February 13, 2008

Popular Hairstyles of the 20th Century


In the Victorian era, leading up to turn of the 20th century, women's hairstyles were fairly confined, mainly consisting of pretty up-dos that were meant to follow the lines of their dresses. In the early days of the 1900s, hairstyles exploded outwards and upwards, gaining more and more volume.

Check out the impressive volume

Hair was worn swept up into huge pompadour styles. The women used special pompadour frames to form the base of the hair and brushed and styled the hair up and over the frame. When they needed a little extra volume, they even went so far as to add hair they had saved from their brushes and combs.

An example of a hair frame

Hair was curled using curling tongs which were heated up and, if overheated, could singe the hair, as in Louisa May Alcott's book Little Women when the two oldest girls are preparing to go to a New Years Eve party:
Meg wanted a few curls about her face, and Jo undertook to pinch the papered locks with a pair of hot tongs... She did take off the papers, but no cloud of ringlets appeared, for the hair came with the papers, and the horrified hairdresser laid a row of little scorched bundles on the bureau before her victim. 'Oh, oh, oh! What have you done? I'm spoilt! I can't go! My hair, oh, my hair!' wailed Meg, looking with dispair at the uneven frizzle on her forehead.
This time period also saw the introduction of perms. The first perms could take up to 12 hours to complete. Women had to sit with their heads attached to the permanent wave machine and covered with chemicals. This was not a process for the faint of heart.

An example of an early permanent wave machine

These elaborate hairstyles were popular as a result of the enormous, wide-brimmed hats that were en vogue at the time.

Later, in the second decade of the 20th century, the focus shifted to the vertical height of the hat rather than the width of the brim. Hats appeared to hover on the hair, but were actually held up by the elaborate hairstyle and the pompadour frame.

The hats were also heavily adorned with ribbons, flowers and feathers that were arranged to further emphasize the vertical lines that were considered so stylish.

Alcott, L. M. Little Women. Middlesex, England: Puffin Classics, p.34-35.

Fashion Era.com
With special thanks to Sensibility.com for the great pictures.

The Bob

The bob hairstyle was first introduced in the mid 1910s when popular ballroom dancer Irene Castle bobbed her hair for convenience before being admitted to hospital for an appendectomy. The style appealed to women who, in the spirit of the roaring twenties wanted to escape the confines of the overly elaborate styles that were popular earlier in the century.

Irene Castle

The new bobbed cut took off with a bang. Women everywhere were invading barber shops, previously the domain of men, and demanding to have their hair cut off.

The bob was quickly adopted as the symbol of everything that was going wrong with society. Bobbed women smoked in public, drank and did any number of equally unseemly things. According to Michael Warner on the Hair Archives website, "Preachers warned parishioners that 'a bobbed woman is a disgraced woman.' Men divorced their wives over bobbed hair. One large department store fired all employees wearing bobbed hair."

Whether or not to bob their hair became the question of the decade for women. Often women who had their hair bobbed would keep the cut-off hair to hide their new style. Even the harbinger of the bob style, Irene Castle said, "I tried to cover up my clipped head by wearing, whenever I appeared in public, a tight turban or toque under which I tucked every spear of hair except some little square sideburns."

The bob style of the 1920s was cut bluntly to the length of the bottom of the ears and worn either with bangs or brushed to the side. As the 20s progressed the style grew even shorter and more boyish, with a shingled back (which according to wiki means the hair at the neck is razor cut very short in a v-shape).

By the end of the 1920s short hair for women had become much more acceptable to society at large, just in time for women to turn away from the boyish styles of the 20s and embrace their femininity with the longer, sexier styles of the 1930s.

History Matters
Hair Archives.com
Photos courtesy of Wikipedia

Waves, Rolls and Curls

The Great Depression in the 1930s and WWII in the 1940s both had an effect on women's hairstyles. The styles were longer, smoother and more elegantly feminine.

During the Great Depression, because people were often unable to afford luxuries they were heavily invested in having their hair look perfect. Every lock in place.


Hair was generally worn around shoulder length, carefully curled and styled close to the head. According to Hairfinder.com, 1930s hair was all about waves and curls:
You would have seen diagonal waves in the back of a head, with small tiny flat curls above and below the waves. There would have been attractively set pin curls nestled around a wave and a cluster of rolls. Sometimes, you would have seen waves begin from the top of the ladies head and go all the way down until they are met with a cluster of pin curls.

1930s Waves and Curls

Women also started bleaching and tinting their hair during the 1930s, following the example of several of the popular film stars of the time, like Jean Harlow, who was known as "the blond bombshell".

In response to the rationing of clothing during the war, women's hairstyles in the 1940s became much more elaborate and complicated. Hair was also worn longer than in the 30s, with the popular length falling just past the shoulders.

The style that is probably most closely associated with the 1940s is victory rolls, in which the hair was rolled up and pinned in tubes on top of the head.

Victory Rolls

Another popular style of the 30s and 40s was the snood, which is sort of like a hammock for your hair worn at the back of your neck.

A snood. It matches her dress very stylishly.

Here's a cute video on how to create your own 1940s victory rolls in under 5 minutes:

Hair in the 1950s was worn short, smooth and soft.

Curls were popular and many women were willing to go to great lengths to achieve a "natural looking" curl. They would either sleep in curlers or pin rolls or they would resort to very uncomfortable and chemically-yucky perms. Hair was only worn straight in ponytails, which were brushed back, secured with unwrapped elastics and decorated with a scarf.

1959 Coton Casual Barbie. I want one.

1930s pictures from hairstyles.1930s-fashions.co.uk
1940s pictures from hairstyletwist.com
1950s picture from Fiftiesweb.com
Barbie picture from Highheelsnewsletter.com

Anything Goes
Hairstyles in the 1960s showed far more variety in length and cut than earlier in the 20th century. Hair ranged from beehives and bouffants, to short twiggy-style haircuts, to the long, loose, swinging hair favored by hippies.

Hippy hair at the Woodstock Festival, 1969

You can see some great examples of bouffants and beehives and big smooth curls in this trailer for Hairspray:

Short hair was revolutionized by Vidal Sassoon in the 1960s when he introduced his 5-point geometric bob. This style was hugely popular and was even sported by super-star model, Twiggy.

Vidal Sassoon, 5 point cut

Woodstock picture from Alternative Film Guide (altf.com)
Vidal Sassoon picture from loti.com

Au Naturel

The style for hair in the 1970s was for it to look as natural as possible. Hair was worn long for the most part. For the first time straight hair was stylish and girls and women would take turns carefully ironing each other's hair to get it stick-straight.

Some important and influential 1970s hair celebrities are Dorothy Hamill for short hair and Farrah Fawcett and Bo Derek for long hair.

Dorothy Hamill's hair was cut in a short wedge style when she won the gold at the 1976 Olympics. The style, which was invented at Vidal Sassoon by Trevor Sorbie in 1974, quickly became popular.

Bo Derek wore her hair in tight braids, called cornrows, in the 1979 movie, 10.

Farah Fawcett wore her hair in long, loose curls that flipped out at the ends. This is probably the most easily recognizable hair from the 1970s.

The 1970s also saw the birth of the punk subculture, which gave rise to many creative hairstyles, including the mohawk.

Picture of Farah Fawcett from jamd.com
Picture of Bo Derek from imdb.com
Picture of Dorothy Hamill from achievement.org

The Big Frizz

You only need one word to describe hair in the 80s, and that word is 'big'. Hair in the 1980s was worn long, often permed with high, teased bangs. An extreme form of this style was "metal hair" worn by various heavy-metal bands and many of their fans.

Jon Bon Jovi's great metal hair

Crimping was popular to give hair a bumpy, wavy look without having to perm it. Other odd 80s hair trends include the rattail and the mullet, or as we call it in Canada, "Hockey Hair".

Hockey hair

Asymmetrical styles also became popular in the 80s. Three examples of how 80s hair rocked the asymmetrical style: Cutting one side of the hair shorter than the other, having one side shaved and the other long, or the side ponytail (an 80s favorite).

New wave also made itself known in the 80s with some very out-there hair. The band Flock of Seagulls was behind this trend. The lead singer, Mike Score's hair, with its flipped-up sides and triangle of bangs, was especially influential and has been referenced many times in pop culture since. You can witness this glorious creation for yourself in this Flock of Seagulls video:

Pictures from 80srewind.net


Celebrity Copy-Cat

Hair in the 1990s was all about shiny, smooth volume. The frizzy look that made the 80s was definitely out by the time the 90s rolled around. People were inspired more and more by the hairstyles they saw in the media, especially those worn by supermodels and actresses.

Probably the best-known and most fondly remembered 90s hair trend was The Rachel. Inspired by Jennifer Aniston's character on the hit TV sitcom Friends it was a shoulder length cut with layers and volume. You can enjoy The Rachel on this bloopers reel from season 2 of friends:

Other popular styles of the 90s include a short, messy shag, inspired by Meg Ryan and big, long, natural-looking bedroom hair as seen on many of the supermodels of the day.

Cindy Crawford and Her Amazing Bedroom Hair

Picture of Cindy Crawford from voodoo.cz

Refs used in all sections:

Disclaimer: Due to time and space constraints, this look at hair is very narrowly focused and does not include a multi-ethnic or multi-gendered look at popular hairstyles.

That's it for now. Hope you liked it. Do you have a favorite 20th century hairstyle?

Any comments, queries or suggestions?
Thanks for reading! Kisses!



SaraLynn said...

Fantastic post! I love the pompadour style. I have never heard of them using a hair frame before. Very informative. What were people thinking in the 80's with the frizzy hair?? Glad that has passed! I like the older hairstyles, very elegant.
Thanks so much! ~sara

SaraLynn said...

I saw some self-staying rollers at the store. I may have to try them! My hair is naturally straight, so it needs some help!

[H]ang [H]ollister™ said...

Some of the earlier hairstyles seem a bit bland to me, although in my styles I do love to incorporate a bit of Victorian influence ^_^

Have a read of my hair blog at http://alternativehairstyles.blogspot.com