The Myths and History of Red Hair

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Capillary Freaks

The following information all comes from an article titled "Capillary Freaks," published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1867. The article was about the hair fashions that have come and gone throughout the ages. Although it isn't all about red hair, a lot of it still bears repeating for its peculiar interest.

The article was written by a man named Charles Dawson Shanly and in it he wrote:

That "among the Roman women, at one period, there was a morbid ambition to grow beards."

That in Venice, in the days of Titian, women used to soak their hair in black sulphur, alum and honey and then lie on the Venetian rooftops to let it dry in the sun, so that their "raven tresses" were "alchemized into burning gold."

Capillary Freaks Page

That "in Ireland locks of the most fiery hue have long been regarded by the peasantry as a lovely attribute of beauty," and that the Irish used to sing an old ditty with the lyrics:

"Heigh for the apple, and ho for the pear;
But give me the pretty girl with the red hair"

He also mentions that in 18th century Ireland there was a fashion amongst the Irish peasantry for wearing a small red scratch wig over their natural hair. Going on to say that the wigs were nicknamed "bay wigs" and that it was a common thing for an Irish peasant to whip it off and use it to dust down a chair for a distinguished visitor. Afterwards putting it back atop their head.

He likewise relates a story about how Delhi was sacked after an Afghan officer with a long red beard was insulted by a courtier. The courtier was said to have mocked "What next? - here we have now a red-haired baboon come to court!" The officer then apparently retorted "I will tell you what next, - that before a year is over I will fill Delhi itself, as well as the palaces, with red-bearded baboons like me." The officer then consequently endeavoured to have Delhi put to the sword.

Finally the writer mentions that in 16th century France red beards were in vogue and that it was the height of fashion to have the head black and the beard red. However, shortly after beards fell from fashion when the youthful looking Louis XIII came to power. The writer then relates an amusing story regarding this about a man named 'Sully' who wore a flowing beard when he came to this king's court. The poor man suffered sneers and derisions from Louis' young entourage and then complained to the King, "When your father did me the honor to consult me upon important affairs of state, he always used to dismiss the merry-andrews and jack-puddings from the chamber."

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