A History of the Headdress

"Tiara wearing is joyous, fun, and feminine"

It could never be definitively stated when the first person decided to place an ornament on their head - but being always on show, the head is an obvious place to place something that denotes joy, wealth or status, but the first known recorded or tangible items of head-jewellery have been found on Egyptian mummies and to this day, the Roman laurel-wreath head-dress is given to winners in the garlands (now worn around the neck) displayed by winning F1 racing drivers.

It could be that Marie Antoinette, with her huge beehive up-do's showcasing precious jewels, may be the fore-running innovator for the modern tiara; crowns and coronets have long been worn by heads of state indicating power and status and these are recorded into antiquity, the story of King Henry VIII's ancestor Henry Tudor finding the crown of Richard III in a hawthorn bush and claiming kingship demonstrates the symbolism of crowns.
The design of the tiara as opposed to the crown could be suggested by the wearing of ornaments such as necklaces or brooches in the hair of fashionable women...it is not a large leap of imagination to consider a court jeweller combining such jewellery into a band for easier wearing.

The changes in time in hairstyles and head-dresses relate to the complexity of the social dictums of different courts; Marie Antoinette reflected the news of the time by referencing contemporary events in her hairstyle and ornaments - take for instance the famous 'ship' coiffure.

Marie Antoinette and her 'Ship' Coiffure - perhaps the most whimsical tiara in the world??

Above - Ladies of High Fashion

Despite all her wealth and status, at her marriage to Prince Albert in 1847, Queen Victoria wore a wreath of simple orange blossom and wax flowers...the wearing of flowers and simple jewels rather than those of state seeming to signify romance and innocence. Just like the manner in which Prince Albert established the custom of bringing a Christmas Tree into one's home, it could be argued that this wedding was the starting point of bridal headwear (and also the start of the tradition of the wearing of white by a bride - before this a bride would simply wear her best dress), at a time when jewellery spelt out hidden meanings and flowers had their own language, this was a time of high romance.

Above - Queen Victoria in Her Bridal Finery

Above - Victoria in a Kokoshnik style tiara

Victoria was not only influential in the colour of her wedding dress and the simplicity of her bridal head-dress; when her beloved husband's life was cut short, she went into deep mourning for the remainder of her life which ensued the wearing of black jewellery and black tiaras - bog oak, Whitby jet, enamel and cut steel were some of the materials used, as the cult of mourning seemed to take over the entire way of Victorian life.

Above: Empress Queen Victoria in old age

Whilst a bride might opt at the time of her wedding for simplicity and that might be the only time in her life when she might wear a circlet or tiara, court jewellery was abundantly magnificent, sparkling rose cut diamonds mixed with stunning sapphires, ruby and emeralds, every woman of means and title would have a number of tiaras and crowns to wear to glittering social occasions; many of these would be periodically broken down and remade into new designs as fashions changed and many of these same tiaras or crowns would be in fact made of several elements which could be disassembed and worn as necklaces, earrings and brooches before being put back together as the tiara - can you imagine the fuss which may have ensued if a piece was lost at a ball?
When considering the wearing of tiaras and head-dresses it is worth remembering the importance of jewels of Indian Princes who wore astonishing adornments pinned to their head-wear, the influence of coloured stones such as emeralds, rubies and sapphires from these parts are evident in the crown jewels of today and all these pieces would be no-where as magnificent without the influence of colour.

Equally influential was the Russian and Eastern European royal families who traditionally wore a flattering face-framing band or tiara which was named 'kokoshnik', again the input of colour rather than a traditional blaze of diamonds can perhaps be said to be the abiding influence of this culture; court jewellers such as Faberge are noted for their innovative use of colour and enamelling in jewellery.

Above and Below - Kokoshnik style tiara

Before the first world war, tiaras were still de rigueur however the social upheaval at the time caused many of these beautiful gems to be quietly put away until different times came; when so many had given their lives, the obvious flaunting of wealth by the wearing of a superfluous jewel was considered slightly dangerous. Brides took to wearing head-dresses made of lace, of flowers, or perhaps just a veil.

A brief period of sparkling brightness occurred during the twenties when hair jewels were back in vogue and alongside the beading and glamour of the dresses, long flapper style necklaces and bandeau of silk with a brooch of glittering and beautiful intensity might have been pinned in the hair.

Alongside the evocative jewels of the Art Deco period, austerity and financial ruin caused by the stock market crash in the 1930's must have led many leading families to quietly sell their jewels and tiaras which would more than likely have been broken down into their component parts of precious metals and jewels and have been recycled into more affordable gems - we will never know how many important jewels were subjected to this fate.

The 30's, 40's and 50's, effectively war years again gave way to radical social change - whilst men were dying on far off shores, jewelled magnificence was rarely glimpsed other than at social and state occasions such as the crowning of Queen Elizabeth which gave rise to an occasion resplendent with ermine and diamonds - though the average bride at this time would be wearing a hat with a veil rather than a jewelled headpiece, and so tiaras fell out of favour - 1958 saw the last debutantes presented at court, the last formal wearing of tiaras for presentation to the queen whilst wearing white dresses, impressive jewels and white feathers ended for ever.

The 1960's and 1970's were periods of swinging modernity, where a bride would often wear white leather knee boots with her white mini wedding dress, where short hair and simplicity measured the fashions of the day - could you imagine the bride's horror if something as old, as ornamented as a tiara had been mentioned? Fashion was looking forward rather than backwards, and everything old was out.

The 1980's brought a return to glamour, power suits, high hair and big, big jewels brought back glittering fashion and it was not unusual to see brides returning to large, lace trimmed style dresses, huge and opulent wedding bouquets, the outfit being finished off with a sparkling Swarovski or (for the lucky few) a family heirloom diamond tiara; the defining moment of 1980's bridal tiaras was the 1981 wedding of Diana Spencer to the Prince of Wales.

Above and below - Diana

Although the 1990's seemed to be bent on rejecting the high living of the 1980's and young women were seen wearing 'grunge', almost as a antedote to the grey utilitarian day to day fashion, wedding wear did not reflect this and brides often wore sophisticated, costly sleek satin dresses of cream and white, the wearing of a sparking head-dress was a natural accessory.

Today, the wearing of colour in wedding dresses, in bouquets, in head-dresses is not frowned on - where a woman in Victorian days would wear her best dress whether it be green, blue or pink, today's bride will not balk at wearing a dress which might include black brocade, or a corset of green velvet with her cream satin skirts...this offers the tiara designer ultimate leeway, no longer must tiaras be silver or gold with a few sparkles, often the addition of colour can signify a special meaning to the bride and her family.

Head-dresses have come full circle, styles and shapes and colours are constantly evolving, tiaras today are the treasured memento of a special day, being passed on to sister, best friend or daughter along the way.

My own creative evolution has progressed from formal silver and gold on to what I consider the most meaningful of all of this head-dress - the incorporation of vintage or antique pieces of jewellery, sometimes several pieces in one head-piece; my 'Heirloom Tiaras'.
Because of the vagaries of obtaining such jewellery, each one is individual - I especially love to consider the woman how has loved and worn the original piece, who has treasured and preserved it until the present day when it finds its way into my hands, and from there in the form of a future heirloom as a tiara.

Above - Flora Heirloom Tiara

Tiara - Dictionary Definition: –noun
1. A jewelled, ornamental coronet worn by women.
2. Roman Catholic Church. a head-piece consisting of three coronets on top of which is an orb and a cross, worn by the pope, or carried before him during certain non-liturgical functions.
3. The position, authority, and dignity of the pope.
4. A high headdress, or turban, worn by the ancient Persians and others.

Origin: 1545–55; headdress - a kind of turban

Interesting web sites:

Books you may find informative: Munn, Geoffrey C, Tiaras Past and Present
Munn, Geoffrey C, Tiaras A History of Splendour
Scarisbrick, Diana, Tiara

All Content, Design, Text and Photographs Copyright Stephanie Lewis-Cooper
www.beadaddict.com, www.tiaraonline.co.uk, www.slcdesigns.com™, 2002-2009