European Boys' Hair Styles: 16th and 17th Centuries

Figure 1.--

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.

Women's Hair

Women's hair at the beginning of the 16th century was demurely hidden from male view. Christian moralists were alarmed when women, first in Europe, and then in France began uncovering their hair. English women moved more slowly adopted smaller and smaller hoods until finally replacing them with small bonnets. European women led by Catherine de'Medici, who became Queen of France in 1547, began building hair styles on wire frames and began adding hair. Some European women were creating elaborate hair styles and dying their hair. Eventually the styles became so complicated that women simply cut their hair short and began wearing wigs.

Mens' Hair

16th Century Europe

The method of male hair dressing shown in portraits of Henry IV of France and of his minister of finance, the Duc de Sully, is typical of the style on which men of quality dressed their hair during the late 16th and early 17th century. The beard was combed out and elaborately curled. A gum was used to make it extend out from both sides of the lower lip into a stiff, fan-like shape. The moustache was curled and, also by the means of some glutinous medium, was held rigidly up and away from the mouth.

17th Century Europe

The hair of the head was combed back straight up from the forehead. In the early portion of the reign of Louis XIV (1643-1715) in Frnce and during the reign of Charles I (1625-49) in England, the hair of men , worn long, was perfumed, and to prevent it from being blown about by the wind, was tied with ribbons into long and heavy locks.


Men's hair styles began to change in the late 16th century and early 17th century as the popularity of beards declined and men began wearing longer hair. This trend received royal imprimatur in 1628 when King Louis XIII (1601-43) of France, who couldn't crow an impressive beard, took to shaving the men of the court, leaving only a moustache and chin tuft. The elegant French court was so influential that this style spread throughout Europe. Perhaps in reaction to the loss of facial hair, men began growing more hair on top their head. Louis who had once had a rich head of hair began going bald. He took to wearing wigs. The men of the court in deference to the King followed suit. Slowly this fashion also spread in Europe. The beauty of men's hair at the time was so admired that a fashion leader, the Seigneur de Cadenet, appears to have bee made a Marshal of the French Army by Louis XIII instead of his older brother, because his hair was more luxurious. In addition, he wore one separate blond lock tied with a ribbon bow and hung over his left shoulder. A pear earring dangled from his exposed left ear. With or without the earring, the separate lock became the height of fashion among young men. The hanging lock in France was called a cadenette. English dandies referred to it as "lovelock" or earlock". Some men were not content with one and wore as many as six lovelocks, each one curl longer than the rest of their hair. [Bill Severn, Hair: The Long and Short of It (David McKay: New York, 1971), p. 39.]

This fashion of wearing wigs was continued by Louis XIV even though he had not yet lost his hair. Atvfirst he reveled in his own luxurious hair, but enthusiastically took to massive wigs when he noticed his hair beginning to thin. Louis XIV wore a towering wig to make him appear taller. Once adopted by royalty, the fashion spread to courtiers and pther members of the French nobility. From France the fashion reached other areas of Europe. It eventually crossed the Channel to England England's Charles II adopted the style during Chromwellian rule and his exile in France. In fact, Cromwell and his Civil War allies were called the "roundheads" because they did not wear wigs. Charles upon his restoration to the throne brought wigs and fancy male hair dos back to England in 1660. Eventually the wearing of wigs reached America.


As long hair was growing popularity, so were the Puritans gaining strength in England. The Puritans considered long hair both a political and religious issue. Puritans considered long hair and lovelocks not only an example of royal decadence, but a sin against God. The Puritan, William Prynne, wrote a 63 page diatribe, "The unlovliness of lovelocks," summarizing the Puritan view. He quote church authorities from the early New Testament times. He denounced "the sinful and unmanly crisping, curling, frouncing, powdering, and nourishing of lockes and haire excrements" as evil, dangerous, depraving, indecent, lascivious, ruffianly, slothful, wanton, and wasteful. While this appears to cover the charges against long hair, it is in fact only a partial listing of sins Prynne ascribed to long hair. [Bill Severn, Hair: The Long and Short of It (David McKay: New York, 1971), pp. 40-41.]

The differences in the English and Western mind over hair were symbolized in the English Civil War. The long hair becurled Caveliers, supporters of the King, fought the Roundhead defenders of Parliament. The Roundheads were so called because their short hair revealed the round shape of the head. Many wore hair that looked like a bowl had been placed on their hair and the locks outside the bowl clipped. Men like William Prynne saw much more than fashion. Even more length tomes appeared attacking long hair. Thomas Hall, a pastor, attacked long hair in a 1653 book. He poseted that hair was too long if it required "Strings or fillets to tie up their Haire that it fall not in their eyes when they worke." He adds that "... 'tis excessive when it is so long it covers thee eyes, the cheeks, the countenance ... since the head of the haire is ordeined by God for the covering of the head, not the face." [William Prynne, Comarum, the Loathsomnesse of Long Hair, 1653] The short hair of the Parliamentarians was not primarily a religious issue. Rather the Parliamentarian ranks were made up of ordinary Britions, small farmers tradesmen, merchants, and others who could not afford the ostentaous hair and wigs of the Kings wealthy Caveliers. What ever the origins of the differences, the Roindheads in the course of the War increasingly enbued the difference over hair with a religious fervor.

17th Century America

The debate over hair crossed the Atlantic with the Europan expansion bdeginning in the 16th centuries after the initial voyages of exploration. The debate was engaged primarily in the New England colonies where the Puritans were concentated. American puritans continued to preach against the evils of long hair. Curiously many of the most bitter critics were men who wore what we would now consider to be very long hair indeed. Only a few years after the Plymouth Bay Colony was founded, the Massacusetts legislature in 1634 passed a law banning long hair, "... if uncomely or prejudiced to the common good." Efforts were made to pass very strict laws against long hair, but not all Puritans were in agreement on this and the efforts failed. Colony leaders issued a manifesto in 1649 declaring their "... destestaion against the wearing of such long hair, as against a thing uncivil and unmanly, whereby men doe deforme against it in their public administrations." The actual length to which mens' hair could be allowed to grow before offening God and man was vehemently debated. Clergyman John Endecott who led the effort for stricter laws wore his hair over his ears. Governor Thomas Dudley opined that hair could be "worne ... without offense to the Godly" if "the haire cover the hole of the ear and nape of the necke."

The first indication in America that a younger generation was developing their own unique hair styles occured in the latter part of the 17th century. The youths involved were not boys, but the young men of Harvard College. Of course Harvard scholars were a more diverse group in the 16th century and included some younger teenagers. Community leaders complained that Harvard scholars were being "... brought up in such pride as doth no wayes become such," and blamed then for infecting others with a desire for long hair "which lust first took head and brake out at the College ... to the great grife and offense of many goodly hearts." One of the most vehement critics of long hair was John Eliot better known to Americans as missionary to the Indians. Even though Eliot worechis hair well over his ears, he had a "buning zeal" against men who wore their hair "... with a Luxurious, Delicate, Feminine Prolixity" and who preserved "no plain destinction of their Sex by the Hair of their head and face ...." He expressed deep concen that the young men of Havard College having graduated "now is got into our pulpets" and that young ministers were proceeding to "ruffle it [their hair] in Excesse of this kind". A similar debate was at the same time occuring in English universities. [Bill Severn, Hair: The Long and Short of It (David McKay: New York, 1971), pp. 49-52.]

Childrens' Hair

The often frenzied European debate over hair during the 17th century was notably a debate over adult hair styles. HBC believes that boys for the most part from an early age wore the same clothing and presumably hair styles as their fathers. We do not yet have details on conventions for children. Very young boys wore dresses. Before breeching they may well have worn longer hair, this needs to be confirmed. After breeching, however, they adopted the hair styles of their long haired Cavelier or short haired Roundhead fathers.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: December 27, 1999
Last updated: March 8, 2000