From the Involucrum to the Kimono Gown and Cape: A History of the Barber Shop and Hair Styling Professions

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Ancient Roman Ornatrix

In ancient Rome, just as in the ancient civilisation of Mesopotamia, baths and bodycare were an essential component of daily life. Sanitation was important enough for rulers to install public toilets and sewers, in order to avoid dirtiness in the streets and the spread of disease. Both the number and variety of beauty and hygiene-related professions flourished, predecessors to today’s hair stylists and make up artists in salons and spas. Rich, noble families and Senators had the means to hire personal barbers who lived with them in the decadent private villas of Rome and worked directly with their clients on a daily basis, or as often as required. Female stylists were kept busy, with the sole purpose of caring for the lady of the household, without any break or time to care for themselves. These domestic beauticians, called Ornatrix in Latin, also took care of the household and bathrooms, and created hair arrangements with the help of copper-based mirrors, primitive combs and fibulae brooches.

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Ornatrix statue in the Carthage Museum, Tunisia

Far from being a privilege reserved for the few wealthy classes, many more Romans sought their grooming in public barbershops, either inside a dedicated building or out on the street corner. These workers distinguished themselves with specially designed haircut gowns. They were mostly preoccupied by the care of men, whose beards required weekly attention. Aside from the basic format of the service, the functional aspects of aesthetic care were important. Often, only a single seat was available in the neighbourhood Botteca Tonsor, or barber shop. This gave the client the hair dresser’s full, undivided attention during sessions. Early versions of mirrors, different sizes of scissors, statues and paintings on the walls provided the client with ideas of styles from which to choose. For the customer’s comfort, more luxurious shops provided towels or protective cape-like covers, called Involucrum, but this was a relatively uncommon practice.

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Ornatrix from Pompei

In addition to the simple purpose of hair salon, the Tonsor also operated as it still does today in many countries of the Middle East and Asia, as a sort of general physician/practician, herbalist, nutritionist, psychologist and private consultant. Even today, as in ancient Rome, the barber was responsible for taking care of a variety of important rituals that marked the milestones of a person’s life. These ranged from “shaving the first offering to the gods” (circumcision), to the application of disinfecting creams and lotions to kill fleas and ticks, to treating the client with leeches for bloodletting, considered for centuries the best remedy to every illness. Above all, the barber shop was (and remains in some capacity today) a social place where the latest news and gossip were shared, where people shared their personal problems and where important decisions were made. What’s more, they served as a host for vibrant political discussions and helped people come to agreements.

Culturally, there is an abundance of well-known examples (that is, of course aside from the Barber of Seville), such as the classic novel ‘Moustache‘ by Tahsin Yucel, considered one of the greatest Turkish writers of the Twentieth Century. It describes the changes in society from the perspective of a barber shop in a small village of Anatolia. On the other hand, the hair stylist’s role in literature has remained a central part of Italian culture. Toward the end of the Roman empire, the satirical story Martial and Juvenal (Marziale e Giovenale in the original language), focused on those obsessed with hair styles, those lazy ones stuck “between the mirror and comb” (Martial).

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Frontispiece Depicting Juvenal and Persius

The stories are numerous enough to give specific information on the trends and styles instituted under the emperor. Dyed hair wigs imported from the Indian provinces became a popular style. Although hair styling tools from the Roman period have been impossible to preserve until today because they were usually made of iron and subsequently destroyed by rust, there are many directions for the beard cutting process and style left by Etruscan, still well preserved to this day in bronze reliefs. During the Middle Ages, the barber’s shop became a learning place for surgery, according to the teachings of Hippocrates, Galen (Galeno) and Avicenna.

Today, the single sex, community barber has virtually disappeared, replaced over the last century by commercial, unisex hair salons and spas. At the same time, in recent years there seems to be a recovery of some neighbourhood community barber shops. While the size, health standards and hygiene have evolved rapidly, and new services are offered such as massage sessions, facials, manicures and pedicures; today’s beauty salons have reincorporated many of the same wellness and health services that were common two thousand years ago.

Caractère offers a variety of products, some even inspired by the early concept of the Involucrum, including protective gowns, kimonos, capes, supplies for hairdressers, massage wear, sauna products and much more…

Announcing Chocolate Kimonos, a Colour so Appetising and Delicious, You’ll Want to Take a Bite

from Caractère Paris

Chocolate Kimono with V-Neck

Caractère’s Coif’Hygiene Division would like to take this opportunity to announce the launch of a new colour of our highly popular kimono-style gown, Chocolate! This new chic and classy colour expands the already wide range of work uniforms, kimonos and gowns we offer. The new baby joins our line of existing colours: white, black, beige, dark blue, gray, red and now, last but not least, chocolate! A change of ambiance without a change of decor!

What are these kimonos, you ask — where, how and for whom are they useful?

They were designed with hair stylists and beauty salons in mind, providing total body coverage for customers receiving treatments. This relaxed and refined colour gives hairdressers a touch of calm and warmth to offer to their customers. The chocolate kimono is also available in two designs: V-neck or crew cut.

Why the option?

The V-neck design was created specially for clients receiving care in salons or beauty institutes that have to wander from one booth or room to another. The opaque material protects the client’s privacy. Created extra wide and long, it will fit virtually any body type. Plus, simply said, the V-neck looks snazzy. A pocket and belt adjusts the kimono to the perfect size for the wearer, providing an elegant silhouette.
The V-neck also responds best to the needs of the hair dresser who performs a simple wash, comb, styling and/or blow dry.

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Black Crew Neck Kimono

On the other hand, the crew neck kimono is ideal for clients receiving cuts, bleaching, dying, tinting or otherwise extensive and/or messy treatments. The front side seal allows for a comfortable and snug fit, which can be adjusted to cover the entirety of the customer’s neck and shoulders. Say goodbye to the little hairs that slide in between the folds of an unclosed robe! It is also the crew neck kimono that makes it easier to shave the client’s neck. No more need to remove the neck seal in order to finish a hair cut! This extra detail saves valuable time, makes the stylist seem more professional and ensures the client will leave the session happy and hair-free. For stylists dealing with clients with a low-set hairline, the crew neck kimono provides a maximum area of work space without having to move or reset the neck line.

Why a chocolate coloured kimono?

A warm but calm brown hints at a sense of class and style, without looking flashy or pretentious. Aside from the fashionable side, there is also the functionality of a brown kimono – it will resist stains from most hair colour dyes and tints, meaning you’ll have to change sets less often.  Plus, both male and female customers will appreciate the neutral colour of protection — no one wants to be wrapped in a candy pink suit when an adult. The chocolate colour, while being warm by nature, does not seem feminine. It also changes things from the typical black and white. It will look delightful in your salon with shades of stone, tile, wood or even beige. It will bring a touch of organic “zen,” an earthen tone that reflects respect for nature. It’s also a colour for the gourmand that will flatter their skin tone, no matter what tone!

What’s more, all of our kimonos, no matter the colour or style, come individually wrapped for perfect hygiene, and are recyclable once used. Not just green washing here — Caractère wants you and your clients to know we do our best to contribute to the principle of sustainable development. Now try a salon kimono that communicates this principle through both form and function, and that looks elegant on top of everything.