Boys' Hair Styles: European Historical Trends

Figure 1.--This painting shows a hair style in Renisance Italy sometime before 1500. I'm not sure just how to categorize this tyle.

European hair styles have also varied greatly during the Christian era. The early Christian reaction to ostentaous styling and long hair for men has influenced western additudes for two mellenium. While long hair has at times been considered stylish there have only been critics, often with moral arguments, even when kings wore long hair. Stylistic trends in the medeival peiod were much more stable and slow changing then in our modern era influenced by the mass media. From the late Middle Ages, hair styles in the West have been greatly influenced by changing fashion. In the 17th century, for example, cour tiers followed the lead of the balding Louis XIV, who wore a wig. In the 20th century women of all classes eagerly followed the example of film stars with such styles as the platinum hair of Jean Harlow. Considerable diversity existed in Europe until about the late 18th century.

Much is written about the debate in medieval Europe over beards and hair length. Little is written about children. This appears to be at least partly bdecause there were not at the time distinctive children's fashions such as clothes. There may have well been no distinctive children's hair styles either.

Early Christian Times

Barbarian Europe favored beards, moustaches, and long hair. The Christian Church which emerged from the framework of the Roman Empire with cropped Roman hair, proceeded to not only spread the Faith, but also the knife and razor.

The early Christian church had been apauled at the elaborate hair styles of wealthy women and Roman dandies who let their hair grow a little so it could be curled and perfumed. The Curch adopted a form of hair dressing known as the tonsure for its priests and monks. It was meant to symbolize their dedication to the service of God. Church leaders differed on wherther short hair should be enforced on the population in general. Differences existed between the Eastern and Western Church. The eastern or Orthodox Church kept beards and had a distinct style in how priests shaved. The western or Roman Catholic church insisted on priests and monks shaving their hair short, but there were differences over the tonsure and on wether to insist on all men wearing short hair. The Medieval Church continued the teaching of the early church that long hair and beards were a sinful vanity.


Early Britons and Romans

The early Britions wore their hair and beards long. After the conquest by the Romans in the 1st Century AD, the Britons adopted the Roman custom of shaving the face and cropping the hair short.

Saxons and Danes

The Saxons who ruled England in the 9th, 10th, and part of the 11th centuries, wore their hair short and parted it sat the front of the head. The Danes who also ruled areas of England, generally wore their hair long.


The Normans who conqured England in 1066 tended to wear their hair long, both men and women. Even the clergy and soldiers wore long hair, both these classes had previously worn short hair. By the Plantagenent period (1154-1399), the hair was worn somewhat shorter.

Medieval England

Englishmen in the 13th-16th centuries generally cut their hair short, but was kept bushy at the sides, cut close over the forehead, and curled just below the ears. Women in the 13-15th centuries generally wore their hair in a covering of gold known as a caul. The hair was sometimes curled and ornamented with jewlry. Beginning in the early 15th century, the style began to change. Some women began allowing their hair to hang down the back in curls or confimed within a jewled cawl or tightly covered in a hairdress such as a turban.

Tudor England

During the reign of Henry VII (1485-1509) a profusion of hair, with heavy side locks was considered fashionable. Hair fashions during the reign of his notable successor, Henry VIII (1509-1547), men began paring their hair in the center and comb it straight down the sides of head. With the accession of Elizabeth (1558- ), came the introduction of large and elaborate female coiffures. They were the fore runners of the giant coiffures worn in England and the Continent during the 18th century. Beginning in the 16th century, English hair styles generally followed Continental trends.

Continental Europe

From the earliest period to the 14th century, hairdressing customs differed at various times among the many people of central and western Europe.

Celts and Germans/Franks (through the 8th century AD)

Among the early Celts and Germans, with the exception of the German tribe of Saxons, short hair was worn only by slaves or as a sign of disgrase for violating tribal law. Both Celts and Germans wore their hair long and tied up behind their head.

The Germanic tribes dwelling along the middle and lower Rhine River were called the Franks. They appeared on the border of the Roman Empire in the 3rd-century. Emperor Flauvius Claudius in 358 subjected the Salian Franks who occupied the southern Rhine area. After Roman power wained, the Franks seized control of large areas of the Roman Empire. King Clovis who founded the Merovingian dynasty seized Gaul (France) from the last Roman Governor in 486 and subjagated many other German tribes (the Alamanni, the Bygundians, the Visagoths, the Ripuarian Franks). The Franks thus ruled much of what is now Fance and Germany and areas of central Europe. Clovis was converted to Christianity in 496.

As with other Germans, the Franks wore their hair long. To a 20th-century audience this story seems strange. Why should a queen choose to have her grandsons killed rather than submitting them to a haircut? In the world of Merovingian Gaul, however, the story had a potent resonance and hair itself was of the utmost importance. The Merovingian kings, who had established themselves in the ruins of Roman Gaul, were known as the Reges criniti, the long-haired kings. For them, their long hair symbolised not only their aristocratic status but also their status as kings. It was invested with a sacral quality and believed to contain magical properties. The Byzantine poet and historian Agathias (c. 532-582) wrote: "It is the rule for Frankish kings never to be shorn; indeed their hair is never cut from childhood on, and hangs down in abundance on their shoulders ... their subjects have their hair cut all round and are not permitted to grow it further."

The Franks (8th and 9th century)

By the end of the 8th century, the long hair style which had precvailed among most German tribes had changed among the Franks. Their famous king Charlemagne and his immediate successors, wore their hair short.

Stylistic changes (9th century)

The Saxons who had begun wearing short hair, began wearing it long like the other Germans had. It was permitted to hand down over the shoulders or was tied up and fastened with a pin.

France (11th century)

In France and many other areas on the contient during the 11th century, men began forming their hair into one or two cues. They were then bound up by ribbons and made to lie over the shoulders from the back.

Italy (15th century)

Italian paintings from the 15th century show boys wearing long hair. I'm not sure, however if this was a boys' style or simply the general style for men and boys at the time.

Europe (16th-17th century)

Perhaps at no time in Western history was the issue of hair more hotly debated than during the 16th and 17th century. Long hair, often curled and dressed, became the height of fashion. Yet Puritans criticised the elaborate hair as not only as ostentaous, but an affront to God. The warring camps in the Englisg Civil War even defined themselves by their hair styles. This debate spread to America with the European colonial expansion. Nitavly the debate was over men's hair as destinstive children's fashions and hair styles did not yet exist.

The 18th century

No well-dressed gentleman in the 18th century would have thought himself completely dressed without a wig. Many men had several wigs of different styles. There was a wide range of styles, but two basic types those worn with or without queues (pigtails). The queues were secired with ribbon bows. While wigs were primarily worn by adults, boys from affluent families might also wear a wig.

The French Revolution (1789)

The French Revolution in many ways hearlded the rise oc modern hair styles. Wigs disappeared, as did many heads who wore them. Men and boys began wearing their own hair short. Women wore longer hair than men, although at times quite short. The elaborate hairdos of Madame Pompedor disappeared for ever. Styles after the Revolution would come and go, but they all look modern to us in comparison to the styles before the Revolution. As with many modern fashions, boys led men in wearing their own hair cut at short lengths.

The 19th century

Wigs generally disappeared by the advent of the 19th century, except for some professiins such as judges and barristers. Men's hair styles varried sustantially during the decade. Boys generally were less effeted by stylistic changes, generally wearing short hair. There were some exceptions, however, as some adoring mothers chose to keep their sons in longer hair. This of course reached notable lengths during the Fauntleroy craze of the late 19th century. Such decissions were generally accepted as the mother's perogative, and the son's opinions on the matter were often dismissed. Much more information on boys' hairstyles becomes available in the 19th century, especially after the development of photography in the 1840s and its increasing commercial success by the 1860s.

Figure 2.--Many French boys in late 19th and early 20th centuries wore hair bows. Unlike American boys, they did not generally wear their hairbows with ringlets.

The 20th century

During World War I (1914-18), it became fashionable for women to wear their hair cut short. At mid-century, women's coiffures were styled with simplicity and greater regard for indivudual taste. Less regard was given to rigidly following fashion extremes. The fashion of short hair for boys became increasingly set in the 1910s and firm;y established by the 1920s. Thus did not begin tio change significantly until Elvis Presly and James Dean popularized side burns in the 1950s and John Keenedy hunior introduced bangs and a shaggy mop. It was the the Fab 4 (the Beatles), howevervwho really started the big long hair craze for men and boys around the world--surprising in that their hair was really not very long.


Mark Campbell, Self-Instruction in the Art of Hair Work: Dressing Hair, Making Curls, Switches, Braids and Hair Jewelry of Every Description, (1875).

Mons A. Mallemont, Manual of Ladies Hairdressing for Students (France: 1899). (Translated into English.): This book is fascinating and fun to read. Remember it was written to train young men (and ladies' maids) to dress the elaborate styles of the Victorian period. The information is very useful for dollmakers making dolls of this period.

Bill Severn, The Long And Short Of It: Five Thousand Years Of Fun And Fury Over Hair: This hardback book is a humorous and pictorial look at the historic anger and rage that the older generations have had against the hair styles of the young. This book was written in 1970-1971 when long hair and beards where at the very height of controversy. This long hair controversy included court cases, school ruling and violent uprisings. Bill Severn explores the history of controversial hair from the beginning of time when Adam was hanging around in the Garden of Eden. The book has lots of interesting drawings andf photograps. The photos are fascinating and cover a tremendous range in time and history. Severn also has some intreaguing illustrations drawings of long hair for men in different historical periods, fake beards, powdered wigs and photos of a symbolic hair cutting in the Broadway musical Hair. Basically this book covers 5,000 of hair happenings. If you want to look at how hair has been worn and debated this is a useful book. It is well researched, informative and entertaining. Unfortunately there are serious weaknesses. There is little or no mention of boys' hair except for the furor over long hair beginning in the 1960s. Boys do not feature in the illustrations with only one exception, There is virtually no mention of children's hair styles and long hair and Fauntleroy curls for boys in the late 19th century, a rather curious omission. Other notable ommisions are page boy hair cuts and bangs as well as the John F. Kenndy shaggy bangs look.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: December 27, 1999
Last updated: June 3, 2000