For females with longer hair, hair ties are one of the most useful (and easily lost) everyday items.
They are practical, easy to use and can be bought almost anywhere (for the most part… until you can’t seem to find one anywhere just when you most need it). Interestingly enough, this wearable hair accessory that we now often take for granted hasn’t been around for very long.
The design of the hair tie as we know it didn’t come around until the mid 20th century. Before the rubber boom and the invention of elastic in the 1800s, people – men, women and children – used ribbons to tie their hair:
These days, hair ties may appeal to those males who choose to rock man-buns and man-ponies, but their largest audience is still female.
What’s interesting is that hair ties started out as a predominantly male accessory. In the 1700s, men tied their wigs with ribbons, while women mainly used ribbons decoratively.
The design challenge that I imagine they must’ve come across is slip. I’ve tried tying my hair with ribbons and other ties that don’t have good friction – they don’t work well and slip off easily.
Cue in rubber. In 1821, Thomas Hancock – the “father of the rubber industry” – patented elastic fasteners. In 1845, Stephen Perry patented the rubber band. By this time, the basic materials needed for the modern hair tie were available, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that the rubber band, elastic fasteners and fabric came together to create the hair ties we know now.
Since then, hair ties have been remodeled and revamped in many ways to suit our wearable (think Scrunchies and textured ties) and social needs. Men’s wigs are no longer part of mainstream fashion and the hair tie has accommodated appropriately. It’s interesting to see how something so simple and omnipresent in today’s world was not always so integrated into society.