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Women’s 1970s hairstyles varied from long, soft and feminine to short, edgy and androgynous. New styles were being created throughout the decade. There was a lot of experimentation and hair was sometimes a direct expression of the times. Here we take a look at what and who influenced 1970s hairstyles, as well as the most popular styles worn by women throughout the decade.
Influences on Hair
Television and Film
Films and its stars were as influential as ever on fashion. There was Liza Minelli’s short feathered cut in Cabaret (1972). Jane Fonda’s androgynous shag hairstyle in Klute (1971) could be seen in various forms throughout the decade.
Television was a national obsession in many Western countries, and the TV was often the focal point of the home. There were adverts, music shows and a wealth of series in all genres. Subsequently, TV was a major influence on people’s lives, fashion choices and attitudes.
Farrah Fawcett-Majors was one massive influence on mid-1970s hair. Ah, the lovely Farrah hit our screens in 1976 courtesy of Charlie’s Angels. With her long feather cut and big flicked sides, Farrah was the poster girl of many a teen’s bedroom. And Dads didn’t mind a jot!
Nostalgia and Art Deco
Nostalgia was big in the ’70s, leading to a whimsical look back to various periods, especially the 1920s and ’40s. This looking to the past can be seen in fashion, TV shows and films, and music.
There was an art deco revival in the first half of the decade, with fashion taking a lead from the ’20s and ’30s in particular.
Several films were set during this era, including The Boy Friend (1971) with Twiggy and The Great Gatsby (1974) with Mia Farrow, which kept the evergreen bob in fashion.
Nostalgia wasn’t always an accurate look back. For example, Olivia Newton John‘s final “Sandy” hairdo in Grease, that big mass of bubbly curls, was more 1970s than an accurate style from the ’50s, the era the film was set in.
Music and fashion continued to hold hands. The ’70s sounds of glam rock, disco, funk, northern soul, new wave and punk each had their signature looks and style. Punks were out to shock with cropped hair, shaved heads and crazy-coloured sculptures, such as Mohicans, horns and spikes.
Influential women in music include Donna Summer (numerous wigs and looks, but always glam and fashionable), Cher, Debbie Harry (bleached blonde with a fringe), Barbra Streisand and Siouxsie Sioux (spiked black hair), among many others.
Hairdressers created a few styles during the decade that were copied by many and some can still be seen today, albeit with modern twists. The shag, as seen on Jane Fonda in Klute, is credited to hairdresser Paul McGregor. British hairdresser Trevor Sorbie created the wedge in 1974, a short, layered and angular style. Jheri Redding created the Jheri curl, a loose glossy hairstyle worn predominantly by African Americans.
Popular Hairstyles of the ’70s
Long Straight Hair
Long, straight hair had been in vogue since the late 1960s and it’s popularity continued right through the 1970s. It is a very commonly seen style in photographs, especially with the younger generation and schoolgirls.
Hair was parted in the centre. This style was seen on many celebrities, including actresses Ali MacGraw in the movie Love Story (1970) and Peggy Lipton in hit TV series Mod Squad (1968-1973). To get hair really straight, it could be ironed under a brown paper bag.
An early ’70s style that consisted of shorter hair on top combined with longer hair at the back, and lots of layers throughout the hair. The hair could be straight or curly, but always had a shaggy look to it.
Hairdresser Paul McGregor is credited as having created the shag haircut for Jane Fonda’s character Bree Daniels in the film Klute (1971).
It is a unisex, no frills cut that involved evenly-progressing layers with graduated sides and a full fringe. A much longer version of the shag, often with waves, was called the gypsy cut.
It was a popular ’70s hairstyle for both sexes and was worn by many including Joan Jett, David Cassidy and Gillian Blake (from a UK TV show for children called Follyfoot).
The angular-looking wedge was created by Vidal Sassoon protégé Trevor Sorbie in 1974. Consisting of short hair with steep-angled layers cut all around the sides and back, it created a triangular shape that was smooth on top.
One famous wearer of a wedge was American figure skater Dorothy Hamill. In 1976, she won a gold at the Winter Olympics and women across America wanted a haircut just like the sweetheart of skating.
Hairstyles that encouraged the black community to embrace their natural hair structure, as opposed to being “society correct” with straightened hair, continued to be popular in the 1970s. After emerging in the ’60s, predominantly as part of the black pride movement, the afro continued its rise in popularity.
However, the ’70s Afro was as much about being fashionable as it was political, and was worn by both sexes throughout the decade, largely by African-Americans and the black community.
It was also worn by other ethnic groups and gave people with very curly hair an alternative to the uniform long, straight hair look.
Perming allowed European hair to be tightly curled and from the mid-’70s to the end of the decade, the Afro was worn by various people (men and women) including the famous e.g. Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler.
The hair is plaited flat to the scalp, either in straight rows (hence the name, reminiscent of cornfields once worked in) or in a myriad of intricate patterns. It’s a style that requires no relaxers or other harsh chemicals. Long braided hair can have the ends secured with elastic bands and/or decorated with things like beads, flowers or shells.
An ancient and traditional way of styling hair in Africa and for African-descended people worldwide, cornrows became fashionable again in the ’60s and ’70s due to the black pride movement.
Cornrows also became somewhat well-known in the mainstream media when bikini-clad beauty Bo Derek wore long braided hair decorated with beads in the 1979 film 10.
Not all black women had cornrows or an Afro. Wigs were still a popular alternative, found in a variety of short and long fashionable styles.
The Purdey and the Pageboy
The pageboy had been worn for many decades. British actress Joanna Lumley wore this bowl-like version of a pageboy in her role as Purdey for TV show The New Avengers (1976-77). Hence it was known, in the UK at least, as a “Purdey”.
Flicks and Wings
Flicks were seen on both short and long hairstyles. They emerged in the early ’70s before Charlie’s Angels (1976) brought the ultimate flicked hair to our attention in the shape of Farrah Fawcett and her “Farrah flicks”.
Flicks on a fringe (often centre-parted) were referred to as “wings” due to the shape made by the flicks at the side of the face.
Flicks could also go all the way round the bottom of shorter hair, creating a mass of body. The crown area and top of the hair was always straight.
To create a splendid flick, the new breed of heated styling tools were used, as well as rollers or tongs. Some women opted for a perm to create the curl needed, which could then be styled really easily. Perms were used to create the lift and shape needed to curl and flick the hair.
A high-fashion look in the late 1970s was to wear longer hair dressed to one side, often in a pony tail. The pony could be either high up by the top of the ear – or low down at jaw level or even lower on the shoulder. This look continued into the 1980s.
Perming became more popular later in the decade, from tight curls to more bubble-like creations. One perm that was so 1970s was the stack perm.
A stack perm involved perming the middle and lower parts of long hair. Lots of small perm rods were stacked away from the head and crown area on things like chopsticks.
It resulted in a mass of tight, smallish curls around the ends and length of the hair while remaining straight on top around the crown area, creating a halo of curls.
Mohicans and all things Punk
While not worn by the masses, punk has its rightful place in ’70s hair history. Short, spiked, shaved or sculpted, punk hairstyles were the opposite of any style classed as “ordinary”. It was a look created by rebellious youths in mid-late ’70s.
Clippering or shaving areas of the head was incorporated into some designs, like mohicans and horns. Alternatively, wearers went for a full-on skinhead (a revival of a fifties style), though girls often left their fringe and side sections longer.
Mohicans and spiky hair defied gravity. Everyday household products like eggs, sugar water, soap or gelatine, as well as gels and hairsprays were used to create the upright sculptures.
The most common hair colours were jet black (like Siouxsie Sioux), or the other end of the scale with bleached blonde hair (like Debbie Harry from Blondie). Punk also brought some coloured hair to the streets and anything went. Colour was created using Crazy Color, a range of neon colours launched in 1977, as well as everyday products like food colourings and even Kool-Aid and Kia-Ora.
Text and patterns were also put into hair, like leopard print.
The use of hair colour had grown over the decades. By the 1970s, around a third of American women coloured their hair, either at home or via a salon.
Home dyes were big business, even techniques like highlighting were possible to do at home with kits like Clairol’s Quiet Touch.
Highlighting was popular, and could be achieved by several techniques, including using a tail comb to weave the hair onto foils – a recent development in hairdressing technique. A heated double-sided flat iron could then be used on the foil packets to speed up the activation time.
Frosting was used to create a natural sun-kissed highlighted look on brown and blonde hair, created by either simply painting on the highlighter using a narrow brush, or by using a few foils.
Concerns over the ingredients used in hair colours and links to cancer emerged in the seventies. Colours that were more “natural”, using vegetable dyes as opposed to coal tar dyes, were introduced to the market. Revlon had Colorsilk, the first hair colour without ammonia, and the all natural henna was being used more in the Western world, especially as red tints were popular.
Flicks, wings and curls, as well as straightening wavy hair, needed the right hair tools. Hair tool brands were branching out from the simple curling iron or blow dryer to answer the hairstyling needs of the decade.
Multi-purpose hairdryers could do it all, including the super orange Supermax made by Gillette. It came with various comb and brush attachments to create all those ’70s styles.
The variety and number of hair care products in the ’70s increased dramatically. As a result, there was something for all hairstyles and hair types.
The number of shampoo products available increased tremendously in the ’70s, with many more products being targeted at specific hair types (e.g. oily, dry, fine, Afro) or conditions (e.g. brittle, split ends).
There was often an emphasis on “natural“, leading to new products on the market, like Clairol’s Herbal Essences (founded 1972). The two-step process of using a shampoo followed by a separate conditioner also increased during the decade.
So, that’s a look at women’s 1970s hairstyles. Next came the eighties (er, obviously) and hair was to continue on its evolutionary journey, with fashion deciding that bigger was better. Oh boy…