A hair pin or hairpin is a long device used to hold a person's hair in place. It may be used simply to secure long hair out of the way for convenience or as part of an elaborate hairstyle or coiffure. The earliest evidence for dressing the hair may be seen in carved "venus figurines" such as the Venus of Brassempouy and the Venus of Willendorf. The creation of different hairstyles, especially among women, seems to be common to all cultures and all periods and many past, and current, societies use hairpins.
Hairpins made of metal, ivory, bronze, carved wood, etc. were used in ancient Assyria and Egypt for securing decorated hairstyles. Such hairpins suggest, as graves show, that many were luxury objects among the Egyptians and later the Greeks, Etruscans, and Romans. Major success came in 1901 with the invention of the spiral hairpin by New Zealand inventor Ernest Godward. This was a predecessor of the hair clip.
The hairpin may be decorative and encrusted with jewels and ornaments, or it may be utiliarian, and designed to be almost invisible while holding a hairstyle in place.
Some hairpins are a single straight pin, but modern versions are more likely to be constructed from different lengths of wire that are bent in half with a u-shaped end and a few kinks along the two opposite portions. The finished pin may vary from two to six inches in final length. The length of the wires enables placement in several styles of hairdos to hold the style in place. The kinks enable retaining the pin during normal movements.
A hairpin patent was issued to Kelly Chamandy in 1925.
In addition to displaying the status of women hairpins were, and still are, an important symbol in Chinese culture. In ancient China, the use of hairpins was an important part of a girl's life. There would commonly be a rite of passage when any girl reached fifteen years of age. Before fifteen they were just girls or children but at fifteen years old they could be treated as adults. This was called the “Hairpin initiation” or “笄禮”. Before the age of fifteen, girls did not use hairpins but rather wore their hair in braids. When they were over fifteen years old they were considered women and combed their hair into a bun, secured by hairpins. The symbolic meaning of this was that she could now enter into marriage. This was three years earlier than the males in that society who underwent a "hat ceremony" at the age of eighteen. Thus, hairpins played an important role in the rite of passage from child to woman. They were also connected closely with marriage. Hair has always been important in Chinese psychology. The Chinese call a married couple “結髮夫妻”, which means the relationship between husband and wife is just like they tie their hair together. Clearly, the matrimonial ceremony always focused a great deal on the hair of the two sexes and hairpins played a very important role in the lives of women in classical Chinese society.
At the time of an engagement, the fiancée took a hairpin from her hair and gave it to her fiancé as a pledge. This was a reversal of the Western tradition of the potential groom presenting his betrothed with a ring. After the wedding ceremony the husband put the hairpin back into his new wife’s hair. Some Chinese couples used an exchange of a lock of hair as a pledge, while others broke a hairpin into two parts. Each of the betrothed took one part. When they met again in the future they could put the two halves together again as proof of their identities and as a symbol of their reunion.
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