I pinched this image off the web because not only did it make me laugh, there was a central truth to it — and a truth very much of our times.
Because of lockdown, and because a number of my dark-haired friends have been getting tired of having to pay to keep restoring their natural hair color, several of them have decided that while they're not going out and not socializing, they're going to just let it happen and see what they think about their new shade of pale. And thus, CoronaLisa.
Of course, people have always dyed their hair and tried to stave off the aging process. It's generally the dark haired ones who battle with the grey most. We fairer types are lucky in that the grey hairs are fairly easily absorbed and don't stand out as much.
The Egyptians made lavish use of henna and other products — such as the blood of black animals — to try to stave off the grey. The richer ladies simply wore wigs made from the hair of slaves. The Romans, too, experimented with dyes made from various plants, though they were often toxic and damaged not only the hair, but the person growing it. Eventually they came up with a formula made of fermented leeches — yes, delightful I know.
And unless you were a prostitute, up to this time the color choices were mostly reddish (henna) or black. Prostitutes? you ask. Yes, in Ancient Rome they were required to dye their hair yellow as a sign of their profession and while the more prosperous wore wigs made from hair taken from conquered and enslaved fair-haired Germanic people, some tried various concoctions of herbs and ash and nuts to create the effect. (And no, the image on the right is neither Roman nor Egyptian. You'll discover the connection at the end of this post.)
Meanwhile some of the warlike enemies of the Romans—people like the Gauls and the Saxons — dyed their hair bright colors using red ochre, chalk, beechwood ash and goats’ fat, indigo, alfalfa, spices like turmeric and whatever else they could find. All to add to the savage appearance of their warriors
In the early 1600s, a recipe book of household essentials called "Delights for Ladies" recommended using 'Oyle of Vitrioll' to color black hair chestnut, but advises its readers to avoid it touching the skin. Yikes! A more modern name for 'Oyle of Vitrioll' is sulfuric acid.
Queen Elizabeth 1 used white lead for her complexion — toxic! No idea what she used to keep her hair from going grey in her old age — probably henna though, since she was a natural redhead.
There were lots of plant concoctions that enhanced color — pour lemon juice over your hair and dry it in the sun and light-colored hair would look lighter. I did that when I was a teen. Didn't notice any difference, but the smell was nice. And things like vinegar (dark for dark hair and white for light) and rosemary enhanced the shine. (Several of my Regency-era heroines have used these.) But it was a long time before reliable dyes were created.
Then in the mid 1800s, English chemist William Henry Perkin made an accidental discovery that changed hair dye forever. Experimenting with coal tar in an attempt to generate a cure for malaria, Perkins created the first synthesized dye in 1863. The color was mauve and appropriately named Mauveine.
Not long after that, his chemistry professor August Hoffman derived a color-changing molecule from Mauveine (called para-phenylenediamine, or PPD), which became the foundation for most permanent hair dyes — and still is today.
In 1907, Eugene Schueller created the first chemical dye for commercial purposes. He called it Aureole (meaning like a halo). It would later be called L’Oréal, as would the company he founded.
By the late 1960s, coloring your hair was commonplace, and 1968 was the last year Americans were asked to state their hair color on passports — the widespread use of hair dye made this information pointless. (I found most of the information about the history of hair dye from this site, and this, and this. If you're interested, click on the links — it's fascinating. And a little bit gruesome.)
Yes, it's a turban. CoronaLisa above could disguise her white strip beautifully with a turban, as would many women going grey against their will, or with badly thinning hair — and why not? Think about it — a turban could cover a multitude of problems. Dirty hair and no time to wash it? Turban. Bad hair day? Turban All your hair fallen out? Turban — and you could buy false curls to have them sewn into the turban. Most turbans were sewn together, so you put it on like a hat. No chance of it unravelling, as has occasionally happened to me.
There are so many beautiful ones and a huge range of styles. I adore the look of turbans, which is why you have so many stunning, gratuitous images of turbans to go with this nominally-about-hair-dye post.
So, what about you? Are you growing a fashionable white stripe during lockdown? Have you experimented with your own herbal hair treatments (as I did as a teen)? Do you like turbans? Would you wear one? Which turban pictured here is your favorite? And if you wore one, what kind of (imaginary) event would you wear it to?