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The Crown of Beauty by Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr

From, Maids Wives and Bachelors

The glory and the crown of physical perfection is beautiful hair. Venus would not charm us if she were bald, and neither poet, painter, nor sculptor would dare to give us a “subject” which should lack this, the charm of all other charms. Neither is it a modern fancy. Homer, when he would praise Helen, calls her “the beautiful-haired Helen,” and Petronius, in his famous picture of Circe, makes much of “trailing locks.”

The loveliness of long hair in woman seems never to have been disputed, and it had also a very wide acceptance as a mark of masculine strength and beauty. St. Paul, it is true, says that it is a shame to a man to have long hair, but his opinion is not to be taken without reservation, for both the traditions of poetry and painting give to the Saviour, and also to the Beloved Disciple, long locks of curling brown hair. The Greek warriors and most of the Asiatic nations prided themselves on their long hair, and the Romans gave a great significance to it by making it the badge of a freeman. Cæsar, too, distinctly says that he always compelled the men of a province which he had conquered to shave off their hair in token of submission.

The Saxon and Danish rulers of England were equally famous for their long yellow locks, and the fashion continued with little or no intermission until the dynasty of the Tudor kings. They affected, for some reason or other, short hair; and “King Hal” is undoubtedly indebted for his “bluff look” to the short, thick crop which he wore. The fashion even extended to the women of that age, and their pictured faces, with their hair all hidden away under a coif, have a most hard, stiff, and unlovely appearance. Under the Stuarts, long, flowing hair again became fashionable with the Royalist party, who made their “love locks” the sign and emblem of their loyalty. On the contrary, the Puritans made short hair almost a tenet of faith and a part of their creed. Within the last ten years hair has been again the sign of political feeling, for, during the Civil War, the Southern women in favor of the Confederacy wore one long curl behind the left ear, while those in favor of the Union wore one behind each ear.

During the last century men have gradually cut their hair shorter and shorter. They pretend, of course, fashion dictates the order; but a woman may be allowed to doubt whether necessity did not first dictate to fashion. Certainly ladies prefer in men hair that is moderately long, thick, and curling, to the penitentiary style of last year. And suppose they could have long hair, but cut it for their own comfort, the act says very little for their gallantry. I have no need to point to the chignons, braids, and artifices which women use to lengthen their hair in order to please men, who decline to return the compliment, even to a degree that would be vastly becoming to them.

After the length of hair, color is the point of most interest. In reality there are but two colors, black and red. Brown, golden, yellow, etc., are intermediate, the difference in shade being determined by the sulphur and oxygen or carbon which prevails. In black hair, carbon exceeds; in golden hair, sulphur and oxygen. It has been insisted that climate determines the color of hair; that fair-haired people are found north of parallel 48°; brown hair between 48° and 45°; which would include Northern France, Switzerland, Bohemia, Austria, and touch Georgia and Circassia, Canada, and the northern part of Maine; and that below that line come the black-haired races of Spain, Naples, Turkey, etc., etc. But this is easily disproved. Take, for instance, the parallel 50° and follow it round the world. Upon it may be found the curly, golden-haired European; the black, straight hair of the Mongolian and American Indian, and again, in Canada, it will give us the fair-haired Saxon girl. So, then, it is race, and not climate, which determines the color. I am inclined to think, too, that temperament has something to do with it, since we find black-haired Celts, golden-haired Venetians, and fair and black-haired Jews.

The ancient civilized nations passionately admired red hair. Greeks, Romans, Chinese, Turks, and Spaniards have given it to their warriors and beauties. Somehow among the Anglo-Saxon race it has a bad reputation. Both in novels and plays it is common to give the rascal of the plot “villanous red hair;” and in the English school of painters, the traitor Judas is generally distinguished by it. In the East, black is the favorite color, and the Persians abhor a red-haired woman. Light brown or golden hair is the universal favorite. The Greeks gave it to Apollo, Venus, and Minerva. The Romans had such a passion for it that, in the days of the Empire, light hair brought from Germany (to make wigs for Roman ladies) sold for its weight in gold. The Germans themselves, not content with the beautiful hair Nature had given them, made a soap of goat's tallow and beechwood ashes to brighten the color. Homer loved “blondes,” and Milton and Shakespeare are full of golden-haired beauties, while the pages of the novelist and the galleries of painters, ancient and modern, show the same preference.

Lavater insists greatly on the color of hair as an index to the disposition. “Chestnut hair,” he says, “indicates love of change and great vivacity; black hair, passion, strength, ambition, and energy; fair hair, mildness, tenderness, and judgment.”

Fashion has dressed the hair in many absurd and also in many beautiful forms; but through all changes, curls, floating free and natural, have had a majority of admirers. Some one says that “of all the revolvers aimed at men's hearts, curls are the most deadly,” and from the persistent instinct of women in retaining them, I am inclined to indorse this statement. The Armenians and some other Asiatics twist the hair into the form of a mitre; the Parthians and Persians leave it long and floating; the Scythians and Goths wear it short, thick, and bristling; the Arabians and kindred people often cut it on the crown. In the South of Europe, “to be in the hair” is a common expression for unmarried girls, because they wear their hair long and flowing, while matrons put it up in a coil at the back of the head.

Until the ninth century in England, Nature pretty much led the fashions in hair-dressing; then plaits turned up on each side of the cheek were introduced; and in the eleventh century the hair all disappeared under the head-dress of that time. Early in the sixteenth century ladies began to “turn up” the hair. Queen Margaret of Navarre frizzed and turned back her abundant locks just as the women of our own day do. The custom, too, that is now prevalent of braiding the hair in two long locks and tying them at the ends with ribbons was a favorite style in the early part of the seventeenth century. In the eighteenth century women used powder to such an extent as almost to destroy the color of the hair, and during the past hundred years every possible arrangement and non-arrangement has had a temporary favor.

I have nothing to say about the customs of the present day. If there is any property in which a woman has undisputed right, it is surely in her own hair; and if she chooses to wear it in an unbecoming or inartistic style, it is certainly no one's business that I can perceive. Assuredly not the men's, since I have already shown that they, either through inability or selfishness, decline to wear the thick, flowing locks with which Nature crowns manly strength and beauty, and which are all women's admiration.

The majority of women have a natural taste in this matter, and very few are so silly as to sacrifice their beauty to fashion. Two or three rules are fundamental in all arrangements of the hair: one is that a superabundance at the back of the head always imparts an animal expression; another, that it is peculiarly ugly to sweep the whole forehead bare. The Greeks, supreme authorities on all subjects of beauty and taste, were never guilty of such an atrocity. In all their exquisite statues the hair is set low. A third is that “bands” are the most trying of all coiffures, and never ought to be adopted except by faces of classic beauty. To add them to a round, merry face with a nose retroussé is as absurd as to put a Doric frieze on an irregular building. A general and positive one is that all hair is spoiled, both in quality and color, by oiling, for it takes from it that elasticity and lightness which is its chief charm and characteristic; the last (which I have no hope ladies will heed just at present) is, never to hide the natural form of the head.


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