17 October 2011

Royal Splendor 101: Tiaras and Hair

Do you  know why I have such a fanatical affection for tiaras? It's the fantasy thing. (Why yes, Cinderella was my favorite fairy tale growing up, thanks for asking.) Personally, I'd be happy to imagine that these magical diadems are delicately placed atop a royal head by a troupe of wee birds chirping a merry tune. But not all of you are willing to be so naive, apparently, since the question of how exactly these things stay on comes up regularly.

In reality, ladies today are fighting an uphill battle when it comes to tiara attachment. Tiaras can be a century or two old - think how much hairstyles have changed since the initial designs were completed. Use of wigs and hairpieces used to be incredibly common, plus people didn't wash their hair all that often. All of that made it easier to wear a tiara. Also, tiara attachment isn't exactly a specialty of modern hairstylists as it once would have been. But they make it work regardless, bless 'em, and today we're talking about a few of the ways they do it.

Tiaras with full circle frames: the Delhi Durbar Tiara (left) and Princess Mary's (daughter of George V and Mary) Fringe Tiara (right)
Tiaras themselves offer some sort of assistance in terms of noggin attachment, obviously. These things are meant to be used after all. On something like a circlet, where the gems wrap all or nearly all the way around the head, attachment is pretty self-explanatory. Other tiaras may include a full circular base even if the gems are only semi-circular.
The Boucheron Honeycomb Tiara (left) and the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara (right) with their back elastics
If the frame does not encircle the entire head, an elastic can be added at the back (there are often small loops for this) to hold the tiara snugly to the head. Diana, Princess of Wales' hairdresser confessed to using a knicker elastic to get the job done. Doesn't matter what you use, it should all be concealed underneath the hair at the back of the head.

Princess Madeleine of Sweden wears the Connaught Diamond Tiara at her sister's wedding
Some tiaras have a base that can be wrapped in fabric or ribbon - something with a bit of cushion to it, preferably. This helps not only with comfort but can add some traction for use with shiny, freshly washed hair. It also gives the hairpins a better spot to hang on to, as hairpins are another obvious method of sticking a tiara to a hairdo. (As some of you noted on when we discussed Sophie's Wedding Tiara, there was a very visible pin in the close up picture.) For best results, the wrapping should match the wearer's hair color as closely as possible so as to disappear - Madeleine makes a painfully obvious example for us above while wearing a tiara customized for her mother's dark hair on her bleached blonde locks. The most attractive tiara appearances, if you ask me, are the ones that use the rest of the hair to conceal the base as completely as possible, a feat that is notably easier on longer and darker hair.
From L to R: Crown Princess Margarita of Romania's unnaturally red base sticks out from her red hair; the Princess of Wales and Queen Sofia have shorter hair which doesn't conceal bases as well; and Crown Princess Mary's flat part doesn't conceal anything
From here, it's really up to the royal hairstylist to come up with methods to get the tiara to sit attractively and securely, something that seems to be an easier task on thicker locks with more texture to them (and that's why it was a simpler feat in the days of wigs and unwashed hair).
Tiaras with braids, L to R: Princess Astrid of Belgium, Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, the Duchess of Cambridge
One sneaky tactic to help secure a tiara is to make a small braid in the hair where the tiara will sit. Braids can just be decorative, of course, but they can also be functional: they give you a secure place for sticking pins, or even for sewing the thing on. Yes, sewing it on: stitching into a hidden plait is precisely how the Duchess of Cambridge's team ensured the Halo Scroll Tiara would not fall off on her wedding day.

Queen Silvia, 2010 Nobel Prize ceremony
There's really no end to the trickery a hairstylist can come up with to get these things in place. The shot of Queen Silvia's hair at the left gives away a little hint of the understructure involved in creating what looks like an effortless 'do.

While we're killing the magic of wearing a tiara, we might as well go all the way and answer yet another common question: are tiaras uncomfortable? Yeah, sometimes. Some ladies are better suited to handling the perils of tiara wearing, while others suffer. And some tiaras are better suited to being worn than others; weights vary, and some have better capabilities to be adjusted for different head shapes.

Sweden's Nine Prong Tiara, or Queen Sophia's Diamond Tiara if you prefer, is apparently quite inflexible and can be rather uncomfortable. It certainly looked like a painful fit when the King's sister Princess Birgitta wore it to Victoria's wedding, and she apparently had problems with it staying on properly. Another uncomfortable gem in the Swedish collection is the Braganza Tiara; Queen Louise complained that it left her with a sore head and a headache. (More on this beast - including how much it actually weighs - here.)

Diana, Princess of Wales found the whole tiara-wearing experience uncomfortable. Not only was the Cambridge Lover's Knot Tiara heavy and headache-causing, the swinging pearls clanked around noisily in their arches. Part of the reason she used her family's tiara as an alternative was because it was lighter, but even that one reportedly left her with a splitting headache on her wedding day.
Comfort levels, L to R: Princess Birgitta in the Nine Prong Tiara, Queen Louise in the Braganza Tiara, the Princess of Wales in the Cambridge Lover's Knot Tiara, Queen Beatrix in Queen Emma's Diamond Tiara, Queen Elizabeth in the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara
Another royal headache victim is Queen Beatrix, and one imagines it is no coincidence that she frequently picks from the small and moderately sized tiaras in the family collection. Her favorite seems to be Queen Emma's Diamond Tiara with its small floral motif. Queen Elizabeth also has her favorites, the top of which is the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara. Among the reasons she's said to love it so: it's light. (Queen Elizabeth puts on her own tiaras, by the way. I suppose that's just another benefit of keeping the same hairstyle for decades at a time.) Too bad I'm not right about those singing birds, hmm? Just think of the variety we could have if none of this was a factor in tiara selection...

Photos: Geoffrey Munn's "Tiaras: A History of Splendour"/Polfoto/Life/Svensdam