The hair comb can be an item of practically, beauty or ceremony; and throughout history it has been all of these things. Today, we might consider hair combs to be little more than a practical accessory and so we might overlook the diverse history of this item.
As you might expect, it’s impossible to pin-down an ‘inventor of the hair comb.’ Variations of the comb are evident all over the world, an early example hailing from c. 3,200 BC, pictured right. This is an exquisite example of a comb belonging to someone over 5,000 years ago. The function was probably ceremonial, as can be deemed from the intricate animal carvings aligned in rows. In particular the elephants and snakes allude to African mythology, associating these beasts with the creation of the universe. It is no wonder then that Egyptologists have associated this find with funerary decoration.
Ancient combs also served a practical function, as can be seen in China. They were initially created to rid their owner of lice, meaning they were a necessity for both rich and poor. Discovered combs have been carved from wood or ivory, showing great craftsmanship and the range of materials that could be used. As time went on, combs became more ornate and decorative, as can be seen in early modern Japan. This is also an example of women taking up the hair comb as a fashion accessory rather than a practical item.
The comb has continued to be a pretty decoration in modern society, although it might be fairer to say that it has once again become a practical item that we just use every day, and that the ceremonial aspect of combs is unique to the past. On the other hand, headdresses and other ornamentations still hold considerable cultural relevance in many cultures today, such as modern Native American Indians who still use them in weddings and other ceremonies. It may be that the comb is now only a practical necessity, but the story of ceremonial hair decorations is certainly far from over.