by Michael Sones
Fashion has so pushed the boundaries over the last few decades that hair no longer has the social power that it used to have. What would be an outrageous or uniquely different hairstyle these days that would stand out from the crowd? However, in the 1960’s it was different. Hair had power then. No one who lived through the cultural turbulence of that decade can doubt it.
Few celebrities, in these days of anything goes, have hairstyles that are widely commented on in the media and then copied by the fans except perhaps for Princess Di and the English football legend, David Beckham.
After the trauma of the Second World War, the 1950s and early 1960s were years of relative political and social conservatism. Women were returned from the factories and the war effort to the domestic sphere of the home and there was an idealistic portrayal of the nuclear family and domestic life.
This was the height of the Cold War and anxieties about insidiously spreading communism and the undermining of the established social order were rife. The glamorous woman at home, able to attend to all of the domestic chores and without a hair out of place, was a popular image. Bouffant hairdos became very popular during this decade. In this style the hair is teased and piled high on the head and kept in place by sprayed on hair lacquers. This was seen as glamorous and a favorite hairdo with stylish evening wear.
In the early 1960s Jackie Kennedy, wife of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, continued the popularization of the bouffant. This handsome couple were regularly featured in the media and the Kennedy administration was known as Camelot until the tragedy of his assassination.
The intertwining of fashion, film, and popular music deepened during this decade. Dusty Springfield, the white soul singer with panda mascara eyes, helped popularize the beehive hairdo. Those towering structures, made possible by developments in hair lacquer during the 1950’s, were ripe material for urban legends. There was some concern about how hygienic these were and so legends sprang up about black widow spiders making nests in them and then the unfortunate wearers dying from the spider bites of hatched infant spiders.
In another version the hairdos of some poor girls became welcoming homes to cockroaches. As the decade came to an end bouffants gradually faded in popularity. The preparation was time consuming. It fell out of favor with movie and theater goers who could not see over it and the image and role of women was rapidly changing.
In the 1960s Hairdressers and stylists featured regularly in the popular press. Vidal Sassoon, from a struggling Jewish family in London’s East End, made cultural hair history with his short layered cut in 1959 “The Shape.” Other famous short cuts he created in the 1960s were the ‘Nancy Kwan’ which was longer in the front than the back and later ‘The Five Point Cut.’
These were a far cry from the bouffants of the 1950s and early 1960s. He teamed up with the fashion designer Mary Quant in 1957 who called him the “Chanel of hair”. Mary Quant helped make the miniskirt one of the fashion hits of the decade. Who can forget Twiggy who was the “Face of 1966” and popularized the elfin and urchin looking hair cut?
This changing wind in women’s hairstyles seems to be gradually reflecting the dramatic changes in women’s roles from the conservative 1950s to the end of the “swinging” 1960s. Short bob cuts were much more practical than the lacquered beehives with their implications of long lazy afternoons of leisured preparation in the hair salon. Both long hair and short hair were popular with teen age girls and young women. Stylised wigs were also very fashionable and women were told they could change who they were by putting on a different wig. This fluidity of role and identity is characteristic of what is known as post-modernist culture. Image is all important and there is a rapid exchange of one image for another.
As the 1960s moved on women were once again moving out from the domestic sphere and into the work place, education, and careers. It was the time of The Feminine Mystique. In 1960 the birth control pill was put on the market giving women more control over their sexuality and reproduction than ever before in history. Within ten years it was being used by millions of women. Bras were later burnt-symbolising the liberation of women.
After World War II women had returned from the factories to the home. Woman’s place was as queen of the domestic kingdom. As her crowning glory, her hair, was held in place in a bouffant style by lacquers so woman had been held in place in the home. But now in the 1960’s a great shift in culture was taking place symbolized by changing hairstyles in both men and women. Freedom and social equality were the ideals of the decade particularly among the young. There were ban-the-bomb and anti-apartheid marches in the UK, civil rights and end-segregation marches in the US. However, probably nothing can be compared to the power of hair on the night of February 9th, 1964. It is the night the Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan TV show. This has been rated by Entertainment Magazine as Rock’s Top TV moment and it has not been surpassed. Four mop headed working class lads from Liverpool turned fashion on its head and shook the generations.
For instead of fashion filtering down from the aristocratic layers to the other classes as it ordinarily does, here a fashion from the working classes swept upwards and threatened the short haired military conservatism of the crew cut. It was a lowbrow style with the fringe down nearly to the eyes, covering the brow, and, the rapid adoption of it by teenagers and young people alarmed many parents accustomed to Eisenhower and the ‘Leave it to Beaver’ look of the 1950’s.
I remember being in the schoolyard the day after the Beatles’ appearance on Ed Sullivan and the talk was not of their music but how they shook their heads and how their hair flew in every direction. It was rebellious, it was wild, and it was free. An industry in the production of Beatle wigs was born.
Others, like Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, soon followed and long hair in men quickly became a sign of rebelliousness and was felt to be a challenge to the established conservative social order by many. ‘Keep America Beautiful-Get a Haircut’ appeared on more than one billboard. Flower power, the hippies, and wild, free long hair expressed the dissatisfaction of many with the materialism and consumerism of the culture and the Vietnam War, the Cold War, and the technology of what was called the military-industrial complex. Alienation became one of the buzzwords of the decade. Many people, especially the young, yearned for something else. It was time for a return to Nature. It was the dawning of hope and the Age of Aquarius.
It would be a new beginning of community, love, and peace. The musical Hair epitomized these values-wild, long, curly, flowing, free, blowin’ in the wind, and hair down to our knees. The long hair and nudity, shocking for the time, symbolized an idealization of humans in the natural state. This seemed to echo the words of Jean Jacques Rousseau, the 18th century French philosopher, “Man is born free and yet everywhere he is in chains” and presented an ideal view of “the noble savage.”
And as this vital, exciting decade of long hair, mini-skirts, Carnaby Street fashion, the Beatles, Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, and a man on the moon, drew to a close, a small Asian country was being destroyed and a generation of young men were being traumatized as the war in Vietnam raged on to the tune of “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.”