in the most private parts of their lives.
Greek women have a history of taking pride in their appearances, and many still use traditional recipes in their personal hygiene regimes. In a land with so many wonderful and natural resources, this can only make sense. Beautifully kept hair was just as important to the ancient Greeks, as it is to us as a modern people. A direct reflection of our personalities, hairstyling can often signify all kinds of lifestyle choices and social statuses, and this most certainly rang true for the ancients as well. For example, Minoan women wore their hair long, with elaborately fashioned locks as way of advertising their marital status. On the other hand, slaves had very short or shaved heads.
Greece was a very educated, technologically advanced and organized society. Athens, specifically, was a conquering nation, one with the luxury of servants and slaves. While the lower class women kept their hair simple and functional, the upper class had time and resources to decorate themselves accordingly. Records exist in the forms of goddesses on coinage, painted images on pottery and sculpture. Unlike the ancient Romans who left behind images of women that appeared masculine in their facial features, Greek women seemed much more feminine and had a vast range of complex hairdos. From the information that has survived, we know that there were mostly braided styles, with little indication of bangs, ponytails or other kinds of extensions. Depending on the styles of the day, a woman might curl or gently wave her hair, but where a young girl might wear her hair down her back, an adult would have hers up.
Warrior women existed in mythology, and in Sparta; for them, long hair in battles would have presented a great disadvantage. Their hair was neat, proper and held together by pins and other devices, many of which have been found in tombs and archaeological sites. As opposed to the secluded women of Athens, Spartan women enjoyed enormous freedoms in that they were allowed to train in music and gymnastics, and did not have to forfeit their property to husbands after marriage. In comparison, they wore revealing clothes wherever they wished and were treated as equals, by their spouses. On a Spartan woman's wedding night, her head would be shaved and she'd be dressed in men's clothing. Her husband would have to sneak into the house where she lay to consummate the marriage. Even after the honeymoon, men were only allowed to visit their wives under the cover of darkness; this separation was thought to increase procreation.
While hairstyling was relatively simple and elegant, Greek women used a variety of ornamentations to adorn their tresses. The more care and time a woman could devote to her hair and appearance, the more well off she was thought to be. They would wash their hair with water and then use olive oil as a deep conditioner, giving their hair a smooth shine and a soft, pleasant texture. This practice is still utilized today and many of my favorite hair masks involve the same ingredients and can easily be found in most Greek markets.
When it came to color, many Greeks, like most Mediterranean people, were naturally dark haired. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, the ideal of female beauty was that of very fair skin and golden hair. Helen of Troy was thought to be blonde, as was the goddess Aphrodite. An ancient woman might soak her hair in lemon juice or vinegar and then sit in the sun in the hopes it would grow lighter. There is even evidence that some women used urine to rinse their hair due to the bleaching power of ammonia. Researchers have found broad brimmed hats without tops, which Greek ladies might've used to protect their complexions, while simultaneously allowing the sun to lighten their hair.
A rich Greek woman might keep her hair long due to vanity, but often times the only people who would see it loose were her husband and servants. The chignon style was quite popular in ancient Greece and was worn low on the back of the head, occasionally with curled or styled tendrils hanging down over the ears. Buns were also fashionable, as were braids that twisted together with long strips of cloth. Hair accessories were thought to be part of any Greek woman's beauty regimen, and though their hair might've been styled plainly, it was often festooned with all sorts of pins and ornaments, many of which were made from metal, wood, bone and ceramic. One of the most common pieces used was called a diadem. Wealthy ladies would have a thin metal circle, often derived from precious metals and covered in jewels, that rested on their heads, holding hair back and away from their faces. The diadem could give hair a great deal of support, as well as being a beautiful adornment in its own right. Women would also wrap scarves or colored bits of fabric through their hair, securing it off their necks, while adding a splash of color. The complexity of a woman's hair would, of course, depend on the occasion. A normal day might involve the use of a plain, yet functional, comb, while a more formal occasion could call for a gold diadem hammered into the shape of leaves or flowers.
One of my favorite modern hair traditions takes place during a ceremony called "The Crowning." This custom is part of a Greek Orthodox wedding and its origins are uncertain. Once the bride and groom have exchanged vows, the priest will place matching crowns on the couple's head, and lead them around the altar three times; this gesture is meant to symbolize the first steps in a marriage. In ancient times crowns were a sign of victory and were often awarded to athletes in the same way we award Olympians today with gold medals. I think there's something very telling in this, and I've come to believe that the wedding crowns remind us that we may be called to sacrifice ourselves for the well being of our spouses, which in my opinion, is a truly loving and romantic notion!
As a Greek American, I'm incredibly proud of my roots and my heritage, and as a blossoming hairdresser I draw much of my inspiration from that of the ancients! Obviously, great strides have been made in our field over the centuries, but there is definitely something timeless and classic about Greek style.