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Over the past three years, London-based hair editor Rachael Gibson has trawled visual archives, online and in person, to discover the most fascinating portraits of hair throughout history. A brief look over her captivating Instagram account, @thehairhistorian, reveals that the hair on our heads has been a key element in art throughout the ages.

The oldest known depiction of hair styling is hair braiding which dates back about 30,000 years, in the from of the Venus of Willendorf, a female figurine from the Paleolithic, or Old Stone Age. Throughout history, women’s hair was often elaborately and carefully dressed in special ways. From the time of the Roman Empire until the Middle Ages, most women grew their hair as long as it would naturally grow.

Gibson tells, “I work full time as a hair editor, producing content, copy and education for hair brands and managing social media profiles for companies including ghd, Schwarzkopf Professional, the Fellowship for British Hairdressing and Indola. I launched The Hair Historian in 2016 as an Instagram account combining my passions for art and hair history.”

Having studied Fashion in Manchester, followed by an MA in Fashion Journalism at London College of Fashion, Gibson turned her hand to beauty, joining a trade title for hairdressers and found that her favourite aspect of the job was going deep into their archives.

Spanning historical paintings from the 19th century, to intricate Japanese woodblock prints from the 1800s, alongside contemporary works by British painter Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, @thehairhistorian is both a joy to peruse as well as a valuable research resource, with an abundance of beautiful and intriguing hair ideas readily collated. 

Feature image: Hua Mulan, 2012, Chen Li (via @thehairhistorian)

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