Hair ties have always been around in some form, although the elastic bands we think of today were not even envisioned until the mid-1800s.
The hair tie's early history
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. Colorful ribbons were seen as status symbols and objects of envy on the heads of young girls, but women would never have been seen in public with their hair tied back in such a casual fashion until the look was popularized in the late 20th century.
Hair ties in men's fashion
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 died publicly 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.
Hair tie alternatives
While women from pre-modern times may have scoffed at the idea of a ponytail, the look of cauls and snoods was popularized in the Middle Ages and brought back in the 1970s in American women's fashion. While a caul sections off small amounts of hair, a snood encases an entire head of hair in a netted bag that is often adorned for festive occasions such as weddings.
Hair ties and elastic
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, and on St. Patrick's Day in 1845, British businessman Stephen Perry obtained the patent for the rubber 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, due to the standard rubber band's tendency to pinch and pull, resulting in pain and sometimes 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 it is still popularly used today.
The hair tie today
Modern variations of the hair tie include the "scrunchie," which consists of an elastic band sewn inside bunched, colorful fabric, as well as limitless fashion variations that can be bought or made with just a needle and thread by affixing plastic flowers, ribbons, or jewelry to a standard hair tie.