Beehives and victory rolls
May 23, 2018 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
For me, I connect most to my vintage self through clothing and home furnishings. Wearing a frock from the 1950s and pairing it with costume jewelry always makes an ordinary day feel a bit sunnier. And don’t get me started on how much joy my Lane end table or Broyhill Brasilia brings me!
Candidly, vintage hairstyles are an area where I don’t feel as connected (as my hairstylist knows, my preference is to air dry and let my natural waves do their thing). But there are so many iconic styles to admire and I picked a couple to talk about today. Why did these hair trends take off? Who invented these looks in the first place? Let’s discover a bit more about beehives and victory rolls and tell us about your favorite vintage hairstyles in the comments…
This voluminous & vertical look was born in 1960, a creation of Chicago hairstylist Margaret Vinci Heldt. It all started with a bump-shaped velvet hat, a little insomnia, and a request from a magazine editor. (Sounds like the makings of history as any vintage enthusiast will know!) You see, a hairstyle magazine asked Margaret to create some styles for their next publication and one night while her family rested, Margaret began to play. With the inspiration of her hat and some mood music, she created the now-famous look. The magazine dubbed it the beehive and described the style as a “tall wrap-around crown, creating a circular silhouette with high-rise accents.” Fancy!
While the beehive is definitely her most renowned creation, Margaret cultivated a reputation for creativity and innovation. This skill started at a young age. Always interested in hair, Margaret’s talents were recognized and rewarded with a beauty school scholarship. But the young student couldn’t afford key materials – like the hair switch. (Hair attached to fabric, allowing students to practice different techniques.) Undaunted, Margaret took a sample from her mom, stitched it to burlap, and got to work! After passing her exams in 1935, she set about building a career. Encouraged by a large number of loyal clients, Margaret opened an independent salon on Chicago’s famed Michigan Avenue in 1950. I can only imagine the stylish women buzzing in and out of her doors. Margaret’s mark on Midwestern society won her a National Coiffure Championship in 1954. Quite an accomplished figure before the beehive, her legacy lives on through a scholarship bearing her name.
So why did the beehive become such a cultural phenomenon – embraced by young starlets and established icons (like the lovely Audrey Hepburn)? When we think back to the era, the early 1960s marked a time of tremendous change. Ambition was fueled by post-war optimism, the promises of JFK, and the exciting race to the stars. Mankind was setting their sights higher, people were bolder, and individualism was beginning to take hold in a wave of self-expression. Women had made their mark in the workplace and fashions were reflecting that new environment. The gals who embraced the beehive were forces of nature in their own right – women not afraid to stand out! Tell me dear reader, would you dare to rock the beehive?
A word on waves: Curls were the preferred hairstyle in elite society for decades, but in the late 1800s a daring man brought waves from the slums of Paris to the Champs-Élysées. Marcel Grateau, inventor of the “Marcel Wave“, created heated tongs that could recreate this revolutionary look. These tongs were precarious devices, requiring a technician. But despite the fussiness of the setup, waves remained in fashion for several decades, earning Marcel many clients and accolades. Thanks to the mechanics behind the look, he also paved the way for the modern hair salon business!
During WWII every aspect of daily life was founded in patriotism. Supporting the troops and celebrating their victories were omnipresent in people’s minds. Society rallied and, while this was a time of material restrictions, it was also a time of great creativity. Fashion was at the forefront of this forced innovation and hairstyles can be included in that category. With metal being reserved for the war effort, something as simple as a bobby pin became a hot commodity. A look requiring less framework was in order and victory rolls fit the bill – in fact some women could create their look with pipe cleaners. Talk about creativity! Victory rolls get their name from flight maneuvers – daring airborne tricks that left marks in the sky, giving people hope for a pilot’s safe return. During these tough times, people wanted to carry hopes with them and one way to express this optimism was through personal style.
While it’s hard to pinpoint the inventor of victory rolls, we do know that Hollywood made them accessible, bringing them to the nation’s attention. Warner Brothers stylist Ivan Anderson created a style called “the middy”– a layered look that was easy for the average woman to recreate. I think we’d be hard-pressed to find another style that is equally stunning on screen and useful to the women working in the factories. Women needed a hairstyle that would both celebrate femininity and keep their faces free from hair while they performed detailed (and often dangerous) work. Victory rolls did the job beautifully as they paired equally well with overalls and ball gowns!
Both of the styles we’ve talked about today embody the strength found in women during these different eras. It’s fun to apply this lens to other vintage looks – the shag from the 1970s or the bob from the 1920s. If I apply that lens to my own bohemian & relaxed hairstyle I do see a reflection of my own strength. The confidence I now feel in my own natural appearance. While it was a hard won battle, I also accept that I am free to express my strength in any way I’d like. I can channel the strength of my 1940s sisters with a sassy victory roll or embrace the boldness of the 1960s with a towering beehive. That’s the joy of vintage – each day can be a new adventure! So tell me dear readers, what journey in hair are you going to take next?