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Shaping History
The Evolution of Women’s Hairstyles

Shaping History
  • Queen Elizabeth I a Biography (by )
  • Louis Xv 
  • My Last Flappers, Document Talesjazzage (by )
  • Madame De Pompadour (by )
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There have been many memorable hairstyles throughout history from Cleopatra’s Egyptian-style bob to Queen Elizabeth I’s curled up-do to Marie Antoinette’s voluminous beehive.
Some may regard the topic of hairstyles as insignificant or classify it merely as a trend story, but hair fashions are rooted in history. Politics, war, and social movements have all played a role in shaping hairstyle silhouettes. 

Consider Madame de Pompadour who was once a member of the French court and the official mistress of Louis XV. De Pompadour played a dominant role in elevating Paris to its ranking as a destination of culture and fine taste. The pompadour hairstyle, which was popular during various eras, was named after her. In this style, the hair is swept upwards off the forehead in a roll. 

In Madame de Pompadour, Hugh Noel writes, “Her hair was luxuriant, of a light chestnut shade rather than fair.” (p. 23)

In more modern times, there was former First Lady Jackie Kennedy Onassis’ glam bouffant, Grace Kelly’s elegant waves, and Audrey Hepburn’s chic chignon. Throughout history, many women have made much more than a fashion statement just by the way they fashioned their hair. In the 1920s, actress Louise Brooks was the iconic symbol of the flapper style, radical in the way it broke from previous feminine silhouettes artificially shaped by corsets, hoops, bustles, and layers of petticoats.

In the era that followed the Women’s Suffrage Movement, women revolted against social and cultural norms. The rebellious flappers sported bobs, listened to jazz, smoked, and challenged sexual norms. In My Last Flappers, the author writes, “‘Don’t treat me like a girl,’ she warned him. ‘I’m not like any girl you ever saw.’” (p.17)
“It was such a big change for women to wear shorter hairstyles. It’s still a bit ‘rebellious’ for a woman to cut her hair into a 20s-inspired bob,” says Marco Pelusi, Celebrity Hairstylist and Owner of Marco Pelusi Hair Studio in California.

The 1940s was the era of the victory rolls, which were inspired by World War II jets that created a roll of clouds. Veronica Lake epitomized the look with a deep side-part that fell glamorously over one eye and featured brushed out curls. “This was the era of the perfect woman,” concludes Pelusi.
The end of wartime rationing after World War II brought an end to practical hairstyles for women who worked in factories. Hair became perfectly sculpted and coiffed. Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn embraced the look.

The 1960s were a time of social change. The Feminist Movement and the Civil Rights Movement both shaped hairstyles. Bouffants, beehives, and pixie cuts reigned. Afros also gained popularity at this time. In A Hair Piece: Perspectives on the Intersection of Race and Gender, Caldwell writes:

During the 1960s, in the midst of the violent upheaval and the rapid social change that characterized that period, many blacks chose to wear “natural” or Afro hairstyles as a celebration of self-esteem and a rejection of the shackles of racist oppression, or a claim of cultural identity. (p. 384)

By Regina Molaro

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