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History of the Headband, and How to Wear Headbands

Updated on August 14, 2015
Alice with an Alice band.
Alice with an Alice band. | Source

Have you ever worn a headband?

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Historically, headbands have gotten a bad rap! And they've done nothing to deserve it.

Many style-makers consider headbands unfashionable and even gauche. But how can someone describe one of the signature accessories of premiere style-maker Coco Chanel as unwearable?

There is plenty of room for headbands in today’s style, and lots of occasions to wear them… not just at the sink to pull back your hair while performing your nightly ablutions.

So don’t fret! There is a headband for every style, every head size, and every hair type. Together, we’ll figure out which type is right for you, so you don’t look like Alice in Wonderland… unless you want to, that is!


Click thumbnail to view full-size
Greek athlete sporting a headband.Aphrodite rocking a headband.A lady of the Victorian age wearing a red headband.Headband with chains.
Greek athlete sporting a headband.
Greek athlete sporting a headband. | Source
Aphrodite rocking a headband.
Aphrodite rocking a headband. | Source
A lady of the Victorian age wearing a red headband.
A lady of the Victorian age wearing a red headband. | Source
Headband with chains.
Headband with chains. | Source

A Quick History of the Headband: Ancient Greece to the 20th Century

The history of the headband is longer than Rapunzel’s lovely locks! Read on for special moments in headband history.

  • It's impossible to say exactly when the first person wrapped something around their head simply for looks. Personally, I think it's reasonable to imagine both Paleolithic men and women wrapping fur around their heads to keep warm, and Neolithic man and woman binding strips of linen around their foreheads to keep their hair out of their eyes as they farmed and herded their sheep.
  • Many Greek statues of gods, goddesses, and youths wearing diadems and cords around their heads have been unearthed, dating from about 400 BCE.
  • Later, Rome had their own version: Roman brides wound three woolen cords around their heads. These were called the vitta and they signified purity.

Sleep, Darling (Cleis)

In the following section of a tender poem by Sappho, she mentions headbands. Sappho was alive in the 6th century BCE, proof that headbands have been around for a long, long time indeed!

"Don't ask me what to wear
I have no embroidered
headband from Sardis to
give you, Cleis, such as
I wore
and my mother
always said that in her
day a purple ribbon
looped in the hair was thought
to be high style indeed

but we were dark:
a girl
whose hair is yellower than
torchlight should wear no
headdress but fresh flowers"

Sappho

  • In Byzantium scriptures, it is said that Theodora, the most beautiful of women, wore a gold and diamond studded tiara while she danced for Emperor Justinian in the Hippodrome at a beauty pageant around 500 CE. Saints in Justinian art also wore elegant jeweled headbands.
  • During the Middle Ages, married women wore a crespine (band of silver or gold), with jewels if she had them.
  • The Renaissance brought fancier jeweled diadems and multi-stringed chaplets (wreaths or garlands for the head) made of pearls.
  • In the 17th century, it is unknown whether Pocahontas was wearing a leather headband when she flung herself down to save Captain John Smith, but it seems likely.
  • 1865, Lewis Carroll wrote Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, featuring Alice wearing a headband made of ribbon. To this day, Brits still call headbands "Alice bands".
  • During the Roaring Twenties, flappers did the Charleston while wearing thin feathered, fringed, or beaded headbands, as does non-flapper Coco Chanel.
  • Around the 1950s, thick headbands were all the rage, especially for suburban housewives and preppies.
  • In the 1960s, stretchy, patterned headbands were en vogue for both male and female flower children as well as go-go dancers. It has also been rumored that Jimi Hendrix applied LSD to his headband before performing.
  • Sequined headbands glittered their way onto the scene in the 1970s. These were especially popular for disco dancing.

A selection of modern headbands. Clockwise from left: pleather, faux alligator, beaded wire, plastic with teeth, patterned with teeth, comb coil, elastic, elastic with grips, scarf
A selection of modern headbands. Clockwise from left: pleather, faux alligator, beaded wire, plastic with teeth, patterned with teeth, comb coil, elastic, elastic with grips, scarf | Source
Click thumbnail to view full-size
Ceramic head modeling a puffed pleather headband.Ceramic head modeling a comb coil headband.Ceramic head modeling an elastic headband.Ceramic head modeling an elastic headband with rubber grips.Ceramic head modeling a scarf headband.
Ceramic head modeling a puffed pleather headband.
Ceramic head modeling a puffed pleather headband. | Source
Ceramic head modeling a comb coil headband.
Ceramic head modeling a comb coil headband. | Source
Ceramic head modeling an elastic headband.
Ceramic head modeling an elastic headband. | Source
Ceramic head modeling an elastic headband with rubber grips.
Ceramic head modeling an elastic headband with rubber grips. | Source
Ceramic head modeling a scarf headband.
Ceramic head modeling a scarf headband. | Source

Types of Headbands

There are many types of headbands, and the image above is only the beginning. Headband types include:

  • hard plastic
  • soft plastic
  • ribbon
  • wire, with or without jewels
  • leather or pleather
  • crocheted or knitted
  • simple or plain
  • embellished or wrapped (with fabric, flowers, rhinestones, bows, feathers, pieces of fur or faux fur, glitter, or beads)
  • stretchy or elastic
  • puffy and flat
  • scarf-style, wrapped in a band around the head

They also come in different widths:

  • wide or thick
  • narrow or thin
  • with or without teeth, or rubber grips (to grip the hair and keep it in place)

Source

How to Choose a Headband

When deciding on a headband, imagine them not as keeper-of-hair out-of-your-face-ers; but rather as a hat that can flatter your face. Depending on the width of your face and your hair type, certain styles are more naturally flattering than others. For example:

  • Broader faces tend to match better with narrow bands
  • Small faces can easily wear padded headbands
  • Narrow hard bands with a side bow or flower can add appealing curves to thin faces

Choosing a headband based on hair type adds another level:

  • Wide, soft, stretchy bands are great for someone with a lot of fluffy hair
  • Straight hair can be managed easily with an elastic band
  • Short hair is likely to look better with a narrower headband
  • Thick hair requires a headband with teeth.

The only real trick to picking a headband is making sure it doesn't pinch or is too tight. Many a headband has been tossed in the trash by fashion plates who received headaches just because they wanted to look good. Just experiment until you find something you like, that also gleans compliments!

Suitable for a bride, this beaded white headband is demure yet womanly.
Suitable for a bride, this beaded white headband is demure yet womanly. | Source

When to Wear Headbands

Every day is a headband day! Here are some suggestions:

  • Try wearing an embellished band to a wedding, prom, or party
  • A headband with teeth will be especially effective during gymnastics or workouts. Do not wear one without gripping strength -- it could fly out during your routine!
  • Pay homage to Coco Chanel and wear one with a jersey knit suit
  • Match your headband to your patterned dress à la Italian designer Pucci
  • Leather strips or a beaded band would honor Native American style
  • Idolize your favorite rock star and roll a bandanna around your forehead

Sources

  • Chase, Deborah. Terms of Adornment: The Ultimate Guide to Accessories. Everything You Need to Know About Buying, Collecting, Wearing, and Caring for Them. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1999
  • Schnurnberger, Lynn. Let There Be Clothes: 40,000 Years of Fashion. New York, Workman Publishing, 1991

Comments

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    • theclevercat profile image
      Author

      Rachel Vega 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Thanks, teaches! I really do headbands are indispensable, especially for those with flyaways. Thanks so much for the votes and for stopping by. :-)

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      I love your design and approach to this topic. The history lesson is interesting. I ear them on occasion and they do help to present a pulled together look. Voted up.

    • theclevercat profile image
      Author

      Rachel Vega 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hey, Butterfly! You have great hair, and I'm sure you have a multitude of choices. You just need to find them somewhere in your closet! ;^)

      Thanks so much for stopping by.

    • Shesabutterfly profile image

      Cholee Clay 4 years ago from Wisconsin

      I liked the look into headband history, very nice touch! I wore headbands quite a bit back in high school, maybe I'll have to look for a new one that will work for this crazy mess of thick curls:)

    • theclevercat profile image
      Author

      Rachel Vega 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Oh my gosh! I hope the headband/piercing combo doesn't get yanked or pulled off mid-game! Sounds painful.

      Guys look cool in sweatbands, especially when they are rooting on their favorite teams. I applaud your fashion sense, Black and Gold! :^)

    • BLACKANDGOLDJACK profile image

      BLACKANDGOLDJACK 4 years ago from Blitzburgh area

      I got this headband I wear when I'm getting the grass when it's 90 degrees so the sweat don't run down and impair my vision.

      My daughter plays soccer and she has a bunch of ear piercings and bling. Against the rules. So she wore a headband and pulled it down over her ears. I didn't know all about this until a match a couple months when she is shooting a penalty kick and the referee is standing right next to her. He sends her off the field. It took 10 minutes to get that dang bling out of ears.

      She came home from shopping at the mall yesterday with new ear piercings and new bling. And she starts playing soccer in college in a couple weeks.

    • theclevercat profile image
      Author

      Rachel Vega 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Thanks, Teresa! My favorites are the thin ones with teeth -- I have a lot of hair and they do an admirable job of keeping it under control. I appreciate the visit and the share. :^)

    • Teresa Coppens profile image

      Teresa Coppens 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I don't wear headbands much now but oh boy did I when I was younger. Boy did this hub bring back memories. I absolutely loved this and I may just try to add a band to my medium length yet very thick locks yet again. Bravo clevercat. This is a definite share!

    • theclevercat profile image
      Author

      Rachel Vega 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Maybe a thin satin band with one set of teeth? You don't want to scratch your scalp, either.

    • Brainy Bunny profile image

      Brainy Bunny 4 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

      I love headbands! Unfortunately, my head is both too big and the wrong shape; they always pinch or slide off.

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