8 influential hairstyles of the 20th Century and how to recreate them
The 20th Century saw the birth of popular culture on a worldwide scale, rapidly spreading personal style and image around the world at an ever increasing speed. With that came cultural icons and style became a commodity, as people copied their favourite stars from the entertainment world. Each decade of the last century had its own style and in this post we look at cultural icons of each decade, and their influential hairstyles that were copied at the time and have lasted into the 21st Century.
8 of the most influential hairstyles by decade
1920s – Louise Brooks
Born in 1906, Louise Brooks was one of Hollywood’s fisrt and biggest stars in the silent era. Identified as the ultimate flapper, Brooks’ lasting legacy is her bob haircut, which is one of the most influential hairstyles of all time. Instantly recognisable, her signature look quickly caught on around the world wherever there was a cinema.
Brooks pushed the boundaries in her professional and personal life, choosing risqué film roles with lesbian themes (1929’s Pandora’s Box) and controversial sexual themes (Miss Europe in 1930). These films were heavily censored before the advent of the even more censorious Hays Code began in 1930.
“There is no other occupation in the world that so closely resembled enslavement as the career of a film star.”
Brooks later became a film writer, contributing her autobiography and collaborating with historians at George Eastman House. Brooks died in 1985.
1930s – Marlene Dietrich
German born film star Marlene Dietrich was the epitome of glamour when Hollywood was dripping with glamour. Her breakthrough role came in 1930’s Blue Angel, a German film which also gave her the hit song Falling in Love Again. Throughout the ’30s she appeared in a multitude of roles as a seductive and tough woman that could hold her own against any man.
A film she made in Britain, A Knight Armour made her one of the highest paid stars in the world, and in 1937 she donated her entire fee of $450,000 for that movie to help refugees fleeing Nazi Germany.
Dietrich worked closely with her photographers, cinematographers and directors to ensure her lighting was always at its best. Often top lit with deep shadows, her films display more style than many others before or since. Like many other stars of her generation, Dietrich’s hair displayed glamourous waves which glistened when the light caught them.
“Careful grooming may take twenty years off a woman’s age, but you can’t fool a flight of stairs.”
She continued acting until 1984, though much of her later work from the 1950s was more focused on performing cabaret at shows, bringing a touch of Weimar era Berlin to cities around the world before dying of renal failure in Paris in 1990.
1940s – Veronica Lake
The ultimate sultry femme fatale, Veronica Lake was born in 1922 in Brooklyn, New York and rocketed to stardom in I Wanted Wings in 1940. While making the film, the 18-year old’s long hair accidentally fell over her face during a take, and her trademark hairstyle was born.
“I was playing a sympathetic drunk, I had my arm on a table… it slipped… and my hair – it was always baby fine and had this natural break – fell over my face… It became my trademark and purely by accident”
For the next couple of years, Lake appeared in several classic film noir films, often with Alan Ladd and always with her trademark hairstyle. In 1942 though the government requested she change her style to persuade women working in the wartime factories to wear more practical and safer hairstyles. While her change helped to reduce the number of accidents involving hair caught in machinery, it also damaged her film career.
The late forties saw a decline in the number of films she made and from 1941 to 1970 she appeared in just four movies, instead of taking on more stage roles. She died in 1973 of cirrhosis of the liver, caused by years of heavy drinking.
1950s – Marilyn Monroe
Little introduction is needed to possibly the 20th Century’s most loved movie star and icon. Born Norma Jean Mortensen in 1926, Marilyn Monroe made her first film appearance in 1947’s Dangerous Years, and she continued with a handful of bit parts at Fox and Columbia studios while she took acting lessons.
A natural brunette, Marilyn bleached her hair and at Columbia, her hairline was raised and her hair bleached even further to a platinum blonde to produce one of the most influential hairstyles ever recorded on film.
Her breakout year of 1953 saw three films that made her the star we know and cemented her iconic look – Niagara, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry Millionaire.
“In Hollywood, a girl’s virtue is much less important than her hairdo.”
Throughout the fifties, Marilyn continued to appear in successful movies and became the biggest star on the planet. Meanwhile, her personal life was a mess, including failed marriages, alcoholism and addiction to pills and affairs with some of the biggest male stars in the World, and a President.
Marilyn Monroe died in 1962 and controversy has haunted her drug overdose ever since. Widely seen as one of the greatest and most tragic movie stars, Monroe’s influence across popular culture is still felt today.
1960s – Mary Quant
In the 1960s, Mary Quant was at the centre of London’s fresh fashion scene which she revolutionized with the mini dress. Quant also introduced women to the joys of hot pants and dressed London’s new singing stars and models such as Twiggy and Sandie Shaw.
She became a style icon herself in 1964, when her friend Vidal Sassoon gave her a new modern short hairstyle known as the 5-point haircut. Just as Quant revolutionized fashion, Sassoon revolutionized hair with precise short sharp cuts that perfectly encapsulated the sexual revolution.
“He liberated women from the punishment of hours spent under the bonnet of a hairdryer, with fat rollers digging into their scalps. We found the freedom to swim in the sea, drive in an open-top car, walk in the rain and then just shake our head to look good again. Your hair did not forget the shape he created and it simply returned to base.”
Quant resigned from her cosmetics company after a Japanese buy-out in 2000. There are more than 200 Mary Quant Colour shops in Japan
1970s – Farrah Fawcett
Born in Texas in 1947 Farah Fawcett appeared in several minor film and TV roles throughout the 70s, before finally hitting the big time as a model in a red swim suit in 1976. Poster company Pro Arts arranged a shoot with Fawcett and photographer Bruce McBroom. Fawcett did her own make-up and hair, using only lemon juice to brighten her highlights.
The result was the bestselling poster of all time, selling 20million copies worldwide and leading Fawcett to her career defining role in the seminal Charlie’s Angels in 1976. This TV show catapulted her to stardom and her Farah Flick hair became a much copied, defining 70s style. Interestingly, she made more money from the poster royalties than she did from the TV show!
Fawcett only made one full season of Charlie’s Angels, but secured a contract for guest appearances through the series life. She continued working on other shows, film and stage and garnered critical acclaim. Farah Fawcett died aged 62 of cancer in 2009, on the same day as Michael Jackson.
1980s – Madonna
Madonna Louise Ciccone was born in Michigan in 1958 and is the World’s highest selling recording female artist, as well as the highest-grossing solo touring artist of all time. With a background in dance, Madonna burst onto the music scene in 1983 with her third single, Holiday. At the same time she appeared in the movie Despeartely Seeking Susan.
With each new release Madonna underwent a style transformation and is as known for her reinvention and fashion as much as her music. It’s tricky to pin down the definitive Madonna look, there’s been so many. However, we’ve picked her high ponytail from the Blonde Ambition Tour of 1990.
“Being blonde is definitely a different state of mind. I can’t really put my finger on it, but the artifice of being blonde has some incredible sort of sexual connotation. Men really respond to it. I love blonde hair but it really does something different to you. I feel more grounded when I have dark hair, and I feel more ethereal when I have light hair. It’s unexplainable. I also feel more Italian when my hair is dark.”
This tour is widely accepted as a landmark, and has influenced the way pop music is presented and performed to this day. As well as introducing the world to the famous conical bra, the tour was hailed as the greatest concert of the 1990s by Rolling Stone.
Madonna is still alive and doing quite well for herself.
1990s – Marge Simpson
There are only a few iconic and influential hairstyles of the ’90s. The obvious one is the Rachel out of Friends haircut, known as the Rachel. Seldom has a sit-com actually spawned a haircut named after the character who wore it. But the Rachel was. Jennifer Aniston apparently hated the cut, but millions of Friends fans rushed to the salon to copy it, perhaps hoping to bag their own Ross out of Friends, because everyone loves an insecure boyfriend.
We’ve espoused the Rachel for a haircut from another cherished sit-com character. And one that has lasted for over 28 years, Marge Simpson’s hair.
Marge was born in an indeterminate year, probably in Springfield and was at an indeterminate age when she first appeared on TV in the Tracey Ullman show in 1987. By 1989 she had her own show, supported by her family – husband Homer, son Bart and daughters Lisa and Maggie.
In all the time that The Simpsons has been on air, Marge has rarely changed her blue towering style, or her dress and necklace. The Simpsons is simply the most loved, most watched and most respected comedy of all time, even if it’s not as good as it used to be. Even the bad episodes are better than most other TV comedies.
With possibly the most instantly recognisable and influential hairstyles in TV history, Marge is a style icon of magnificent proportions.
“Only your father could take a part-time job at a small-town paper and wind up the target of international assassins.”
Marge Simpson continues to appear in The Simpsons every week and in countless re-runs, and has made one movie, 2007’s The Simpsons Movie. She probably won’t die.
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