In the days of Imperial Rome, between 27BC and 102 AD, privileged noblewomen flaunted their wealth by wearing hairstyles that were so complex that their hair required the daily attention of several slaves and hairstylists to maintain their “look”.
These royals went to great lengths to make sure that theirs was the most elaborate and expensive hairdo.
They literally took it to the grave. (Pictured: jeweled skeleton found in Roman catacombs)
The women of the 16th and 17th centuries introduced increasingly ornate hairstyles that sometimes precariously stood at over five feet high when finished. Some of these contrived dos towered so high that they made the woman appear that her head was in the middle of her body! Excuse me while I take an LOL break. Highly sought after hairstylists decorated these majestically overdone confections with ribbons, lace veils and pearls, even commissioning carved baubles like ships, serpents and bejeweled birds to be custom-made for their final epic masterpiece.
It was Queen Marie-Antoinette that took the fantastical over the top in the extravagance that symbolized 17th century France. Under the skilled hands of her imaginative hairdresser, Léonard Autie, the Queen’s daring edifices of hair reached such a height that her handmaidens were required to run alongside her moving carriage to hold towering hairpieces aloft outside her coach window as the Queen rode to the opera or one of many gala balls.
Precious gems of diamonds, rubies and emeralds were used to festoon the most elaborate of the breathtaking, back-breaking styles. Although I’m sure the heavy weight of these giant coiffures caused many a migraine, talk about status! Needless to say, if one could afford to walk around with a king’s ransom of wealth woven into their hair, it was a pretty good indicator of where they stood in the upper strata of nobility. It did backfire, as these things often go –- one of Marie Antoinette’s many scandals involved her famous hairdresser. The Queen trusted him so much that she left him in charge of her precious jewels. Not a good move, as Léonard ended up running off with those jewels – using them to aid in his escape from France during the Terror – the bloodiest period of the French Revolution.
HAIR AS ICON
Moving forward to the 19th century – a parade of never before seen hairstyles served to define time and place, immediately turning the wearer into a much copied trendster. From the bone straight bob of jet black hair worn by 1920’s actress Louise Brooks, to the deliberate, pomaded and spit-curled style of dancer Josephine Baker, to the innocent-looking pixie cut of Audrey Hepburn, which inspired the sleek, chic, close-cropped do of Mia Farrow –- once seen, everyone wanted to look just like them.
In the early 1930’s, an adorable, dimple-cheeked little girl with shiny blonde sausage-sized ringlets tap danced her way onto the Hollywood big screen and into America’s hearts, causing a whole passel of new moms to impose the curly Shirley Temple hairstyle on their daughters. Ooo poop pee do!
Elvis Presley’s stylized pompadour was originated by bopster Chuck Berry and both men became forever enshrined in rock music history – their hairstyles as of much importance as their music. James Dean’s bad boy persona was also enhanced by his blonde locks, a slightly wilder version of the Elvis pompy do. As the huge sales of Brill Cream, waxy pomades and The Fonz can attest, these men had legions of imitators.
Acid rocking guitarist Jimi Hendrix was another musical icon who had multitudes of women across the globe vying for a chance to be his “foxy lady”. Fans of Jimi’s other-worldly, electrified guitar playing were also attracted to his explosive shock of untamed afro. Groovy, neon colored black-light posters of Hendrix and his infamous hair absolutely defined the Woodstock era of the 1960s and later influenced the natural hairstyles of the 1970’s as popularized by musicians Sly Stone, The Jackson Five and far too many others to mention.
Andy Warhol’s trademark stark white hair was as eclectic and outstanding as his artwork. One of the leaders of the 20th century Pop Art Movement, Warhol was a social animal who loved being noticed. With his all-black wardrobe against snow white hair and very pale skin – he could hardly be missed! You know you’ve made it to the iconic stage once there are Halloween costumes that replicate your image. Warhol’s infamous quote about fame was both prophetic and self-fulfilling –- Warhol said that in the future, everyone would have at least 15 minutes of fame. With the advent of 24/7 “news/entertainment” outlets, social media and reality TV, we are surely seeing that come to pass in a momentous way. Ack!
One simply cannot talk about iconic hair without mentioning The Beatles. A four man singing band from Liverpool, England, the Beatles caused a teen girl fantasy meltdown in the United States once the group appeared on U.S. television. 73 million viewers — about two-fifths of the total American population —- watched the group perform on The Ed Sullivan Show and Beatlemania firmly took hold.The Beatles’ influence on popular culture was immense. Their mop top haircut, thought of as long hair at the time, was actually a collar length bowl cut that went over the ears with a straight fringe of bangs over the forehead. Because of the Fab Four’s epic popularity, their famous haircut was widely imitated worldwide between 1964 and 1966, even leading toy manufacturers to begin producing real-hair and plastic “Beatle Wigs”. The opposite reaction occurred in the Brezhnev-dominated Soviet Union. In that country, mimicking The Beatles’ hairstyle was seen as extremely rebellious. Young Soviet men who dared to wear the mop top were called “hairies” by their elders, and were arrested and forced to have their hair cut in police stations. Yep, people were actually arrested over a hair style.
The Beatles’ took up the scepter of trend-making royalty and the iconic, shaggy haircut still endures today, most recently on heartthrob actor Zac Efron and Canadian pop star Justin Beiber.
Often referred to as The Queen of the Pinups or The Queen of Curves – 1950’s American model Bettie Page was featured in Playboy Magazine as 1955 January Playmate of the Month when the magazine was only 2 months old, and again as Miss January in 1959. Known for her jet black hair and vivid blue eyes, Bettie made the thick banged pageboy style her own.
I cannot tell you how many stars have tried to copy this look. Everybody from Beyonce to rapper Little Kim to comedienne Kathy Griffin has had a go at it. Nope, nope and nope.
Take my word for it – simple as it looks, not everyone can rock this bumper bangs style. So unless you want to go outside looking like you’ve got a rolling pin stuck to your forehead, ask the opinions of your most honest friends.
You’ve been forewarned. Some women have managed to pull off the Bettie look – most notably, singers Katy Perry, Rihanna, professional striptease dancer, Dita von Teese and some cool looking girl I found on an internet fashion blog.
HAIR AS SEX APPEAL
Sensuous femme fatale Marilyn Monroe wasn’t simply known for her voluptuous body and whispery, Betty-Boopsiesque voice –- that come-hither tousle of ash blonde tresses was a big part of her legendary attraction. Marilyn started the sultry “bed-head” look, seen on various 1950s and 60s “sex kittens” like Ann-Margaret, Bridgette Bardot, Rachel Welch, Farrah Fawcett and later, Pamela Anderson – a look that amazingly – 75 years post-Marilyn, continues to rock.
Once she made her debut on the 1970’s television show Charlie’s Angels, Texas beauty Farrah Fawcett literally revolutionized women’s hair with her flippy, feathered mane of perfect, cascading curls. Her long, diagonally layered locks caused an immediate sensation, becoming an international trend as women all over the world clamored for the “Farrah Flip”. Wearing those curls, a winning smile and a pre-Baywatch red swimsuit, a wall poster was launched at the peak of Farrah’s career that sold over 23 million copies, earning the star far more money from poster royalties than from her Charlie’s Angels salary.
Similarly, the wild “lion’s mane” of Lizard King rock star Jim Morrison drove the girls crazy with lust. It was said that the tight leather jeans wearing rebel was so good looking that all the guys wanted to be him and all the girls wanted to … well, you know. The untamed “mane” look was later adapted as a curly shag by 70’s heartthrob, crooner Gina Vanelli. And in the 80’s, singer George Michael slightly modified the big hair look by blending it with a bit of Farrah Fawcett feathering to come up with his own distinctive coif.
HAIR AS COUNTER-CULTURE
People have been judged and categorized by their hair and even still are today, although I would offer, perhaps less harshly now than 50 years ago in the revolutionary sixties. I don’t think there has been a time in history where hair itself was more importantly viewed than in 1960s America.
“Freedom” of every sort was personified by the hippie culture of those years. The introduction of the birth control pill brought about freedom from sexual repression. Young adults sought to free their minds by experimenting with psychedelic drugs. Blacks decided they were done using chemicals to straighten their naturally kinky/wavy/curly hair and the freedom of the afro was born. Others decided to grow their hair as long as they possibly could – even the men. Hair was the ultimate expression of freedom. Once the young people of that era decided they didn’t want to end up like their parents, the grownups, the establishment, the very folks they felt had led America into an unnecessary war in Vietnam – the culture war was on.
In 1968, a jubilant musical celebration of hair hit the Broadway stage. Simply entitled “HAIR”, this energetic and engaging production broke new ground with its racially integrated cast, use of profanity, depictions of drug use and casual sex and a shocking nude scene. Heralded and lambasted by the press and the public, the controversial musical was a major success with several of its songs becoming immediate top ten hits. These anthems of the peace movement are still classics today. The world was consumed by this make love not war movement and the art world reflected that. Painters interpreted it on canvas, poets wrote about it, songsters sang about it. Superstar balladeer Marvin Gaye wanted to know “What’s going on” and asked “who are they to judge us, just because our hair is long.” In the pop masterpiece, “Easy to be Hard” from the Hair musical, rock band Three Dog Night plaintively asked how people could be so heartless and cruel, so downright cold in their judgment and treatment of others.In 2009 – nearly fifty years after its debut, the Hair musical rocketed back onto the Broadway stage. Its content still relevant today, Hair is currently enjoying a successful revival with a whole new audience.
HAIR AS CULTURE
Another hairstyle that ignited international interest was caused by cornrowed micro braids. Sometimes festooned with beads, baubles, feathers and seashells, this style of braided hair – reminiscent of Cleopatra – originated in Africa and became popular among African-American women, especially in the early 1980s when it was worn as the signature hairstyles of 1980s R&B singer Peaches (of Peaches & Herb fame), talented pianist/singer Patrice Rushen and the legendary Stevie Wonder.
The cornrow look crossed over beyond the black community and was jettisoned into the mainstream when the beauteous Bo Derek donned a flesh colored swimsuit and arose from the ocean like some sexy sea nymph, tossing her blonde braids and causing men everywhere to make reservations for beach vacations. Many Caucasian women jumped on the Bo bandwagon – some to flattering effect and others *cough* Kim Kardashian *cough* – eh, not so much. With or without beads, the braided row hairstyle is as popular as ever and is worn today by singers, actors and NBA stars like Allen Iverson and several others. Because of their enduring popularity, I don’t see braids leaving the scene anytime soon.
Dreads and Locks took natural hairstyling to a whole new level or maybe the world is just coming full circle in its acceptance of culture. We will be doing a feature in the coming months on master loctician, Thierry Baptiste — and diving into more background for our upcoming Hair | Hat | Headdress Exposé. Can’t wait to do the Headdress research …
BALD ASS SEXY
Even the total lack of hair makes a strong statement. Actor Yul Brynner had a full head of hair when he decided to go bald for his 1951 role in “The King and I.” Both the Broadway production and the film were so well-received that Brynner decided to sport the hairless look for the rest of his life. I’ve seen the before and after pictures, and take my word for it – Yul looked much better without the hair.His baldness was also a career booster – since there were no other bald actors at the time, he stood out to casting directors and began to get better acting roles. Years later, the shining dome of macho, lollipop sucking Kojak TV star, Telly Savalas became his manly trademark in the early 80s. Who loves ya, baby?
When handsome, air-climbing basketball superstar Michael Jordan started losing his hair in the late 1980s, he decided to shave his head and totally brought on the sexy. Female fans went wild and men noticed. Suddenly, everybody wanted to be like Mike and bald heads started popping up on the court and off. More and more men followed suit, deciding to stop wearing hairpieces, toupees and weird comb-overs, and choosing baldness as the way to go. By the mid-nineties, the bald pate was totally accepted and most men with receding or thinning hair are comfortable with going completely bald –- now considered a bold, sexy, symbol of virility.
HAIR R US
Hair is a universal language – it speaks for itself. It can be bold or demur, unobtrusive or shocking, don’t rock the boat conformist or in-your-face cray-cray. The way you wear your hair is, in a nutshell, your personality. It defines you. Whether you want to shave it all off, blend into the shadows or be seen so loudly that you cannot be ignored. What you do with your hair shows the world who you are — it is also a very fine form of entertainment!