History of the Headband, and How to Wear Headbands
Have you ever worn a headband?
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!
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
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:
whose hair is yellower than
torchlight should wear no
headdress but fresh flowers"
- 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.
Types of Headbands
There are many types of headbands, and the image above is only the beginning. Headband types include:
- hard plastic
- soft plastic
- 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)
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!
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
- 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