Our Modern Tiaras: How Headbands Were Created To Reign

Once upon a time, tiaras exclusively graced the heads of Olympians, noblewomen, and queens. However, in the 21st century, a crown can grace the head of any lady fashionable enough to recognize the timeless elegance and versatility of a headband.

By Carly Camejo4 min read
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After all, what is a tiara but an ornament meant to suggest status, beauty, and taste? A headband of the right variety offers the same potential when properly managed. 

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From Aphrodite to Pocahontas to Kate Middleton, Headbands Reign

Like most notable fashion trends, the headband inevitably emerged onto the world stage due to the influence of an it-girl or influencer, except this girl didn't have Instagram or even the internet. It’s easy to envision her poised before a burnished mirror, waiting patiently as a servant delicately positions a floral wreath into her long tresses. She may have offered the looking glass a coquettish smile before stepping down from her dressing stool to join the festivities and rituals of an important Athenian holiday. 

A general consensus among historians infers that the hair wreath, one of the earliest variations of the headband, originated in Ancient Greece around 475 B.C. and was primarily worn as the essential accessory for special occasions. Eventually, it reached its elevation to divine status when the realms of fashion and athletic prowess combined to create the Kotinos, woven from olive leaves, which was introduced at the first Olympic games in 776 B.C. In the evolving trend, flowers and leaves became personal emblems. For a touch of Aphrodite's femininity, women adorned garlands with myrtle; for a nod to Dionysus, men embraced grapes and ivy. For their part, the Romans incorporated wreaths into their wardrobes too. But they gilded them with gold and jewels – elevating a simple statement to a symbol of opulence, true to the concept of Romanitas.

Gold ivy wreath from the middle of the 4th century B.C. On display at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. Credit: George E. Koronaios, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons.
Gold ivy wreath from the middle of the 4th century B.C. On display at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. Credit: George E. Koronaios, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Following the collapse of the Roman Empire, the headband emerged from the rubble relatively unscathed. Cultural shifts then shaped the accessory, adapting it to meet the distinct needs of various strands of the nobility that incorporated it into their evolving societies. Viking kings crowned themselves with half helms of iron and leather, symbols of their dominion through conquest. Meanwhile, those of Charlemagne's lineage, where kingship was a birthright, favored decorative crowns of precious metals for a more refined statement of power. 

The Renaissance French Hood reinforced the enduring elite status of headbands beyond crowns. Celebrities like Queen Mary Tudor and Anne Boleyn popularized the chic crescent-shaped headdress among the English aristocracy, even as flower crowns, Italian bandeaus, and Hellenistic filets continued to be the go-to accessories for it-girls living in modest manor houses and quaint cottages throughout Europe. 

Mary Tudor wearing a French hood and Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, attributed to Jan Gossaert, c. 1516. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Mary Tudor wearing a French hood and Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, attributed to Jan Gossaert, c. 1516. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

However, the headband transcends the borders of the Mediterranean and Europe. Indigenous cultures worldwide embraced headbands for the same practical purposes, religious observances, and ability to signify social status, similar to their European counterparts. The Powhatans perfectly exemplify this principle. When wishing to impress, the Algonquin peoples of Virginia wore headbands studded with beads. Hence, when John Rolfe met his future princess bride, Pocahontas, her black hair likely glittered with intricate beadwork.

Yet, nothing gold can stay, and hats rose to the forefront of fashion throughout the 17th and 19th centuries. However, the 20th century meant the rise of women’s hemlines and the resurgence of the headband. Indeed, the Edwardian era and the 1920s introduced perhaps the finest examples of the accessory with the art-deco bandeaus, whose configurations varied from the arresting design of black and gold beadwork to the glamorous bejeweled styles common to the effervescent flapper. 

French woman wearing beaded bandeau, 1929. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
French woman wearing beaded bandeau, 1929. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Despite the glamor of the vibrant bandeaus, the "brain-binder,” a simple band of cloth, soared in popularity far above other hair ornaments. This adoption was driven by the allegiance of a new demographic – teenagers – thanks to fashion magazines like Vogue. Such publications recognized and leveraged the impact of models and actresses like Audrey Munson and Billy Dove, simultaneously establishing a consumer-based popular culture and cementing the “brain-binder” as the hallmark accessory of the 1920s. 

As the stock market crumbled, so too did lavish hair structures, providing for two decades of practical fashion, most notably the bandana or hair scarf. Rosie the Riveter, a 1940s icon, epitomized this style, inspiring women during World War II to join the war effort. Then, two decades later, as the war in Vietnam escalated and the Cold War threatened atomic extinction, the 1960s ushered in the resurgence of the flower crown. A chaplet of usually hand-picked flowers adorned the slightly unkempt locks of youth rebelling against a commercialized Western culture, seeking simplicity amid shaken foundations and stripped values. The hippie communes and youth culture eventually lost their appeal, however, and so too did the flower crown

By the end of the Reagan era, nuclear families replaced nuclear bombs, and the newest version of the headband appeared in the form of a brightly colored sweatband. This accessory graced the perspiring brows of amateur athletes kickboxing to the commands of a perky aerobics instructor. Influenced by athletes on cereal boxes and performers executing anti-gravity leans and moonwalks on stage, these beginners sported the iconic cotton band, ensuring an unobstructed field of vision as they painstakingly sculpted tender yet powerful glutes. Even Princess Diana donned this athletic wear as she hit the slopes, joining the ranks of pop stars Whitney Houston and Olivia Newton-John.  

After the Berlin Wall collapsed, the Internet Age introduced a fork in the road for the fashion savvy. Mainstream 1990s fashion encouraged the adoption of either Courtney Love and the Grunge scene or the California preppy chic of Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Willow Rosenberg and Lisa Turtle from Saved by the Bell. To properly pull off the conservative trend with verve, the 1990s it-girl required a slightly padded headband in a shade of either black, brown, or white. Political royalty from Hillary Clinton to Princess Diana further popularized these somber headbands, which – according to fashion historians – signaled youth, sophistication, and a busy schedule. It is a timeless look, still popular among polished housewives, professionals, and corporate supernovas alike. 

Now, Choose Your Own Modern Tiara

In the 21st century, if a woman needs a touch of elegance or a pop of color, a headband is the ultimate accessory and statement piece in its versatility. Going to a job interview? Choose the headband with the houndstooth fabric. Showing up to a dazzling charity gala on the arm of a handsome beau? Perhaps select the pearl-encrusted bandeau. A seaside stroll? A practical sweatband should do nicely. 

Queen of academia, Rory Gilmore, amidst her intense study sessions at the Yale University library, relied on a headband to keep her hair away from her doe-like eyes. Notably, even the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, gracefully incorporates an elegant "hatband" into her wardrobe, effortlessly blending royal etiquette with the demands of wrangling three small children. 

No matter the occasion, a headband exists as the perfect companion to augment or simplify an outfit. So, for those wishing to incorporate the headband into their daily wardrobe, I urge you first to consider your fashion schema. 

Are you an Upper East Side couture maven like Blair Waldorf or a hot pink billboard for Barbiecore like Elle Woods? Your answer will determine your selection. 

For those wishing to emulate the Queen of Constance, I suggest the Jennifer Behr Tori Velvet design in topaz. When you receive this luxurious delivery, I suggest taking a moment to run your fingers over the heavy packaging, slowly stroke the soft texture of the fabric, and treasure the moment you slip the accessory into your hair. I do not doubt you will feel as gratified as Elizabeth II choosing her tiara for a state occasion. 

However, if your tastes run more toward “trad-wife” influencer Estee Williams, I suggest Rifle Paper Company, specifically their Garden Party collection. And for the Lorelai Gilmore fans, this small Etsy store, QuinceFablesShop, provides the perfect whimsical headband to match the setting of The Dragonfly Inn.

Closing Thoughts

When you contemplate the entire production of fashion history, the headband steals the spotlight as the modern tiara. Since its introduction, the it-girl of every age has ornamented her locks with this accessory, and her devotees follow suit. While its designs may shift, its essential structure remains unchanged – a slender, rounded band adorning the head. Today's Instagram influencer showcasing a trendy tartan headband echoes the girl in a hippie commune weaving a daisy chain, which harkens back to the Athenian maiden crafting a myrtle chaplet in honor of Aphrodite. Across countries and epochs, when a woman wears a headband, she flaunts a crown as real and regal as that of any royal beauty, past or present.

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