Medieval hairstyles were highly formal with splendid head-wear and a rich variety of styles. Among the upper classes, braids and buns were very popular and it was also common to use metallic wires and ribbons for making intricate medieval hairstyles. Sometimes, bands of flowers and leaves were used along with silk ribbons. The variety of women’s medieval hairstyles was greater than men’s for obvious reasons. Medieval women could use colorful ribbons and flowers and could style their hair into braids and other arrangements.
The early medieval age began in Europe after the end of the united Roman Empire. This was the result of the Germanic invasions which eventually led to the downfall of the Roman Empire and start of the medieval ages. Germanic people gave great importance to medieval hairstyles and considered it a symbol of power and authority. It was common for men to tie their hair at the top of their heads and make a high knot. Women, on the other hand, usually had long tresses and used braids and bands to keep their hair from falling on the face. Long plaits remained in fashion during the high and late medieval ages. There are not huge differences in the types of medieval hairstyles during early, high, and late medieval ages.
During the medieval ages, women mostly had long hair which they arranged in various medieval hair styles. There was rarely a trend of short or medium hairstyle length. Long hair provided the opportunity to arrange medieval women’s hairstyles into different styles. Most important characteristics of medieval women hairstyles were flowers, silk bands, and leaves. Long plaits, braids, and up-dos were also important components of medieval women hairstyles. During the late middle ages, coiled buns were introduced which were used on each side of the head. During the same time, it was not very uncommon to display hair parted from the middle while hiding the remaining hair with a bonnet.
Great importance was attached to hair during the middle ages and shaving a person’s head was considered one of the highest forms of humility. Due to same reason, monks shaved their heads from the middle while leaving a narrow strip around it. Common medieval men’s hairstyle’s was to have short hair which was combed toward the front on the forehead without parting them. This medieval hairstyle was also used among the monks with the exception that the middle of the head was shaved. For men, particularly among the nobility, the most common practice was to let the hair grow long and sometimes part it from the middle. However, medieval men’s hairstyles did not have as much variety as was found in medieval women’s hairstyles.
Medieval children’s hairstyles were not very different form the hairstyles of the grownups. For boys, sometimes the head was simply shaved which was more common among the peasants and the lower classes. Among the nobility, the common custom for medieval children hairstyles was to let the hair grow long and sometimes part it from the middle, just like the grownups. Similarly, for girls, it was a common practice to arrange hair into two braids on each side with the hair parted from the middle. Another popular medieval children hairstyle which was more common among the working classes consisted of two plaits brought from the nape of the neck which were then crossed over the top of the head and tied together.
Medieval royalty wore their hair long and sometimes grew beards. Beards were particularly popular during the early middle ages but lost their importance subsequently. Long hair, however, remained in vogue till the late middle ages. Most of the kings from the Merovingian and Carolingian dynasties had long hair parted from the middle and beards. Long hair among medieval royal hairstyles was considered a symbol of power and authority. The custom of relatively shorter hair gained popularity during the reign of Charlemagne, particularly because it was not considered appropriate by the Church. King Louis II of France, in response to an order from the Pope, cut his hair short which was almost similar to the hair of a monk. Thus while the trend in medieval royal hairstyles remained in favor of long hair, sometimes medium and even short hairstyles were found among the royals.
As Christianity gained roots in medieval Europe and its acceptance increased, it also exerted its influence on lifestyles of the people, and this included the medieval hairstyle. Medieval religious hairstyles had a distinct look among monks and nuns. The most common medieval religious hairstyle among the monks of the Catholic Church was called a tonsure. A tonsure was a round bald spot, resulting from shaved off hair, at the top of the head. This tonsure was considered a symbol of submission to a superior authority and thus represented a religious philosophy. Amongst Nuns, the most common practice was to keep short hair and fully hide it within a veil.
Headwear was a very important part of medieval hairstyles among both men and women. Thus most popular medieval hairstyles had some sort of head-wear associated with them. One such style was to cover the head with a narrow head band called a Fillet. This medieval hairstyle was particularly popular amongst unmarried women. Another one of the most popular medieval hairstyles, particularly amongst English women was the gabble hood which consisted of elaborately designed embroidered lappets. Men preferred long flowing hair during the early and mid medieval ages, although this trend continued to decline during the later middle ages. Amongst the working classes, braids, plaits, and flowers were important components of medieval hairstyles.
A rich variety of medieval hairstyles, particularly among the women, existed during the middle ages and there were not any marked differences during different phases of the middle ages. However, just like everything else, the influence of Church also manifested itself in the domain of hairstyles, as is evident from a strict medieval hairstyle code for monks and nuns. Additionally, the traditional of covering the head of a woman was also popularized during the middle ages because of the influence of the Church. Most of the popular medieval hairstyles have survived because of paintings, writing, and portraits of royals and images on historic coins.