A recent trip to my hair colorist had me wondering what women in the 14th century did to color their hair. After all, the pinnacle for English beauty was the lithesome blonde, and I have to think women then used whatever means were at their disposal to become that paragon of beauty. I’m also sure graying women of all hair colors wanted to excise the gray without actually, uhm, excising their hair.For hair color formulas, you might refer to the writings of Trotula of Salerno, an 11th century woman physician in a city known for both its university and as a spa and health resort. She was concerned with women’s health issues (menses, conception, pregnancy, childbirth, etc.), and clearly, an expert with a practical sense for beauty regimens.
If blonde was your pleasure, you could cook walnut tree bark and walnut shells in water, adding alumen (present day alum, AKA rock crystal deodorant) and oak apples, coating your hair with the resulting admixture. (BTW, oak apples are nut or apple shaped galls that appear on some oak trees. They’re produced when certain kinds of gall wasps inject chemicals into leaf buds and the larvae feed on the gall tissue that results from the secretions. Makes you wonder how L’Oreal got started.) This is the bleaching agent.
After two days, comb out the excess and apply your color—mixtures of oriental crocus, dragon’s blood, and henna were faves—and wait three days. On day four, you’d wash your hair with hot water. The result? Trofula swears “never will be removed easily.”
Hmm. I wonder if that’s good or bad.
Wasp saliva not your thing? Well, you could cook down the dregs of white wine with some honey until it’s the consistency of an oil and wax mixture—a wax plaster, as it were—and paint your hair with it. An alternative might be to chop the dried dregs of white wine into olive oil and comb this through your hair while seated in the sun. It may not be permanent, but smelling of wine dregs, honey and olive oil, you’re bound to attract someone… or something.
NOTE: These two recipes we owe to the writings of Sir Hugo Plat (in “Delightes for Ladies, publ. 1602), and Giovanni Marinello (16th century physician and gynecologist), respectively.
Brunette or brownette your pleasure? They’re up next.