Women's History Month: The Most Defining Hairstyles in History

[Image: Bain News Service via Wikimedia]

March is Women's History Month, and in honor of this, we're taking a look back at some of the most defining hairstyles for women in the past 100 years. From the rebellious flapper girl, to midcentury bombshells, to the mega perms of the 80s, women's hairstyles represent more than just the trends of the day - they act as creative expression, forms of identity, and a collective response to society as a whole. From Women's Suffrage, to entering the workforce, to the Civil Rights Movement, to fighting for equal pay, the way in which women have historically worn their hair serves as a symbol of their changing role in society and forward progress.

Click through to see our list of the most defining women's hairstyles in the past century. [pagebreak]

1. The Gibson Girl
The symbol of a new, independent kind of women near the turn of the 20th century, the Gibson Girl was said by illustrator Charles Dana Gibson to be representative of "thousands of American girls." (Wikipedia.org/wiki/Gibson_Girl). The defining look was a tall, statuesque woman with a pile of curls atop her head, made to look effortlessly chic, not unlike the "easy beauty" trends of today. The original Gibson Girl, Evelyn Nesbit, was widely popular, and emulated by women across the country for her independent spirit and bouffant of perfectly coiffed curls.

[Image: Rudolf Eickemeyer via Wikimedia Commons]


2. Bobs
As American consumerism reached a fever pitch during the 1920's, young women joined in the affluence, earned the right to vote, and subsequently rebelled against traditional gender roles of the previous decades. Flappers donned ankle-bearing skirts, drank alcohol, stayed out late, and cut their hair into short coifs known as bobs. Femininity was replaced by a certain boyishness as the younger generation rejected the strict societal expectations for women. And, though the rampant consumerism did not, the controversial bob had staying power, remaining popular even today.

[Image: Bain News Service via Wikimedia] [pagebreak]

3. Victory Rolls
With the stock market crash of 1929, and the subsequent two World Wars, women began entering the U.S. workforce, slowly moving away from traditional jobs like housekeeping, nursing, and cleaning, and taking over what were traditionally considered to be more "masculine" enterprises. As women began laboring in factories and taking up skilled jobs, they began to adopt what became known as "Victory Rolls" - curling two front pieces of hair up and away from the face and pinning back. A style born out of necessity, the look soon became a symbol of the new generation of confident, empowered, working women.

[Image: Getty Images] [pagebreak]

4. Midcentury Bombshell


As men's looks became increasingly rebellious during the middle of the 20th Century (think Elvis Presley, James Dean, and Marlon Brando), women entered a slightly more demure era in terms of beauty. Pressured back into the role of mother and housewife, women in the late 1940's and early 1950's embraced "The New Look," led by fashion icon Christian Dior. The look of the day was all about elegance, grace, and high fashion (a la, Disney's Cinderella), but it wasn't long before women pushed back against the idea of the sophisticated, chic housewife. By the dawn of the 1950's, Marilyn Monroe was becoming a household name, having already starred in 5 films and earned sexpot status from her infamous Playboy centerfold. Women were embracing their sexuality more than ever before, and donning new hairstyles to show it. Feminine, sexy, natural-looking curls, typically worn on the shorter side, became the biggest trend of the decade. The style signified a new era of women's sensuality and, most importantly, realness.

[Image (Elizabeth Taylor): Studio publicity still via Wikimedia Commons; (Marilyn Monroe): Getty Images ] [pagebreak]

5. The Beehive


In 1960, hairstyling reached new heights of creativity (literally) when hairdresser Margaret Vinci Heldt created the Beehive. The impossibly tall, elaborate style was an exaggeration of the previously popular bouffant look, but was unlike anything seen before in the beauty world. Women everywhere reached for their hairspray in an attempt to make their even bigger and better than ever before, ushering in a wave of self-expression and beauty ingenuity.

[Image: Getty Images] [pagebreak]

7. Sassoon


In the mid-1960's, a new, young hairstylist stepped into the American spotlight. Arguably one of the most influential stylists of all time, Vidal Sassoon entered the beauty world with the intention of "eliminat[ing] the superfluous and [getting] down to the basic angles of cut and shape" (www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vidal_Sassoon). Credited with inventing the "wedge bob," Sassoon pioneered a new form of sculptured, structured styles that emphasized sharp angles and clean, precise lines. Short hair was the name of the game, and women everywhere ditched now-antiquated ideas of beauty and embraced this new idea of femininity. Pixie cuts became wildly popular after publicity stills showed Sassoon cutting actress Mia Farrow's hair for her role in Rosemary's Baby, and the idea of the new, rebellious woman began to gain traction, setting the stage for 1970's Feminism.  

[Images: Getty Images] [pagebreak]

8. Afros
With the dawn of the Civil Rights Movement in America, African-American hairstyles saw a dramatic shift. Instead of the once-popular, straightened, smoothed, and artificially curled hair that conformed to white standards of beauty, African-American men and women began to embrace their natural hair texture in defiance of the mainstream culture of the time. Afros became immensely popular during the 1960's and 70's as a way of claiming identity in an intolerant, white-centric society. Symbolically linked with black pride and the push for equal rights, afros have maintained their popularity over the past five decades as African-Americans continue to make strides towards acceptance and push back against outdated, Western beauty standards.

[Image: Lisa Liang via Wikimedia] [pagebreak]

9. Feathered Hair
Popularized by actress Farrah Fawcett in the film Charlie's Angels, feathered hair was THE look of the Seventies. Large, voluminous curls, swept back from the face became the go-to look of the day, not just for women, but for men as well. For women, the look was all about effortless femininity and "girl next door" beauty.

[Image: ABC Television via Wikimedia Commons] [pagebreak]

10. Big, Wild Hair and Perms


The 1980's saw a major influx in self-expression in every way imaginable. Hair became a source of fun as celebrities like Cher, Madonna and Cyndi Lauper started sporting wild styles from mullets, to perms, to the totally unconventional. Unlike the previous decade, straight, natural, "hippie hair" was out, and over-the-top, obviously "done" hair was in. Volume took over - the bigger the hair the better - as did androgynous styles, aqua-net bangs, oversized accessories, and curls were the undisputed must-have look of the day. As women in the 80's began to experience the effects of 1970's Feminism, there was a subsequent push towards increased freedom in the beauty world, and the decade embraced an "anything goes" mentality when it came to hair.

[Image: Getty Images] [pagebreak]

11. Punk
In the late 80's and through the 1990's, the punk scene took hold in the United States, and with it, hairstyles became increasingly rebellious. Men and women alike sported mohawks, liberty spikes, and bleached blonde looks, a la Debbie Harry. These punk styles came to represent a break for women from traditional femininity, focusing less on what was "beautiful," and more on what was "cool."

[Image: Tess Aquarium via Wikimedia] [pagebreak]

12. The Rachel


In the 1990's, celebrity culture took off like never before via the unprecedented access to media in the forms of television, tabloids, and the infancy of the internet. Although celebrities have arguably always been the first to popularize certain hairstyles, the extent to which celebrities set trends increased tenfold during the Nineties. Representative of this, Jennifer Aniston's "Rachel" haircut on the show Friends, created a widespread phenomenon, as women across the country clipped pictures of the cut and took them in to the salon. The look, one Aniston has described as "the ugliest haircut," was so popular, it became the go-to look of the decade.

[Image: Getty Images] [pagebreak]

13. Beach Waves


Proving that trends are cyclical, women in the early 2000's began to reject the shorter-haired, slightly androgynous styles of the 1990's and instead embraced long, flowing, "beachy" waves. While the decade was somewhat split on glam vs. casual, the effortless, air-dried beauty look dominated. Once again, the popular look was about not trying too hard, but was purely feminine.

[Image: Getty Images] [pagebreak]

14. Innovative Hair Color


From ombre and balayage, to "unicorn" hair, to pixelated hair color, one of the biggest, modern-day hairstyle trends involves creative color. While the looks themselves range from natural-looking, to bold and bright, the overall trend, like a toned-down version of the 80's, is all about self-expression. Women today are experiencing more widespread acceptance than ever before, and the range of unique hair colors is a direct reflection of women's place in society.

[Images: Getty Images] [pagebreak]

15. The Natural Beauty


As the eco-conscious movement has gained momentum over the past decade, earth-friendly products have made their way into the beauty world. The modern day woman is not only embracing more natural-looking hairstyles, but also desires natural, yet effective, hair products. As the niche market for natural hair and beauty products begins to gain its footing, we expect that this will be one of the biggest trends of the current decade.

[Image: Getty Images]

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