Beauty treatments, skin care, and even the concept of what is
beautiful has changed rather dramatically over the years, especially in western society. Today even the average person can avail themselves of professionally administered body sculpting methods such as is offered by Glam RN. During the Middle Ages, generally the 5th to 15th centuries, things were quite different.
Almost universally, women with long flowing hair have been viewed as attractive by the opposite sex. So it should come as no surprise to learn that in Medieval European society dominated by the church, decent women were encouraged to hide their hair behind veils or hats. In traditional Orthodox Jewish villages a woman’s hair was considered seductive, and so married women shaved their heads and covered themselves with shawls. In central European villages this remained a common practice until the commencement of WWII.
In southern European countries where the temperatures were warmer and even hot, women were allowed to forgo hats for braiding. Still, with the exception of young unmarried girls, a woman who publicly displayed long flowing locks was considered a peasant or even worse, a prostitute.
The mandates of the church led to hair being seen as forbidden fruit, a very potent symbol of temptation. For reasons unknown, blonde hair was viewed as the height of seductive beauty. Chaucer, one of England’s earliest popular writers, wrote in The Physician’s Tale about Virginia, a young “maid in excellent beauty” that had “tresses resembling the rays of burnished sunbeams.” And so hair dying concoctions became a lucrative commodity. Saffron, stale sheep’s urine, or onion skins were common ingredients. Fortunate women who could avail themselves of leisure time would discretely sit in the sun without a hat.
When people talk longingly of the good old days, my assumption would be that they aren’t talking about the Middle Ages.
Written by Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America