A short history of tiaras

I’ve always been fascinated by tiaras. If I could, I’d wear a different one for every day of the week. They are beautiful, elegant and striking pieces of jewellery, associated with glamour, wealth and status, and worn by many cultures throughout history. But where do these adornments come from, and why do we wear them?

Josephine Bonaparte

From ancient Greece to intricate crowns for English brides

Their history stretches back to antiquity, to ancient Greece and Rome. The ancient Greeks wore diadems of gold, fashioned into wreaths; the Romans also favoured this style and other floral designs, and although their headdresses were not as delicate, they made up for it in decoration and embellishment. The Romans were pioneers in the use of precious stones and as the Empire expanded, pearls, sapphires, diamonds, amethysts and emeralds became available to Roman jewellers, and as a result, tiaras became more intricate.

Etrusca tiara, inspired by antiquity

In England, the practice of wearing crowns at weddings was in place by the end of the 15th century, but it wasn’t until the late 18th century that the tiara underwent a dramatic resurgence in popularity. As with art and architecture, design was now heavily influenced by ancient Greece and Rome. The natural styles favoured by the ancient Greeks and Romans, such as the laurel wreath and other floral styles, were revived during this period and remained popular until the early 20th century.

Tiaras ‘a la Josephine’ in the 19th century French court

In France, the crowning of Napoleon Bonaparte as Emperor was to influence the course of fashion and style throughout the continent. Seeking to cement his imperial status and nobility, Napoleon established a new set of rules and etiquette, making the tiara a required accessory at court. There, the women resembled exotic birds, adorned with beautiful jewels and sparkling tiaras, worn low on the forehead (‘a la Josephine’). Some tiaras were set with antique cameos; another nod to the fashions of classical antiquity.

Amalfi tiara, inspired by the French court

Hair accessories carried secret messages of love!

The Victorians, with their secret language of fans and other forms of social etiquette, also conveyed messages through the design of their headdresses. To wear a beautiful and decorative tiara was a private, unspoken way to convey powerful messages of love. Precious stones carry special meanings, and combined with the language of flowers, each ornamental piece could carry a potent message for an admirer or loved one. Rubies symbolise passion, and amethysts, devotion; pearls are for love and emeralds signify hope; turquoise means true love, and diamonds are forever. In the language of flowers, daisies symbolise innocence, ivy signifies marriage, and roses are, of course, for love and all its meanings. A tiara adorned with a magnificent diamond rose was a declaration to the world of eternal love.

Louisa tiara...diamonds are forever!

In England, early in her reign, Queen Victoria chose to assert her sovereignty by wearing her magnificent collection of tiaras, and her styles were eagerly awaited at society functions. Sadly, after the death of Prince Albert in 1861, her wonderful tiaras were put aside in favour of a white widow’s cap.

Tiaras for married ladies and ostrich feathers for singles

It was during the reigns of Edward VII, George V and George VI, that one of the most magical events of the royal calendar took place; Their Majesty’s Courts, at which the season’s debutantes would be presented to the King and Queen. The royal couple would stand resplendent in full court dress, to receive the endless stream of young ladies either entering society or being presented at court, following their marriage. All married ladies at court were obliged to wear a tiara, and unmarried debutantes wore three ostrich feathers in their hair.

Art Deco hair accessories and tiaras

During the Art Deco period more angular styles with stars, comets and diamond fringes came into fashion and designers were increasingly influenced by the Far East, in particular Japan and China. A new fashion for shorter hairstyles in the 20s and 30s influenced the design of tiaras, which were worn across the head and secured above each ear.

Constance, in the Art Deco style

The eternal elegance of the bridal tiara

The popularity of tiaras among the nobility waned during the mid-20th century, but for many brides, they remain a crowning glory and complete a beautiful wedding ensemble. Tiaras – ethereal, feminine, romantic and graceful – will always be with us, as nothing can look as beautiful or feel as special as these dramatic jewels.

Wedding hair accessories – style options

For brides with an eye on historical fashions, these days there are so many choices and options. In recent years, gold tiaras have risen in popularity and we have seen a big shift away from the sprigged, beaded styles of the nineties and noughties.

If you love the Regency period (as many of us do!) consider wearing a gold tiara, decorated with garnets and pearls in either a wishbone style, or worn low on the forehead. Laurel and oak leaves, acorns, or other leafy designs also hark back to the 18th century, when art and design was heavily influenced by the natural styles of ancient Rome. Gold wreaths set with turquoise stones were also popular during the Regency period, a combination which symbolised the triumph of true love.

The Mary Rose tiara

The Victorians favoured deep and sumptuous colours, so any brides who want a 19th century influenced tiara should look for a piece with purple, black, or dark green crystals and beads, and cameos. To avoid looking too Gothic, if that’s not your thing, look for a piece with a few lustrous pearls in it too.

Victoria tiara, with cameo and purple crystals

If you love the natural, flowing, and leafy styles of the Art Nouveau period, consider wearing a silver alice band style or side tiara, with pearls, sparkling crystals and leafy or floral components.

Laurel tiara, in a leafy Art Nouveau style

Whichever style you choose, wear it with confidence and you will look divine!

For further reading on the history of tiaras, see Tiaras: Past and Present by Geoffrey C. Munn

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