The Renaissance lasted from about 1400 into the early 1600s. This period covers the Tudor and Elizabethan eras in Britain. Styles in dress and hair grew in decorative complexity at this time. Italian Renaissance women displayed their hair with braids and ribbons. Women elsewhere in Europe hid their hair under elaborate coverings. Headdresses became smaller after 1500 and ladies displayed more hair.

Ladies' Hairstyles

Wearing their hair long, women did not wear bangs. They scraped their hair back from the face to expose the forehead. Ladies braided and then coiled it -- encircling the head, coiling over the ears or forming 'horns' either side of the head. They covered these coils with increasingly elaborate head coverings that developed from simpler medieval forms. Ladies selected hoods and wimples with complex folds, high crowns, gables or peaks. Enclosing their coils in hairnets and snoods, ladies decorated these with gold, pearls or semi-precious stones. Poorer women wore cauls -- similar to snoods, these were cloth bags to cover the coiled hair. Noblewomen might also wear cauls, but theirs would be elaborately decorated.


Renaissance society considered a large forehead to be beautiful. Ladies plucked all the hair from the front of their heads to make the hairline recede. Ladies continued doing this into the Elizabethan era -- consider portraits of Queen Elizabeth I with her high forehead and plucked eyebrows. Hairlines had receded and hats were much smaller by the late 1500s, displaying more hair. Ladies parted their hair at the center and wore fashionable "French Hoods" set far back on the head. A French hood is a wide hair-band covering the ears. Ladies edged their hoods with decorative jewels or "billiments" and wore jewels in their hair.

Bleaching and Dyeing

Renaissance fashion admired blond hair. Italian ladies would spread their hair out in the sun to bleach it, after combing in a mixture of wine and olive oil. Renaissance ladies used alum, sulfur and the acidic juices of rhubarb, lemons or walnuts as hair bleaches. They brewed organic dyes from onion skins, cabbage stalks or saffron to enhance their hair's golden tones. Women gathered oakapples to make black hair dye and knew recipes for making conditioners. Noble women fragranced their hair and their hairnets with rosewater, cloves, nutmeg and musk.

Men's Hairstyles

Men of the early Renaissance shaved their facial hair. They cut their hair below the ears -- typically around chin length -- and wore bangs. Beards came into vogue later in the Renaissance, and men cut their hair shorter. Henry VII of England, 1485 to 1509, wore the typical Renaissance bob and bangs; Henry VIII, 1509 to 1547, is known for his trim beard. Men of the Elizabethan era likewise had beards. Renaissance men covered their hair with wide hats, caps or beret-like hats worn on the side of the head, trimmed with a feather or jewel.

About the Author

Tamasin Wedgwood

Based in the Isle of Man, Tamasin Wedgwood has been writing on historical topics since 2007. Her articles have appeared in "The International Journal of Heritage Studies," "Museum and Society" and "Bobbin and Shuttle" magazine. She has a Master of Arts (Distinction) in museum studies from Leicester University.