We have many ways of expressing our personality and individualism through how we dress, yet few statements about our character could be more telling than our hair! As the wheels of history move forward, changing social norms define how our lovely locks can look — and what they should say. What hair trend was most popular when you were born, and what was it trying to achieve?
1. 2015: Undercut
Once upon a time, the act of ladies shaving off a part of their head was relegated strictly to the world of punk rock, and the rest of society looked at them and marveled. But by the mid-2010s, a new hair trend emerged as victorious, and what’s more, it was a rare instance of a hairstyle becoming accepted by both genders.
This edgy hairstyle hinges on the sharp contrast between lengths of hair, so the wearer keeps part of their hair noticeably long, while shaving off entirely a part of the side of their head, the back, or both. If the non-shaved part is long enough, it can be swept to one side to show off that buzzcut!
2. 2010: Ombré
Finally, brunettes get to have some fun too! By the end of the first decade of the new millennium, ombré had spread like wildfire among women in and out of the entertainment business. The beauty of it lay in its simplicity: it’s not a particular haircut, but rather a color.
Ombré means ‘shaded’ in French, and the style isn’t about having two colors in your hair, brunette and blonde, but rather the transition from brown roots to bleached tips. The result is like dipping your hair in some frosting, and a whole slew of A-list celebrities went absolutely wild for it.
3. 2005: Crimping
Believe it or not, but the crimping iron as we know it today was actually invented back in the early 1970s, intended for use on Barbra Streisand’s hair! But it took until the first years of the new millennium for this textured hair trend to really begin to gather traction among female celebrities.
Here, pop singing legend Christina Aguilera is using her hair to show a shift in the direction of her career, as her songs and look became more mature and full-fledged, and she’s saying it with a crimp. The crimping iron has plates in a sequence of S-shaped grooves, singeing the hair into this wavy pattern.
4. 2000: Bleaching
As the world held its breath and then realized we had all survived Y2K, everyone could breathe a sigh of relief — though, not too deeply, as the air still reeked of hydrogen peroxide. It just so happened that many of the major musical artists popular at the time were boldly, brightly blonde.
The boy-band and girl-band fad was at its absolute zenith. Groups like Backstreet Boys, N*SYNC, and Spice Girls all had at least one blonde member — whether that hair color was natural or not. Even hip-hop stars like Sisqó and Eminem got in on the fun, and for those who didn’t want to dye it all, there was always the option of frosted tips.
5. 1995: The Rachel
The TV sitcom Friends remains to this day one of the most successful and widely-viewed television shows in history, and one particular phenomenon was sparked as a direct result: that most quintessential of ’90s hair trends, The Rachel. Not since Farrah Fawcett’s flip on Charlie’s Angels had a TV character sent so many women to the salon.
The popularity of The Rachel is a true testament to how rapidly the series became iconic, as actress Jennifer Aniston’s character Rachel Green only actually sported the look during the first two seasons. But no matter how instantly recognizable the swooping locks framing her face became, Aniston admits she wasn’t wild about the hairstyle.
6. 1990: Hi-Top Fade
As hip-hop continued to climb into the mainstream of the music world and Western pop culture, the wild and experimental hair styles that its performers sported became more and more common. Jheri curls were on their way out, but people with kinky hair found ways to express their uniqueness.
Through music videos on television, hip-hop artists could showcase their inventive hairstyles with a wider audience than ever before. Tapers and fades in hair became the hair trend of the times, and the style that certainly stood out above the rest (literally) was the hi-top fade. Here, Christopher Reid from the duo Kid ‘n Play flaunts his lofty signature hairdo.
7. 1985: Perms
They say if you can remember Woodstock, you weren’t really there. And as for the 1980s, if you don’t remember the ubiquitous sharp aroma of hairspray, then you truly couldn’t claim to have actually been there! Perms were practically inescapable in 1985, so much so that the look even spawned its own music genre: hair metal.
Whether it was big and spiky, poofed out like a poodle, blown to one side, or whether it was on a lady or a gentleman, you could be certain of one thing: hairspray cans were certainly getting plenty of attention. Here, singer Cyndi Lauper is demonstrating that girls not only want to have fun: they want their giant hairstyle to express their artistry.
8. 1980: Spiky
After the punk revolution swept the music world in the late ’70s, so too did their dramatic, multi-colored mohawks and gel-spiked hair. The look challenged audiences to rethink conventional notions of beauty. It also generated a new subculture: the goth.
More often than not, the guys and girls that sported this look in the early ’80s were fans of either of the genres of alternative rock music. You could see this porcupine of a look being wielded by rock band frontwomen like Siouxsie Sioux and Joan Jett. Just no sudden movements around those hard spikes: you might put an eye out!
9. 1975: The Afro
In the wake of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States and the massive strides that the nation had finally taken to give full freedoms to its African-American citizens, a sense of liberation could be internalized — and worn on the outside. Many African-Americans were tired of being told to tame or hide their naturally kinky hair.
Allowing your hair to grow into an afro was not only a political statement, but a declaration of being. In the late ’60s, afros were kept relatively coiffed and trimmed, but as time went on, the size kept on expanding. To keep the hair in order required a pick, a comb, and the occasional scissor trim. This look was championed by stars such as Clarence Williams III on Mod Squad, political radical Angela Davis, and blaxploitation film heroine Pam Grier.
10. 1970: Long Hair
The cultural upheaval and generational rebirth that characterized the 1960s came to a peak towards the decade’s end. Popular music was reaching a far wider audience than ever before, politics were stormy to say the least, and people were all too eager to radically shift the social norms. So what was truly the easiest way to liberate yourself? To let your hair go wild!
Men and women in the Woodstock Era and its aftermath grew out their hair in spite of what conventions had previously dictated to them. The term ‘longhairs’ emerged to describe the zeitgeist of an entire generation, as viewed with disdain from their elders. But the youth fought back, and the musical Hair about letting their freak flag fly took the arts world by storm.
11. 1965: The Vidal Sassoon
By the mid ’60s, individual hairstylists were known across the world for the looks associated with their name. Londoner Vidal Sassoon began experimenting with the length and geometry of hair, and the way it could inhabit and frame the face. His signature cuts were known for allowing women to maintain their femininity while wearing their hair in ways that had previously been relegated to young boys only.
Another look was the very short-cut Pixie, popularized by superstar model Twiggy and Laugh-In comic actress Goldie Hawn. And just as women finally had the social space to play with shortening their hair length, men’s hair began to go the opposite direction.
12. 1960: The Beehive
Having long hair is another avenue for expressing oneself, but it can get rather hot on the back of your neck underneath all those lovely locks. The beehive was an alternative hair trend, one that said, why wear your hair only down, when you could instead have it piled high up!
Girl group The Ronettes perfected and helped to popularize the beehive. Ladies hadn’t sported hairdos quite this big and boisterous in centuries. Now in place of powdered wigs, carefully-crafted hair mountains sat atop women’s heads, sometimes wigs sometimes natural. And of course, they bore more than a passing resemblance to the home of everyone’s favorite honey-producing insect.
13. 1955: The Bouffant
As the Golden Age of Hollywood came to a close, actors and actresses were by definition the fashion icons of their day. If your favorite film star wore it, whether on screen or in magazines, then that’s precisely how you would want to dress, too.
After World War II, an influx of European film stars came to Hollywood, bringing the height of Continental fashion along with them. Here, Italian icon and Oscar-winning actress Sophia Loren sports a bouffant, a hair trend known for its dramatic use of volume and combed into perfection. As hair’s height continued to rise, the beehive would be born.
14. 1950: The Pompadour
It’s springy, it’s flipped, and it’s just so emblematic of the 1950s that they made an entire movie musical surrounding the generous amounts of hair grease needed to keep it aloft (no prizes for guessing which one!). Ladies and gentlemen, we present you with that most iconic of looks: the pompadour.
Combed up on the sides with a party in the front, this look would be popularized by such stars as Little Richard, Elvis Presley, and James Dean. Here, actor Tony Curtis demonstrates his chops with a comb, alongside Hollywood starlet wife Janet Leigh. Of course, this particular hair trend had its detractors, who snickered that it reminded them of a duck’s rear end.
15. 1945: Victory Rolls
Just the sight of these carefully-coiled rolls is enough to set off the tunes of a brassy big band and make your feet ready to swing the night away. Associated with the World War II-era, victory rolls were not only a stylish hair trend, but were born out of function.
With the war effort sending a jolt to the American economy, an unprecedented amount of women joined the workforce while the men of their generation went off to war. By setting their hair up with rollers, women could keep long hair out of their face as they worked, and let it down in the evenings after their shift for a night on the town.
16. 1940: Long Bob
If women in the ’20s proved to the world that they could keep their femininity even with short hair, the women of the ’30s showed that they could love and embrace their long locks without pinning them up, taming them, or hiding them. Hair didn’t have to be shortened to perfectly frame the face.
Curly-haired and straight-haired alike, women kept their hair tidy, parted, and flat on top, allowing their locks to bounce down the sides of their face. This became the dominant hair trend among big-name actresses from both sides of The Pond, notably flaunted by such names as Barbara Stanwyck, Vivien Leigh, Marlene Dietrich, and Joan Crawford.
17. 1935: Tight Curls
The early 1930s were a strange and difficult time in history. On the one hand, the effects of the Great Depression left thousands deeply poor, hungry, and unemployed. On the other hand, the Hays Code had not yet clamped down on Hollywood — which meant films and their stars were freer than ever before to explore what it meant to be sexy.
For a brief period of time, women on film were allowed to be bawdy, dangerous, even criminal, and it could be celebrated. Now, short hair was granted more volume, more bounce, curve, and allure. Stars like Jean Harlow and Mae West made these tight curls practically synonymous with having unapologetically sharp wit and undeniable appeal.
18. 1930: The Pageboy
There would be several waves of popularity for the hair trend dubbed “the Pageboy”, the first of which began with the advent of sound motion pictures. The look was likely named for the way pageboys were portrayed in Medieval art: with straight hair that framed the face and was curled inward at the ends.
Though the look was simple and austere, it was a clear break from the options for women’s hair that had existed previously: either clipped short as a flapper may desire, or in some way pinned and restrained. If this look was unforgettable on Swedish imported starlet Greta Garbo, compare it to several decades later, when the very young Beatles and Rolling Stones would give it a try.
19. 1925: Marcel Wave
Similar to a finger wave but using a slightly different technique, the hair trend known as Marcelling took off in the mid-1920s. One of its best aspects was how applicable it was: women with straight hair, curly hair, or kinky hair could adapt this hairstyle to their liking.
The difference between the Marcel wave and the finger wave was a new addition to the tools women had at their disposal to play around with their look: a curling iron. Finger waves had been created by squeezing bunches of wet hair and combing them around fingers, while the Marcel wave singed the locks into place, allowing them to last longer.
20. 1920: The Flapper Bob
The First World War had destroyed a generation, but it had also eroded many of the old gender and social norms that had been dragged over from the previous century. Never before had women’s skirts been quite so short — and their hair was certainly no exception.
Called “flappers”, a new generation of women challenged the roles that had been previously assigned to them. The hairstyle that would come to characterize them and would become instantly iconic was known as the bob. Sometimes accompanied with fringed bangs, this new hairstyle’s edges gracefully framed women’s faces. Ladies chopping their hair off was nothing short of revolutionary!
21. 1915: Center Part
Until World War I, women’s hairstyles in Western fashion were largely determined by the massive hats they would wear on their head. Both women and men would not be caught dead in public without their head covered, and for ladies, that meant exceptionally wide brims.
To support those enormous brims, women had to puff up the hair on the sides of their heads, often parting it down the middle to create these whorls. The world would forever be changed by the Great War, and the lives of women were no exception. With the way women’s roles were changing, their fashion and hairdos followed suit.
22. 1910: The Gibson Girl
For his drawings, magazine illustrator Charles Dana Gibson claimed to have observed scores of women across the United States and Canada, eventually deciding upon a composite of them, which was to represent the ideal woman. His aristocratic wife and her stylish sisters served as inspiration. The Gibson Girl ideal of beauty was born.
The look did not stop at the hair trend it launched, but also determined a woman’s shape and outfit choices. It combined previous beauty ideals of both a fragile and delicate woman, alongside a more voluptuous one, while removing the negative traits of both identities. The Gibson Girl hair was a massively high bun that allowed for coils to trickle down the back.
23. 1905: Lady’s Pompadour
As the twentieth century dawned, women continued to experience the social conservatism left in the wake of Queen Victoria, spilling over into what would be known as the Edwardian era. Most women could not yet vote, though Marie Curie had just won her first Nobel Prize. By and large, women’s hair was not yet allowed to be creative.
A woman letting her hair down was considered lewd, reserved only for when she was in her dressing room getting herself ready to be seen in society, or by women of ill repute. Therefore, as hair was seen as a sign of a woman’s virtue, it had to be kept simple, tame, and out of her face. A teased bun with a small tip in the middle was the standard.
24. 1900: Bun and Ringlets
In an era of strict social morals where the slightest deviation from the norms was viewed as shocking and a direct threat to the social order and class structure, women had limited options to express their individuality through their outer appearance. If anything, they might make a statement through their clothing, with perhaps some bold color choices or flair.
As for hair, however, it could not be too experimental. What’s more, women would rarely be caught in public without covering their head in some way, whether it was a bonnet or a stylish hat. The question now became, in addition to your pinned-up bun, what would you do with the hair you couldn’t gather into it? Perhaps coiled ringlets, perhaps wavy?
25. 1895: Pin-Up
As the reign of the United Kingdom’s Queen Victoria covered the majority of the nineteenth century, so too did the restricting, conservative social norms she practiced and bestowed to her subjects. It was rare to see someone showing much skin, and women’s shape was decided for them by the restricting cage of a corset.
Of course, it would only make sense that women of the late 1800s would be careful to make sure their hair had been properly pinned in place, with not a lock unaccounted for. Order and discipline still decided people’s limited choices of expressing themselves through any new hair trends.
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