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.
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 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.
References and Resources"Handbook of German Dress"; Women's Hair and Headdress 1200s -- 1400's; Hottenroth; 1892
"Handbook of German Dress"; Men's Hair and Headdress 1200s -- 1400's; Hottenroth; 1892
National Portrait Gallery (UK): Tudor and Elizabethan Portraits
The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Portraiture in Renaissance and Baroque Europe; Jean Sorabella
Elizabethan Costume Page; Cauls, Hairnets and Snoods; Drea Leed
Elizabethan Costume Page; French Hoods: Their History and Development; Drea Leed
ResourcesUK Hairdressers: The History of Hair
Jadwiga Zajaczkowa's Page; Hair Care Recipes from Medieval/Renaisance Sources; Jadwiga Zajaczkowa
Eras of Elegance: Historical Hairstyles
Elizabethan Portraits.com: Tudor and Elizabethan Portraits
"Plucked, Shaved and Braided: Medieval and Renaissance Beauty ..."; D. Turudich and L. Welch; 2003
Hope's SCA-Related Collection; A Portfolio of Images; Hope Greenberg
Portraits of Tudor Nobility; Marilee Cody
The Costumer's Manifesto: Men's Renaissance Headdress
The Costumers Manifesto: How to Make a Renaissance Hat
The Costumer's Manifesto: Women's Renaissance Headdress