Hair Movements

Hair Movements

Hairstyles, Beauty Ideals and Female Empowerment through the Decades

Stories

A (new) hairstyle can make a strong statement. It can speak volumes, for example about the end of a relationship, the start of a new job, or the beginning of a new phase in life. By committing to a new hairstyle, a woman determines how to present herself to the world. Short hairstyles in particular make a strong statement about female empowerment, self-confidence, and a willingness to reject rigid beauty norms. On the other hand, not changing your hairstyle and being known for a signature look can emphasise character and a strong attitude. For example, Victoria Beckham first cemented her reputation as a classy fashion plate when her sleek Bob earned her the nickname Posh Spice. She has returned to the classic look time and again over the years, becoming ever posher as she changed careers from singer to fashion designer. Even more true to her signature Bob, Anna Wintour has kept the exact same style her entire adult life. In fact, the powerful editor has reputedly worn her immaculately fringed ‘do since the age of 14, giving her an air of reliability at the helm of the fickle fashion world’s prime publication. Another beacon of style and substance, Jamie Lee Curtis has sported a stunning Pixie for so long, she is virtually unrecognisable with long hair. In the 1980s, the cropped look was a way to set herself apart from the Hollywood crowd, today it underlines her status as a strong, confident style icon.

Cultures around the world assign significant meaning to hairstyles. Hair is often considered a symbol of power, usually connected to gender and sexuality. A woman’s hair, in particular, often indicates her marital status, and long hair is mostly associated with femininity. In Western culture, women’s hairstyles have traditionally been longer than men’s hairstyles. Although these beauty standards gradually relaxed over the course of the 20th century, short hair is still a bold choice for most women.

Chloe Nguyen with a Bob hairstyle

The Bob in the 20th century: The ultimate feminist haircut

As was the case with many fashion and beauty signifiers of female empowerment, women started turning to short hairstyles for convenience. Although strong role models like Cleopatra and Joan of Arc wore it centuries earlier, the Bob first gained widespread popularity in the 1920’s, a decade described as the Roaring, Golden or Crazy Twenties in different countries. Women had taken over what was previously considered “men’s work” during the war – and proved capable of doing it well. Following in the footsteps of women who throughout history had to pretend to be men to gain access to certain professions, they wore their hair short and sported masculine fashion, partly for practical reasons, but also as an expression of their new-found independence and confidence. Silent film stars helped popularise the look. Hollywood’s original “It Girl” Clara Bow wore a fun, casual version that suited her image as party girl, flirt and all-round modern woman. Her contemporary Louise Brooks, on the other hand, favoured a sharp, sleek cut that underlined her elegant style and matched the roles she played – those of independent, alluring women who didn’t fit traditional gender stereotypes.

After the war, women celebrated the first successes of the women’s suffrage movement and claimed their place in the public sphere by sporting the comfortable fashions and short hairstyles they had become accustomed to. The so-called Flappers or Garçonnes were vilified and ridiculed for acting like men, simply because they got jobs, drove cars, wore trousers and bobbed hair. Women often had to get their Bob cut at barbershops, since respectable hairdressers weren’t willing to do such a scandalous hairstyle.

The Bob today: A flattering classic hairstyle

Luckily, you won’t have any trouble finding a hairdresser willing to cut a Bob nowadays. The beloved classic is the easiest and most versatile choice for any woman willing to try a short hairstyle before committing to a radical chop. Even better, it comes in so many lengths and variations, you are guaranteed to find one that suits your personal style and face shape.  

The Pixie is a short hairstyle for confident women

The Pixie in the 20th century: The brave choice of style icons

The Pixie cut followed on the trail blazed by the Bob. Once shorter hairstyles had become socially acceptable, savvy style icons kept pushing the limits of how short a girl can go. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, the cut signified youthful innocence.

Audrey Hepburn wrapped Gregory Peck – and international audiences - around her royal little finger in Roman Holiday with a gamine haircut that went perfectly with her character’s wide-eyed excitement. In Bonjour Tristesse, Jean Seberg’s blonde crop captures the naïveté of her role as a young girl on the brink of adulthood. Mia Farrow’s Pixie, famously cut by Vidal Sassoon as a publicity stunt for Rosemary’s Baby – served to emphasise her waifish fragility and helped audiences empathise with her character’s fears. Probably the most famous Pixie ever was worn by Lesley Lawson (née Hornby). Of course, the British model didn’t become a household name until she adopted the alias Twiggy and cut her hair, making her the face of London’s Swinging Sixties.

In the intervening decades, the Pixie has also come to be associated with strength, independence and a willingness to deviate from widely held ideas about feminine beauty. Through the years and changing beauty standards, it has always set the stage for a beautiful face to make an impression.

The Pixie today: Fuss-free hair for confident women

The ultimate in wearable hairstyles, the Pixie cut requires some confidence, especially if you’re coming from long hair. It might not suit every face shape and could benefit from some makeup and fashion styling skills. However, a well-cut Pixie will allow your facial features to take centre stage and gives you a stylish and self-assured air. With this short hairstyle, your morning beauty routine becomes a breeze. Simply wash, apply a bit of styling product and go.

The Afro is a cool hairstyle for kinky hair

The Afro in the 20th century: Natural texture is beautiful

After centuries of following “white” beauty ideals, the civil rights movement empowered African Americans to embrace the unique beauty of natural African American hair. They proudly stood up for the authenticity of natural looks and ushered in the golden age of the Afro. Stylish and socially conscious men and women like Jimi Hendrix, Angela Davis and Nina Simone were amongst the first to wear their naturally kinky hair with pride in the 1960’s. Stars like Grace Jones, Pam Grier and Gloria Gaynor carried the hairstyle - and the emphasis on uniquely black beauty - into the 1970’s disco era.

The Afro today: Kinky hair, worn with pride

Today, celebrities like Lupita Nyong'o, Janelle Monáe and Solange Knowles pay tribute to the civil rights movement by being outspoken, supporting racial equality and wearing their Afros with pride. Afros come in all shapes and sizes and require little styling, but a lot of care. With beauty standards evolving to embrace individuality and authenticity more than ever, women and men can express themselves regardless of their hair texture. Long, short, curly, straight … hair has never been so playful.

Hippie women loved long hairstyles for an extra-romantic free-spirited look

Long Hippie Hair in the 20th century: Love, peace and natural hairstyles

The Afro wasn’t the only hairstyle enhancing natural hair texture popular in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The Hippie movement encouraged men and women to keep their hair natural. The era’s romanticism favoured long locks, a perfect match for the flowing dresses and loose tunics that epitomised the summer of love. Much like the Bob had been a reaction to centuries of long hairstyles for women, the long, natural hair worn by Hippies can be read as pushback against decades of perfectly coiffed hairdos like the Bouffant. Second-wave feminists felt liberated by comfortable unisex clothing and low-maintenance hair and beauty regimes, as well as by the significant social advances they achieved.

Long Hippie Hair in the 20th century: Effortless hairstyles for all

Many of the values of the Hippie movement have long since become widely appreciated. Gender and racial equality, environmental consciousness and tolerance of alternative lifestyles are more widespread now than in the 1970’s. Today, the equivalent of long Hippie Hair is found in effortless looks like Beach Waves, Braids and the current trend for floral hair ornaments. After all, there’s no better way to feel empowered than by simply wearing a hairstyle that feels as good as it looks to you.

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