The beauty salon, now such a common sight and a staple of our fashion lifestyles, is actually an age-old tradition dating back thousands of years. Much like many of the things we so often take for granted, beauty salons were invented, tested and pushed throughout the world over a long period of time, and continue to evolve as the future approaches. In other words, while there have always been beauty salons and hairdressers, they haven’t always looked like the ones we enjoy now.
It’s fun to look back on the way things were, and with beauty salons it’s especially enjoyable to talk about the strange history that has brought them into our popular culture. After all, today’s salon features like ombre highlights, blow outs, blow drying, keratin treatments, hair color, and Brazilian keratin only showed up in the last 20 years, yet humans have been dealing with hair since the dawn of the species.
Wigs, Egypt and Beauty Salons
The first salons were very different than you may imagine. In ancient Egypt, where the beauty salon was born, wealthy and prominent men and women wore beautiful wigs and other adornments on their heads. In order to make this process possible, they kept their hair trimmed very short. The role of the beauty salon, in Egypt, was to size, order and create the wigs worn by the fashionable folks of the day. A salon was where you went to get hair—not where you went to have yours changed around. Hairdressers were responsible for the maintenance and styling of wigs. A top hair stylist in Egypt would be known for his or her ability to work with a wig, not necessarily for skill with natural hair.
Later in history, the purpose of the beauty salon changed. In Greece, beauty salons helped women to dye and style their hair. In Rome, wigs, dye and cuts were the rage. We also see plenty of mid-level hair shops in Rome, which indicates that even non-rich people were depending on beauty salons and hairdressers for their hairstyles and appearance. It’s a far cry from the best hair salons of the modern day, but even the earliest hair salons had hair color treatments and smart hair stylists.
The incredible fashion trends of British monarchy are now famous, of course, and beauty salons saw a major heyday as people rushed through their doors to keep up with the appearance of the more lavish kings and queens of the day. Throughout modern history, there have been people who wanted to look nice and beauty salons to serve them in one way or another.
The Modern Beauty Salon
Modern salons really began to emerge as a place for people to hang out after the industrial revolution. With the economy changing from people constantly producing to people consuming, folks had more time to spend on their appearance and other leisurely activities. The 50s-60s were a big boom for beauty salons as a social gathering, and numerous media artifacts from this period in history feature women getting together at the beauty salon to hang out and gossip more than to get their hair done.
As beauty salons grew in popularity and the world of business changed, we began to see big chains emerge. Industry leaders like Paul Mitchell and others started salons in their own names, then chained them out across the globe in a massive web. Now when you visit your stylist, you’re just as likely to see a specific product at one beauty salon as you would at another, with hairdressers receiving similar training.
We’ve also seen a big increase in the variety of beauty salons—there are straight dyeing places, salons made exclusively for men, beauty salons aimed at specific ethnicities and even those designed for high or low-income individuals.
One thing is for sure: The history of the beauty salon rolls on, and it will continue to be an interesting history to observe.