The ancient Chinese culture was vibrant, and the vibrancy was such that it continues to attract people towards its rich heritage. The ancient Chinese values and customs have continued inspiring the modern-day Chinese society, especially those concerning fashion.
Fashion may have drastically changed with time, but Chinese people still value the art of conveying sentiments through fashion and this is particularly true in respect of hairstyles. Every Chinese hairstyle used to bear a certain meaning to it, and the meanings were well-known to the people.
In this article, we shall talk about a few ancient Chinese hairstyles that changed the oriental fashion:
Single and Young
Back then, young Chinese women donned their hair down to indicate they are young and unmarried. Young maidens usually braided their hair until they turned 15, on the happening of which they would go through, what was commonly known as ji-li (coming-of-age) feast. In this ceremony, the girl would get her hair washed, combed and styled in a twist supported with the help of a pin known as ji. Upon the determination of the ceremony, the young girl was regarded as an adult and eligible for going through marriage.
Another aspect of hairstyling for young girls was long, shiny black hair. In ancient Chinese culture, this was regarded as a sign of a well-maintained, attractive girl, and it was primarily responsible for the commonly observed norm among young girls who refrained from cutting their hair short. There were a number of variants of hairstyles prevalent back then: a low ponytail with the hair placed on both sides of the face. Some of the hair was left on the back to be parted down symmetrically. Whatever the style girls opted for, the same was always adorned with attractive ornaments such as apin.
The knot for the married women
If you have watched Chinese period dramas, you might have noticed the distinct hairstyle donned by married women—that hairstyle was considered a sign of pragmatism and propriety. Once married, the woman would naturally become pre-occupied with social and household responsibilities and was discouraged from sashaying her hair in front of public.
The hairstyle featured a knot, and the styling of the knot varied depending upon the status of the woman and the prevalent fashion. The simplest form of theknot was a knot situated at the nape. More intricate versions belong to the Tang Dynasty which included many additions such as fresh flowers, ornamental combs, wigs, pins, etc. In order to keep hair in place—which was also considered a sign of social propriety—women would often apply a sticky gel made out of wooden strips dipped in hot water.
With time, women started replacing ornamental combs with chopstick-like hair sticks, and I believe you are pretty much aware of how they look like. This trend is still observed in many parts of China and is followed by foreign cultures when representing or parodying anything concerning Chinese, but only a few know about the historical relevance of these sticks.
Women performers, especially those who performed in royal courts, exhibited extravagantly ornamental hairstyle. In ancient China, women dancers were given a special place in ceremonial rituals and imperial banquets, and hence, it was required from them to maintain elegance and mannerisms during the performance. Hairstyling was part of the requirements.
There were many variations prevalent such as a two-sided looped hairstyle which featured a high-rise ponytail at the top of the head, and the hair was bifurcated and structured into a loop. Coils were used to ensure the loops stayed steady and tidy. Women took extra care in theembellishment of the hairstyle, and for that purpose, they used Buyao that was essentially a dangling hairpin studded with jade or pearls.
You might wonder why there were so many kinds of hairstyles for women in ancient China, but this is to be noted that the ancient Chinese culture strictly observed social stratification, and, therefore, it was important to keep clear of the status to which everyone belonged. Thus, employed women were no exception, and they donned a visibly distinct hairstyle while at work.
Palaces and wealthy households employed maids and palace ladies for housekeeping and other domestic chores—from preparing the beds to cooking food. These women were required to maintain particular hairstyles, which varied from one dynasty to another. In Tang dynasty, for example, twin twists were popular. In this style, the hair was parted downwards in the middle and arranged into braids. The braids were then twisted into figure-eight coils on both sides of the head and pinned behind the ears. On special events, women would embellish the hair with ribbons. Gradually, the hairstyle went through multiple variations until today when all the barriers were brought down and hairstyling is no longer symbolic of social status.