Trends in hair colouring varied wildly in ancient history, as with all periods, undulating between a favour for deep henna tones and fair, yellowish blondes. Among ancient Greeks, however, a preference for the latter originated with one particular figure of interest. “Aphrodite, the goddess of love, was portrayed with golden hair,” writes Victoria Sherrow in Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History. “Light hair was also associated with health and youthfulness, which the Greeks admired.” By the fourth century, she continues, most Greek woman tended either to dye their hair or to dust it with colour, formulating harsh bleach-like soaps to set the colour.
In the years which followed, the association between fair hair and the goddess of love waned – in part due to its association with high-class prostitutes, called hetairai, who coloured their hair blonde, Sherrow explains; at one moment in ancient Rome it was even adopted as the tell-tale mark, as ubiquitous as the chalk price inscribed on the sole of a woman’s shoe in later years. The trend soon resurfaced, however, as it always does; when Greek culture reached Italy, during which time Roman soldiers had begun bringing fair-haired slaves back from Celtic Gaul, women took to dye again to regain their male attention from their Scandinavian competition. No expense was spared. “Wealthier people could afford to sprinkle actual gold dust on their hair to create a blond look, as did the ancient Phoenicians,” says Sherrow. Luxury indeed.