Although the bun hairstyle is synonymous with ballet, it owes its origins to the women of Ancient Greece, who created a hairstyle now known as the Greek knot. A simple, low-lying bun knotted at the back of the neck, it was typically adorned with jewellery as a status symbol for wealthy Greek women.
The bun would re-emerge into fashionable society during the Regency period of the 1800s. Anyone familiar with film adaptations of Jane Austen books will recognise the elegant bun hairstyles that were popular amongst middle- and upper-class women. Regency England was crazy for the Classical aesthetic, and imitated the fashion and hairstyles of ancient Greek and Rome. Women began wearing their long hair up in a bun, but lifting it higher than the Greek knot, positioning it at the back of the head.
The bun’s crowning moment came in the Victorian period. The 19th century saw many variations of the bun. “Apollo’s knot” was popular during the 1820s and 1830s, and consisted of a middle-parted, high-sitting bun, complimented with corkscrew curls around the face and ears. Another popular variation of the bun called “La Chinoise” resembled Princess Leia’s famous hairstyle in Star Wars.
The “Victoria”, after Queen Victoria, was a more subdued bun hairstyle that reflected a sombre and serious Victorian England. Two braids on either side of the temples were attached to a simpler bun at the back of the head, and hung as loops around the ears. With Queen Victoria’s influence, the bun became a more sleek and severe hairstyle that is typically associated with the stereotype of a “repressed” Victorian society. In all of these variations, however, the bun was an important symbol of class distinction for many women, and a reflection of the times.
As the Victorian bun transformed into the looser and more natural “Gibson Girl” buns of the 1890s, the bun’s dominance was also coming to an end. Fashionable ladies would abandon their elaborate dos for the freedom of the 1920s bob. And yet, the allure of the bun remains strong today, and it still emerges in fashion, signalling a classic kind of cool. In ballet, of course, it never went away.