Medieval Hairstyle

Untangling the Intricacies of Medieval Hairstyle

Welcome to a journey back in time, where we delve into the fascinating era known as the Medieval period, which extended from the 5th to the 15th centuries. This time, often regarded as a bridge between the fall of the Roman Empire and the dawn of the Renaissance, was a remarkable era filled with change, culture, conflict, and creativity. Among the diverse elements of life and society during this era, one aspect that rarely fails to pique interest is the unique hairstyles that were prevalent.

Hairstyles in the Medieval period were not just about fashion or aesthetics; they served as potent visual cues to a person’s social status, marital status, and even their moral character. Kings, queens, knights, nobles, and common folk alike distinguished themselves through their hairdos, making hair an essential part of medieval identity. The societal and cultural implications of hair and hairdressing practices provide us with a fascinating lens through which we can explore the complexity and richness of medieval life.

In this blog post, we will explore the enthralling world of Medieval hairstyles, aiming to understand their cultural significance, symbolism, and social implications. We’ll delve into the variety of styles sported by both men and women, uncover the tools and techniques employed to achieve these looks, and even discuss how they have influenced modern hairstyles. By exploring these hair trends, we aim to provide a unique perspective into the social structures, art, and lifestyle of the Medieval period, unearthing the subtleties and details often overlooked in traditional historical narratives.

The Symbolism and Social Status of Hairstyles

Hair and its styling were pivotal components of social identity in the Medieval period, serving as clear visual markers of an individual’s societal standing, profession, and marital status. A person’s hairstyle was not just a matter of personal preference; it was influenced by, and communicated, the person’s place in the rigid societal hierarchy of the time.

For nobility, elaborate hairstyles were a symbol of wealth and power. Kings and queens, lords and ladies, all sported intricately styled hair, with the women often adding jewels and accessories to emphasize their status. Knights, too, were known for their long, often curled hair, setting them apart from the common men, who typically had more practical, shorter haircuts.

Monks and nuns, representatives of the Church, had distinct hairstyles that symbolized their vow of chastity and dedication to spiritual life. Monks often sported the tonsure, where the crown of the head was shaven, leaving a ring of hair that symbolized the crown of thorns worn by Christ. Nuns would cover their hair completely, signifying their modesty and devotion.

In terms of marital status, hairstyles were clear signifiers in medieval society. Unmarried girls often wore their hair loose and uncovered, signifying their maidenhood and purity. In contrast, married women typically wore their hair up, often covered with a wimple or veil, signaling their marital status and respectability. The act of unbinding and binding of hair also had profound ritual significance during the medieval wedding ceremony.

The societal and cultural symbolism of hairstyles was not only prevalent but also deeply entrenched in the fabric of Medieval society. These hairstyles carried a weight of meaning that transcended mere aesthetics, providing clear-cut demarcations of identity and status in a complex societal structure. By understanding these styles and their significance, we get an intriguing glimpse into the norms, values, and daily life of the people who lived during this time.

Detailed Look at Popular Medieval Hairstyles

When we delve into the specifics of medieval hairstyles, we find a diverse array of styles that varied by gender, status, and region.

Starting with men’s hairstyles, during the early medieval period, the Roman influence was still dominant, and short-cropped hair was the norm. As we move into the High Middle Ages, the hairstyles became longer, with men of nobility wearing shoulder-length hair, often curled or waved. Beards and mustaches were popular among some men, but knights, for instance, often kept clean-shaven faces to accommodate their helmets. The Church, however, mandated shorter hair and clean-shaven faces for the clergy, most notably the tonsure hairstyle among monks.

Women’s hairstyles, on the other hand, were even more diverse and intricately styled. In the early medieval period, women often wore their hair long and loose, occasionally braided or confined by a circlet or a simple ribbon. As we move forward in time, we see the emergence of more complex styles. Married women would often wear their hair pulled back into braids or buns, covered with veils, wimples, or headdresses. Noble women adorned their hairstyles with jewels and intricate accessories. The braided crown, a style where the hair was braided and then wrapped around the top of the head, was a popular hairstyle among noble women.

Regional variations played a significant role in the diversity of medieval hairstyles. In the Norse societies, for instance, men often had longer hair, with warriors sporting a distinctive undercut style, long on top and short or shaved at the back and sides. Italian women in the later middle ages were known for their elaborately braided hairstyles often adorned with pearls and other accessories. In the Byzantine Empire, women wore their hair in tight braids covered by cloth caps or veils, adorned with jeweled bands.

The hairstyles of the Medieval period offer a captivating glimpse into the past, echoing societal norms, cultural diversity, and personal identities across different regions and social strata. Each style is a testament to the person’s societal role and personal circumstances, serving as a fascinating lens to explore the rich tapestry of medieval life.

Hairstyling Materials and Techniques

The Medieval period, as innovative as it was in numerous areas of life and culture, was no different when it came to hairstyling. The tools and materials used were quite rudimentary by modern standards but were incredibly effective in creating some of the most intricate and beautiful hairstyles.

Hairbrushes and combs made from bone, wood, or ivory were commonly used for detangling and styling hair. Scissors, although not as refined as today’s versions, were used for cutting and shaping the hair. Natural ingredients like beeswax were used as hair gels to help hold the hair in place. Animal fats, along with vegetable and nut oils, were employed as conditioners to keep the hair healthy and glossy.

The techniques used to create these hairstyles were quite ingenious. Braiding was a prevalent technique, with many variations used to create intricate patterns and designs. Hair was often set in waves or curls by wrapping it around rags or rods and letting it set overnight. Knotting and twisting were also popular techniques, often used to create updos and buns.

Hairstyles and Medieval Art

Medieval art serves as a visual chronicle of the era, providing a wealth of information on various aspects of life, including fashion and hairstyles. Hairstyles, being an integral part of personal appearance and social identity, were depicted in various forms of art like sculpture, painting, tapestries, and illuminated manuscripts. These artistic representations, along with written descriptions and physical artefacts, provide valuable insights into the hairstyles of the Medieval period.

Portrayal of Nobility and Royalty

Nobility and royalty were often subjects of medieval art, and their hairstyles were depicted with great detail and care. Kings were usually shown with short, curly hair, emphasizing their Roman heritage and leadership. Queens and noblewomen, on the other hand, were often depicted with intricate hairstyles, adorned with jewels, crowns, or veils. These hairstyles, with their complexity and adornments, underlined their high status and wealth.

Depiction of the Clergy and Monastic Orders

The clergy and members of monastic orders were also frequently depicted in medieval art. Their hairstyles were starkly different from those of the laity, highlighting their religious devotion and ascetic lifestyle. Monks were typically depicted with the tonsure – a style where the crown of the head is shaved. Nuns were usually portrayed with their hair completely covered by a veil or wimple, as per the religious norms of modesty and chastity.

Hairstyles in Everyday Life

Art also provides a glimpse into the hairstyles of everyday people in the Medieval period. Peasants and commoners were often depicted with simpler hairstyles – men with short hair and beards, women with their hair tied back or covered with a simple cloth. The simplicity of these hairstyles reflected their lower social status and the practicalities of their daily life.

Artistic Interpretation vs. Historical Accuracy

While analyzing hairstyles in medieval art, it’s essential to recognize that these depictions may not always be entirely accurate. Artists often stylized or idealized their subjects to adhere to specific aesthetic principles or symbolic conventions. For example, a halo of golden curls might have been used to denote a saintly or virtuous character, irrespective of their historical hairstyle. However, these stylizations can provide insights into the cultural and symbolic importance of different hairstyles during the Medieval period.

Medieval art provides a rich tapestry of visual information, capturing the nuances of medieval hairstyles. By studying these depictions, we can learn not just about the hairstyles themselves, but also about the societal norms, values, and lifestyles they reflect, deepening our understanding of this fascinating historical period.

Influence of Medieval Hairstyles on Modern Styles

The enduring allure and fascination with the Medieval period have seeped into various aspects of modern life, and hairstyles are no exception. The intricate, symbolic, and versatile nature of medieval hairstyles have influenced and shaped modern hairdressing trends in many ways.

The most evident influence of medieval hairstyles in the contemporary world is the widespread popularity of braids. Braids, being a ubiquitous part of medieval women’s hairstyles, have found their way into the 21st century with a plethora of variations. The simplicity of a three-strand braid or the complexity of a French or Dutch braid, fishtails, crown braids, and many more, can all trace their roots back to medieval times. Today, they serve as a versatile hairstyle for various occasions, from casual outings to formal events.

Curls and waves, another popular medieval trend, are also widely embraced today. During the Middle Ages, curls were often achieved by using strips of rags to set the hair overnight. In a modern context, we have sophisticated tools like curling irons and hot rollers, but the love for bouncy curls and beachy waves remains the same.

Accessories have been a significant part of hairstyling since the medieval era. Back then, noblewomen would often adorn their hair with jewels, ribbons, and circlets. In contemporary fashion, we see the use of a wide range of hair accessories, from elegant hairpins and headbands to more ornate hair jewelry. They not only enhance a hairstyle but also add a touch of individuality and style.

Movies, TV shows, and theatrical productions set in or inspired by the medieval period often recreate historical hairstyles with remarkable accuracy. Shows like “Game of Thrones” have introduced medieval-inspired hairstyles into mainstream culture, influencing hair trends among their vast audiences.

The rising popularity of historical reenactment groups and Renaissance Fairs has also seen a resurgence of authentic medieval hairstyles. Participants often spend considerable time and effort replicating the intricate hairstyles of the period to add authenticity to their characters.

Finally, the influence of medieval hairstyles extends into the world of high fashion. Many fashion designers and hairstylists draw inspiration from the medieval period for runway shows and photoshoots, interpreting the traditional styles with a modern twist.

The influence of medieval hairstyles on modern styles underlines the timeless appeal of these looks. It speaks to the continual reinvention of fashion, where old trends are revived, reinterpreted, and reintroduced in new, exciting ways. It also showcases our enduring fascination with history and the desire to connect with the past in tangible, personal ways, like through the way we style our hair.


In this exploration of medieval hairstyles, we’ve seen how hair in the Medieval period was much more than just a fashion statement. It was a marker of social status, a reflection of cultural norms, and an integral part of an individual’s identity. From the braided and adorned hairstyles of noble women to the tonsured heads of monks, each style tells a story about the person wearing it and the society they belonged to.

Through a close examination of these styles, their symbolism, the materials and techniques used to create them, and their depiction in medieval art, we’ve gained a unique perspective on this fascinating historical period. We’ve also seen how these medieval styles continue to influence modern hairstyles, a testament to the enduring appeal and significance of these historical trends.

Understanding history through aspects like hairstyles may seem unusual, but it is an approach that offers unique insights into the lives of the people of the past. By studying these details, we don’t just learn about how people styled their hair; we learn about who they were, the times they lived in, and the societal structures they navigated. And in doing so, we find new ways to connect with and appreciate our shared human history.