Until around the 1960s, a woman’s hair was in a word abused. No matter what style of hair was in vogue a lady was relegated to forcing her hair into one shape or another. The water waves style popular pre-World War I and into the 1920s called Marcelling after stylist Marcel Grateau, used hot curling tongs to burn a wave into a lady’s hair. This caused beauty parlors to smell like singeing stations as hair was mercilessly manipulated to create the en rouge style of the day. Homemade dyes were the standard, and wigs and hairpieces, casinos, and pads were the rage all through the 1960s, just like hair extensions, and weaves are today. Back then just like today, they were used to achieve fullness and volume.
The discovery of the permanent wave by a German Karl Ludwig Nessler in 1906. Back then the hair was treated with an alkaline solution then wrapped in metal curlers and subjected to high heat. From start to finish six hours later with corrosion and burning the procedure was complete. Electricity then replaced the hot curlers so one was genuinely in danger of being shocked as opposed to just burned. To his credit, Nessler also invented artificial eyebrows and the perm eventually became a worldwide sensation reaching its apex during the 1980s when everyone seemed to have one.
Grey hair also became very fashionable in the late 1800s with women who were prematurely grey being considered very attractive and those who had not yet gone grey used powder to simulate the effect. My how times have changed.
The 1920s also gave us the end of the Pompadour hairstyle and women soon began to make the trip to the hairdresser to get their hair cut, the newest styles being the Bobbed variety. Shorter hair which was not considered respectable became the in style. That however did not last and in the 1930s long hair came back. Curls and waves were the rage as was the platinum blonde look made famous by Jean Harlow.
By the 1940s mid to long hair was the style worn by ladies like Veronica Lake and Lauren Bacall. By this time (actually 1948) the cool perm had been invented so that you were no longer cooked to death but a chemical solution was applied and the hair just warmed ad subsequently fixed.
The 1950s saw hairspray become available to the masses, ensuring that the high teased do’s of the time remained in suspension. Hair dyes flooded the market and other systems for permanents were brought to market. This is only one side of the story as a counter-movement that favors natural looks also was present. The ponytail look was popularized by Audrey Hepburn and was copied by an entire generation of ladies.
Some women chose to go with very short hairstyles that required little or no preparation also took hold. Basically, this was the catalyst for the fractionation of the fashion world making it socially acceptable to do your own thing and follow what you thought looked best on you. Vidal Sassoon pioneered the Five-Point-Cut which showed the world that hair could look gorgeous without hours of styling and that with the expertise of an accurate cut, one could look great and just needed a shampoo along with a quick comb-through in the morning. This natural look revival again led to women wearing their hair longer.
From the 1950s look to the 1960s longer more natural hair look a hairdresser named George Michael in New York took the helm of a movement that would let women trust in their hairdressers to have patience with their hair allowing the time and patience needed to allow the hair to grow instead of cutting it or cutting it along with allowing it to get longer. In fact, hip and even knee-length hair was not an anomaly. This longer natural style worked its way into the 1970s when hair was usually worn long with a part in the center or side parting as well. Also popular was the gypsy cut which was wavy, the shag cut which was layered, and the flicked cut popular because it looked as if you has wings at the sides of the hair. Platinum-colored hair was back from the Jean Harlow days pioneered by Debbie Harry of Blonde. The large afro was worn by blacks, white people with naturally curly hair also wore it picked out and large as did people who decided to get a perm and also sport the bigger hair look. When the disco era came to an end so did the longer bigger hairstyles which led to the punk era with very short hair or even Mohawks for some.
Before long the 1980s were upon us and the mullet, Jheri curls, and even flat tops and hi-top fades became fashionable. Women had big hair held up by spray like Aqua Net and Dep. Perms were a way to ensure you had big hair and the glam and metal music of the time took the long hair of the 1970s and styled it with the product and gave it volume and a look rather than just drooping down. Dynasty and other television shows helped to popularize high-volume bouffant and the glamour that came with it.
In the 1990s we saw the decade start with the remnants of the 1980s with the big curly sprayed style starting the decade very strong. High-sided ponytails with scrunchies were popular as well as bangs in the poofy style. The pixie-style haircut and the Jennifer Aniston (darker hair with highlights) style became very popular. Burgundy became very popular as a hair color as well as feathers bangs and small hair buns. The bob cut came back again popularized by Victoria Beckham with center, side, or zig-zag parting.
At the turn of the millennium, we began to see long straight hair for women. Chunky highlights popularized by Kelly Clarkson were popular and both sexes highlighted their hair throughout the decade. A looser wavy hairstyle became popular later in the decade with the majority going for plain, straight simple, and natural hairstyles. Hair extensions made a comeback from the 1950s and 1960 but were more in keeping with the times. This helped women’s hair look fuller and of course longer.
Into 2010 and beyond straight and wavy were the hairstyles that were most popular, braiding became all the rage because of television shows like The Hunger Games. By 2013 shorter styles were again back in featuring the old standby the pixie cut, the bob, or the undercut. The Ombre style became very popular, which means that the hair starts out dark and becomes slighter as it goes to the tips. Also, colored hair in nonhair colors became very popular such ch as bright red, blue, and purple. Braids with two or even three different colors especially with black women became and still are in 2023 very popular. Box braids and corn rows since the 2010s till now are popular.
Today and forward we see the world cut as being very chic and because of the pandemic, many women grew their hair out and began taking a more active role in their own haircare. Curtain nags, hair extensions, pigtails, ponytails french braids, and the shaggy look all made a resurgence. Partially shaved hair on the sides became a very popular way to style for women as does the pixie cut and as women move forward into the rest of the decade it seems that rather than following fashion women are styling their hair in a way that they like, which flatters them as opposed to following trends for the most part. Though we have only come into the mid-2020s there is still a lot of the decade left and who knows what will be the next big thing. We will just have to wait and see.
Mme V. Fontaine (Fashion Blogger for ChicChicChic.com)
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