Origin of the Trend: Headbands

The headband: a simple accessory lending itself to the glamorizing of updos, the concealing of greasy bangs, the smoothing of preppy ponytails. There’s no easier way to make clothes, hair and makeup pop than pushing a headband behind your ears. This season’s headbands are reinvented hair scarves, reminiscent of both the 50s and 60s versions of the trend. The accessory originated much earlier, however, than the era of mod prints of prim housewives. It’s been evolving with fashion for 2,000+ years, which explains the variety of styles currently available.

The ancient Greeks can claim the first version of the headband, according to Handbook to Life in Ancient Greeceby Lesley and Roy A. Adkins. The stephane, a metal step-down-from-a-tiara accessory in the shape of intertwined laurel leaves or arched olive branches or Aristotle, is the Greek accessory most similar to our current perception of headbands. It usually rested atop the sakkos, which was a cloth headwrap that concealed hair twisted into a bun. The sphendone, a risqué version of the sakkos that revealed the bun seated atop a woman’s head, was also a popular. These accessories appeared around 500 B.C.E., but the cloth headbands “fell out of fashion starting in about 330 B.C.E.,” according to FashionEncyclopedia.com. Thankfully, we know that they make a brilliant comeback in one-thousand or so years, overcoming their untimely demise as well as the death of the entirety of ancient Greece.

The Etruscans were the first to adopt the metal-headband idea. Considering the current popularity of Gossip Girl‘s Blair Waldorf, this was a better business move than their invention of large-scale sewer systems. The ancient Romans then stole the accessory from the Etruscans, because the Romans stole everything from the Etruscans. According to HairBoutique.com, fancy events called for metal wreaths (as actual wreaths were hair ornaments for more frequent wear) to adorn the curly hair of women who all looked identical to Meg from Disney’s Hercules. I attribute this slightly inaccurate representation of ancient Roman brides to Disney’s inability to establish a concrete time period in its movies: Was Hercules Greek? Or was he a fictional hero the Etruscans tricked the Romans into believing was real? Only Walt and his paid screenwriters know.

A few hundred years later, between the fifth and fifteenth centuries, the women of the Middle Ages continued to frame their hair in wreaths made of freshly cut branches or gold. This trend lasted until the Renaissance, according to Helium Magazine, when the chaplet, a wreath made of flower, surpassed the popularity of those sculpted from twigs.

Headbands constructed from natural elements were the norm until the 1920s, when flappers squished their pin curls with flashy styles covered in sequins and long feathers. They were worn atop the head as well as across the forehead, often depending on the positioning of the colorful plumes that jutted out from women’s shining, wavy bobs.

The 1950s version of the accessory had to contain itself, because single ladies with boyish figures shaking their fringe on the dancefloor were far too coquettish for proper women, and settled for an emphasis on bows and thick bands. This style was functional, holding back the voluminous updos of wives vacuuming living rooms and cooking multi-course dinners, and the pearly finish on the ribbons used complimented the sophisticatedly sleek hair of the decade.

Ribbons were big in the ’60s, too, but not in any styles approved by ’50s housewives. Some hippies tied scarves around their foreheads, according to The Neave, while others sported thin braids around their heads. The scarf version of the accessory lasted into the ’70s, where it was seen in mod, colorful patterns and worn atop the head, while Mischa Barton repeated the braid trend in the spring of 2008, according to BellaSugar.com, reviving the 1960s-esque headbands for a few years. It was and is most frequently seen on hipsters and Nicole Richie.

The forehead-positioned style was adapted by the spandex-addicted aerobics addicts of the 1980s. Women weren’t going to let Jazzercise sweat drip from their teased hair onto their two-tone-eyeshadowed lids, so they partnered sweatbands, an even more functional style of the headband than those thick ribbons utilized by women of the ’50s, with high and frizzy ponytails.

By the 1990s, then, headbands had reached an incredible level of accessibility. Initially constructed of precious metals, the accessory was now in high-demand by all socioeconomic classes for purposes that were often non-ornamental. This decade saw the creation of the bra strap headband, invented by New York-based salon Bumble and bumble, according to HairBoutique.com. The mass production of this style encouraged the flat-scalp updo. You know, like when you had to use gel to smooth every flyaway hair you were trying to force into an unnaturally smooth ponytail before you’d attempt to twist a scrunchie around it. Headbands in the ’90s were functional and simply decorated.

Also in the 1990s, Hillary Clinton was infamous for wearing headbands. Always wearing headbands. The same headband. She has since revived her love of the accessory and the White House, according to The Huffington Post. If the headband were a person, it would be Hillary Clinton.

Or maybe (hopefully) Blair Waldorf.

Now, thank goodness, we have the freedom to choose what kind of headband we would like to wear: a black band decorated with a peacock feather, a suede braid, an acrylic white band or, as preferred by this spring’s designers, a silk scarf tied around the top and front of the head.

Published at The Lion, The Stitch, and The Wardrobe on April 17, 2011.

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