Humans have adorned their hair since time began, using shells, seeds, stones, feathers and other natural resources to accessorise in the days before Claire’s could provide us with ready-to-wear options. Some of the earliest hair beads discovered date back 76,000 years – and those perforated shells wouldn’t look out of place today.

While beads have been incorporated in hairstyles (and beards) across civilisations, they have a particularly long and meaningful heritage in Africa, where intricate adornment of the hair with beads, jewels, metal and shells has traditionally served to signify status, rank, age and occupation – as well as to beautify and reflect personal style.

Beads were transformed from a traditional identifier to a personal statement of expression in the US and UK in the 1970s, when the Black Power movement heralded a revival of African styles in the West. Icons like Baroness Floella Benjamin, Patrice Rushen and Stevie Wonder popularised beads on both sides of the Atlantic, paving the way for iconic 90s looks from Alicia Keys and Venus and Serena. Today, Solange and a whole host of Instagram hairstylists provide inspiration for expression with hair hardware in supersize shapes for totally bespoke styles. 

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