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Symbolism, Self-Adornment

by Mara Fisher

The hair bow has a dense and storied past dating back centuries. Bows, ribbons and other hair adornments have signaled femininity and masculinity, resistance and passivity, attraction and aversion.



Inset: Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton (1573-1624)
Shaina Mote — Symbolism, Self-Adornment



In France in the late 1600s, a time it was deemed immodest for a woman to be seen with loose hair, Marquise de Fontage was said to have tied her hair in a ribbon taken off her dress after losing her hat while riding her horse.



Terracotta limbless "doll" with hair tied in a bow, late 5th–early 4th century B.C. Greek, Attic



Men tied strands of hair grown long and braided over their hearts, tied at the end with a ribbon in a bow. These “lovelocks” symbolized a romantic token of a lady’s affection, while also emphasizing that they were well groomed.





Evidence of hair bow and adornments has been found in several ancient civilizations, and were worn to keep hair away from the face, as well as to enhance the wearer’s beauty.




Hair ribbon, 2600–2500 B.C., Sumerian




Beginning in the 20th century, hair bows came to distinguish the gender of infants - a bow on the head of a young child would clearly establish this identity early on.





Cameo tiara depicting Nausicaa with her companions lavishing their attention on the princess, fixing her hair, bringing her jewelry, and reflecting her beauty in a mirror. Luigi Saulini, Mid-19th century



In Louisiana in the late 1700s, laws mandated that African American women cover their hair with turban-style cloth headcoverings. As a form of protest against the censorship of their hair, women began to reclaim their headcoverings by decorating them with ribbons, bows and jewels.




LIFE, May 15, 1944





In the United States in the 1940s, LIFE magazine ran an article about high school girls using different positionings of hair bows to signal whether or not they were interested in a relationship. This method of signaling feels not unlike the lovelock, or other forms of veiled gestures used in contexts where open discussions of attraction and sexuality were considered illicit.


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