Instagram account @capelllli, deriving its name from the Italian for a mass of hair, the plural of “capello,” archives fascinating hairstyles from diverse creators, cultures and time periods. Hairstyles have long been markers and signifiers of social class, age, marital status, racial identification, political beliefs, and attitudes about gender. Throughout history, women’s hair was often elaborately and carefully dressed in special ways. The oldest known depiction of hair styling is hair braiding which dates back about 30,000 years.
Braiding in Africa is said to have begun with the Himba people of Namibia. In many African communities, braided hairstyles were a unique way to identify each tribe. Braid patterns and hairstyles were an indication of a person’s tribe, age, marital status, wealth, power, and religion. A time consuming process, braiding established itself as a social art form, one that was passed down through generations, with elders making simple knots and braids for younger children, whilst the older children would observe and learn the practices.
Dating back thousands of years, drawings and paintings have been discovered depicting people working on another person’s hair. Greek writers Aristophanes and Homer both mention hairdressing in their writings. It was believed in some African cultures that a person’s spirit occupied his or her hair, giving hairdressers high status within these communities. The status of hairdressing encouraged many to develop their skills, and close relationships were built between hairdressers and their clients during hours spent washing, combing, oiling, styling and ornamenting.
In ancient Egypt, hairdressers had specially decorated cases to hold their tools, including lotions, scissors and styling materials. With the standard of wig wearing within the culture, wigmakers were also trained as hairdressers; both males and females wore wigs made either from human hair, sheep’s wool or vegetable fibres, depending upon their social status. In the West, from the time of the Roman Empire until the Middle Ages, most women grew their hair as long as it would naturally grow. Later, between the late 15th century and the 16th century, a very high hairline on the forehead was considered attractive.
While standards of beauty continue to shift and alter, and tastes change, the role of hair as a cultural signifier remains largely the same, proving to be as compelling today as it has been throughout history. From fashion and beauty photography and film stills, to intricate drawings and iPhone captures on the subway, riffing on eclectic references past and present, @capelllli celebrates the whimsical beauty of hair as art.
Images via @capelllli