Empowering vintage hairstyles
Aug 12, 2020 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
My errands, routines, and rhythms have dramatically changed over the last few months. Either events have been removed from the calendar completely, or have been transformed into contact-free experiences. Going to restaurants is now ordering delivery, without seeing the amazing people who prepared my meal. Refilling a prescription has been replaced by checking my mailbox. Grocery shopping involves opening an app and hoping everything on my list can be fulfilled. Getting a haircut was one such item that was completely erased from my agenda. In late March I was scheduled for a trim, but after multiple attempts to reschedule I finally faced this new reality. The salon and I were destined to spend this time apart. But this weekend, on my patio, I sat in the sunshine while a wonderful neighbor trimmed my locks. Masks on, we chatted about life and shared a laugh. With each snip of the scissors I felt more and more like my old self. There is something special about changing your hairstyle. It can feel liberating, exciting, and in times such as these – restorative. I’m sure that this emotional connection to our mane is nothing new. To prove my theory, let’s take a stroll through history and revisit three empowering vintage hairstyles. Let me know about your favorite looks in the comments…
Our journey begins in the late 1800s. A new century was dawning and a new kind of woman was stepping into the light. In every generation there are strong women, ladies who persevere despite incredible odds. For this generation, the battle cry was one of equality and that required a different kind of strength. The suffragettes were on the front lines, rallying their fellow sisters to the cause of voting rights. This political activism impacted other arenas of the feminine lifestyle – including fashion. Navigating a male-dominated landscape meant the suffragette must leverage every asset to lend credibility to the movement. Many made the conscious choice to maintain the fashion norms of the day, rather than rock the boat dramatically. The thought was by avoiding a confrontation around clothes, their message around legal rights would be easier to hear. Tapping into the power of fashion paid off. Soon stores were selling items in the suffragette color scheme (purple for loyalty and dignity, white for purity, and green for hope) and that visibility grew the base tremendously.
At this same time, illustrator Charles Dana Gibson sought to capture the “ideal woman” in this era of the New Woman. While his work became the foundation for future publications to arbitrarily decide beauty standards (ugh), what’s interesting is that the illustrations showed women as the protagonists in their day-to-day lives. Earlier fashion plates depicted women in static situations – almost as if women were intended to simply beautify the background. But in Gibson’s work, women are the driving force in the circumstances captured by ink and paper. Yes, she is smartly adorned but she is front and center. She may be riding a bicycle (still considered taboo during this time), scrutinizing potential suitors, or even bossing the menfolk around! While Gibson didn’t intend for her to be polarizing, many of the actresses and models who donned the signature bun were trailblazers in their own right. Hair swept up and out of their eyes, women looked directly into the future and carved a path for a bold, new age. (Want to try the look, but only have five minutes to spare? Check out this tutorial!)
For me the Jazz Age is a constant source of inspiration. I adore the architecture, fashion, and music from this era. Flapper girls were the icons of their day, unofficially led by the incomparable Zelda Fitzgerald. While a flapper’s fashion and makeup choices gave her identity away, the short haircut immediately set apart the flapper from the fake. Prior to the 1920s, a woman with short locks was categorically denounced. From the beginning of time, the idea that long hair went hand-in-glove with femininity had been the only recognized philosophy. It’s why long-haired men in the 1960s were deemed counter-culture (and it’s why some of my female friends still won’t trim above the shoulders in 2020). It’s funny to think that in the 60s men rebelled by growing their hair out, but in the 20s women rebelled by chopping it off. I really admire the bravery of the flapper gal who turned her heels on the Rapunzel idea of beauty. But the time was right for this about face.
As soon as the early 1900s European hair salons were starting to experiment. Rumor has it Joan of Arc inspired the original bob and I am inclined to believe that assumption. This was a time when women everywhere were facing down the terrors of WWI. As if that heartbreak wasn’t enough, the great war was followed by a global pandemic. For many gals, channeling a warrior spirit probably seemed the best way to face a world gone mad. This bold look caught on and as more women shortened their hair length, the establishment finally took note. Yet by the time the look made the cover of TIME magazine, the bob was facing a season of decreased popularity. But like all vintage fashions, it went on to resurface again and again. After all, the world is always in need of some heroes!
For the woman who is ready to go one step beyond the daring flappers, the pixie cut is her port of call. Perhaps the ultimate in power statements, this super-short look burst onto the center stage via one of the most darling icons of all-time: Audrey Hepburn. The year was 1953 and the film was Roman Holiday. Audrey’s debut role on the silver screen, she would go on to win the Oscar for this coming-of-age tale. As Princess Ann, Audrey experiences the first taste of independence and takes the audience along for the journey. In one of my favorite scenes the Princess and her bouncing curls confidently enter a barbershop and encounter a very nervous barber. She keeps insisting that he trim more and more off, his sweaty reactions giving away his concerns. But in the end, a sophisticated lady emerges before him and what he was most unsure of becomes his greatest work. Having rocked the pixie cut myself, I can attest to its transformational power.
Perhaps the most famous pixie fan is Twiggy. She may have been the “Face of 1966“, but her impact extends well beyond one calendar year. The hairstyle takes its name from the mythological creatures known for their adventurous streak. An excerpt from the 19th century poem The Pixies captures the joy of this hairstyle well -“The Pixies know no sorrow, the Pixies feel no fear…” Living life without the burden of long locks does take a certain kind of fearlessness and, as a result, brings with it a particular delight. It’s the sparkle best captured by Audrey as she crossed the threshold of the barber shop, ready to conquer the day. Of the three empowering vintage styles we explored today, which one is your favorite?