The hair tie, in some form, has been around for most of human history. Initially, the primary purpose of the hair tie was to prevent long hair from falling into eyes or moving machinery while performing chores. Known by many other names, including the whimsical dodoggle, chongo and bobble, the hair tie eventually became more of a tool related to changing hairstyles, ranging from braids to piglets and ponytails, or "pineapples" for those with exceptionally curly locks. Just as hairstyles have changed over the years, the hair tie has undergone considerable transformation from a strip of homespun ribbon to the modern scrunchie.
Start at the Beginning
Up until the invention of elastic, men, women and children held their hair back with colored ribbons of fabric or bands of leather, either tied or fastened in place with a pin. Wearing a colorful ribbon hair tie was considered a status symbol and object of envy on the heads of young girls. For adult women, however, to be seen in public with the hair tied back in such a casual fashion was considered highly unladylike and scorned, at least until the look was popularized in the late 20th century.
Tie One On, Boys
The hair tie started as a predominantly male fashion accessory, as European men popularly wore their hair in what was then called a "queue," the French word for "tail," through the end of the 1700s. Even after that style faded in favor of shorter hair on men, the queue, tied either with a leather strap or a small bag known as a "caul," was the military regimented hairstyle throughout Europe through much of the 1800s.
Shed the Old Hair Net
For women, the snood became a popular form of hair tie during the Middle Ages, and the style made a big comeback in America in the 1970s. The snood is essentially the precursor to the hair net commonly worn by food service workers today. Usually made from knotted or crocheted yarn, the snood is a netted bag designed to hold the entire length of hair to the nape of the neck. While the snood is certainly practical, it is also considered fashionable today to wear for festive occasions, such as weddings and cocktail parties.
Hand it to Thomas Hancock
Hair ties were revolutionized by the invention of elastic in the 1800s. Thomas Hancock, considered the father of the rubber industry, obtained the first patent in 1820 for the use of elastic in fasteners for gloves, shoes and stockings. His success was duplicated by Stephen Perry, a British businessman who obtained the patent for the rubber band on St. Patrick's Day in 1845.
Bounce to the Modern Band
It was only in the mid-to-late 20th century that the basic rubber band was updated specifically for the purpose of tying hair. The upgrade was necessary due to the standard rubber band's tendency to pinch and pull hair, resulting in pain and even hair loss. The first "elastic loop fastener" was patented in 1958 by the Hook Brown Company to attach strands of blended fabric and elastic in a concentric circle, and the modern elastic hair band was born. This simple and more comfortable type of hair tie is still popular today.
Lose the Snap
The most recent variation of the hair tie is the "scrunchie," which consists of an elastic band sewn inside bunched, colorful fabric. This kind of hair tie has all the flexibility of a rubber band, but isn't likely to produce a painful sting if snapped. It also provides a canvas for creative expression since ribbons, charms, gemstones, jewelry or other items can be attached to it with a needle and thread.