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Women’s 1960s Hairstyles: An Overview

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Here we take a look at women’s 1960s hairstyles, along with popular accessories. Hair in the 1960s saw a lot of diversity and featured many trends and styles, influenced by the working classes, music, independent cinema and social movements. In the UK, the fashion focus shifted from Paris to London, with designer Mary Quant leading the “Swinging London” revolution. Vidal Sassoon transformed women’s hairdressing, taking the humble bob and reinventing it to suit the mood of the decade.

Film Stars

Since the dawn of cinema, film stars have been influential on fashion trends. During the 1960s, New Wave cinema and Italian films in particular influenced popular culture. Brigitte Bardot, arguably the ultimate ’60s siren, was catapulted to international stardom.

Other iconic actresses of the era include Julie Christie, Catherine Deneuve, Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor and Jane Birkin – all with their own style and signature look.

(L to R) Brigitte Bardot with a messy beehive; Sleek and timeless Sophia Loren; Nancy Kwan with her famous Vidal Sassoon cut (photo: Terence Donovan)

Music

Music also had a big impact on fashion and women’s 1960s hairstyles. Since the late 1950s, the styles worn by the rock and roll singers and popular bands of the era were embraced by lovers of the music. From this, teenagers developed their own “street fashion”. This influence continued right through the ’60s, from the über-fashionable mods, through to the psychedelic sounds of the later sixties.

The First Lady

The impeccably groomed American First Lady Jackie Kennedy (later Onassis) influenced a whole generation with her elegant outfits, bouffant do and pillbox hats. Elements of the “Jackie O” style are still admired and imitated today.

Hairdressers

Hairdressers have always developed new hairstyles and influenced hair fashions. For instance, the new decade welcomed the voluminous beehive, created by a Chicago-based hairdresser. This was followed by the advent of sharp, short crops by Vidal Sassoon, arguably the hairdressing star of the ’60s.

Sassoon created iconic styles and popularised short hair with geometric and asymmetrical cuts that revolutionised women’s hairstyling. The cutting-edge Sassoon styles were fresh, sleek and sharp. Ultimately, the looks were imitated around the globe. Style guru Mary Quant and actress Nancy Kwan had Sassoon cuts.

Hairdresser Louis Alexandre Raimon created Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra look and styled film stars like Greta Garbo and Audrey Hepburn. Raymond Bessone trained Vidal Sassoon and is believed to have influenced the modern bouffant.

Subculture

In the second half of the decade, political activismsocial changes and psychedelic rock music led to hair for both sexes becoming longer and left more natural, in keeping with the carefree yet radical attitudes of the hippie subculture.

Women's 1960s Hairstyles

Electric tongs and the new styling wand (the hairdryer/curler combo) enabled women to create big curls and lots of lift. Heated Carmen Rollers were available from 1965, making it easier to set/curl the hair at home instead of going to the hairdressers.

Older women would not necessarily go for an ultra-fashionable modern styles and may still have worn the smaller, more mature styles of the 1950s.

The Bouffant

The 1960s bouffant carried on from the similar styles of the late 1950s. It varied in size from happily rounded to pretty big. It could be smooth and sleek, or tousled with curls and waves. In a word, it was not just one particular look, but one that simply involved big and high pouffed-up hair.

Popular with women of all ages, the bouffant was straight forward enough to create and easy to wear. To start with, hair was set in large rollers to create the initial lift needed. Once set, the hair was then backcombed to give it the structure, shape and size required. The outer layer of hair would then be combed or brushed smoother and put into place, before being finished with a mosquito-clearing cloud of hair lacquer to keep the hair in place.

To get even more bouff in their bouffants, women could used hairpieces on the crown, creating a towering height of hair. The hairpieces didn’t even need to match the hair colour – it was all about the height.

Famous bouffants wearers included First Ladies Jackie Kennedy and Lady Bird Johnson, The Supremes and Dusty Springfield, who also loved a beehive.

The bouffant - lacquered within an inch of its life!

The Beehive

American singing group The Ronettes, comprised of Estelle Bennett, Veronica Bennett, and Nedra Talley. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images c.1965).

The beehive is one of the enduring symbol of the early 1960s. The distinctively hive-shaped, backcombed and lacquered mountain of hair would last for many days, with a bit of tweaking and, of course, lashings of Aqua Net.

The creation of the 1960s beehive is credited to Margaret Vinci Heldt of Elmhurst, Illinois – owner of the Margaret Vinci Coiffures in downtown Chicago. She had been asked by the editors of Modern Beauty Salon magazine to design a new hairstyle that would reflect the coming decade and so, in 1960, the beehive was born.  

Interestingly, a beehive-style had been seen in fifteenth-century Italy, albeit in a slightly differing form.

The elegant updo was incredibly popular, worn by the masses and the famous alike, including Dusty Springfield and Audrey Hepburn. A beehive could also be twinned with longer hair in a “half up half down” style, as worn by Bridgette Bardot and The Ronettes.

Short Geometric Cuts & The Pixie

women's 1960s hair
Vidal Sassoon working on his iconic angular hairstyle of the '60s, as worn here by Mary Quant.

The cutting-edge short styles were pioneered by Vidal Sassoon, who started creating these styles in 1963.

In contrast to the heavily-lacquered and teased bouffants, Vidal’s short cuts and bobs involved much less daily maintenance and fell easily into place. However, they did need regular trimming to keep the hair looking sharp.

Wearers of the short and sleek Sassoon styles included fashion designer Mary Quant and actress Nancy Kwan.

Other famous women also had short haircuts that helped popularise this look. For example, in 1966, model Twiggy sported a side-parted short cut with a long, side-swept fringe. It was known as the “Twiggy Cut” to those wanting to have the same short style. Likewise, Mia Farrow went from having long hair to a very short pixie cut during her time in soap opera Peyton Place. Her pixie cut can also be seen in Rosemary’s Baby (1968).

The Flick Up

A popular style in the 1960s, the flicked up bob was an easy-to-wear and flexible style for medium-length or shorter hair. Here, the hair was set in large rollers to create the lift and height required, as well as allow the ends of the hair to be flicked up. The flicked curl went all around the ends of the hair.

The flicked up bob.

Long Hair

Cher with straight, long hair and long fringe.

Hair was worn long throughout the 1960s, but came more into vogue in the mid/late-’60s for both sexes.

During the early 1960s, hair would not simply be left down without any styling. It was worn sleek, sometimes with a bit of lift, like some backcombing at the crown to achieve a smooth, rounded bouffant. 

Hair was generally centre parted. Long hair could be with or without a fringe, which tended to be worn longer.

To get poker straight hair, women would iron it, often using a brown paper bag over the hair to help prevent it getting singed.

Later in the decade, with the flower power influence, long hair could be left more natural and the more-than-likely-unstyled hair was usually worn centre parted, and could be with or with a fringe. Conversely, hair could be blow-dried into a smooth and voluminous style.

The Afro

Many black women had straightened their hair during the forties and fifties, because it was considered to be the socially acceptable way to dress one’s hair. However, towards the end of the fifties, hair slowly started being left natural and cut short.

Influenced by the American Civil Rights Movement, students, activists and jazz musicians (like Nina Simone) started leaving their hair natural and not straightened as a symbol of racial pride. Natural hair was a strong political symbol of black pride and identity.

Hair gradually became fuller and longer throughout the 1960s, as the trend for longer hair continued, along with the rise of political activism. Hair was teased into the classic round Afro hairstyle with a wide-toothed Afro pick.

Popularity of the Afro peaked in the late 1960s into the 1970s, during which time it moved from being a political statement into being fashionable. Ultimately, it became so fashionable that white people got their hair permed to be tight and curly (for example, Barbra Streisand).

(L to R): Angela Davis; Marsha Hunt; Woman at a Black Panther meet; And three West Indian woman in Britain.

Hair Accessories

Bows

Both big bows and tiny little bows were used to adorn the hair. There were lots of sewing patterns available to make large bows at home. Consequently, they could come in all sorts of colours and materials. Ribbons were also tied around the head into a bow, or came on a headband.

Combs & Slides

Combs and slides were made of plastic and often decorated with bows, rhinestones, bright swirls or mod-inspired black and white geometric patterns.

Spanish mantilla combs were used by some women in the back of their huge beehives to prevent them from collapsing. Portobello Road in London or junkshops were good places to scout for an old tortoiseshell mantilla.

Headscarves

Headscarves were tied in several ways:

  • The fashionable young liked to tie their headscarf right on the point of the chin, as opposed to being tied under the chin like their mothers.
  • Alternatively, scarves could be tied behind the head at the nape.
  • A long scarf could be wrapped around the head, then crossed under the chin, wrapped around the neck and tied at the back.
 

Scarves accompanied by big dark sunglasses was the fashionable way – very Jackie O and very Cannes Film Festival!

(L to R): Jean Shrimpton; A scarf from a sewing pattern; And a babushka scarf.

Natural Elements

Natural items like feathersleather bands and flowers were worn later in the sixties with the advent of “flower power” and the hippies.

Wigs & Hairpieces

Fake hair was the big hair accessory of the 1960s when wigs and other hair pieces were worn openly. There was no shame in wearing a wig or fake hair at all, whether the item was detectable as fake or not. 

Wigs were made of real hair and generally came as a “pull on and wear” cap/weft style. They were worn for convenience as well as fashion. Wigs could help a woman change colour and style in an instant, as well as cover up “hair issues”. 

Hairpieces (again, made from real hair) were attached to the back of the head to create width and height, subsequently making big hair even bigger. Likewise, pieces could be used to create a top knot or other more dressed up styles. Contrasting colours such as gold, peach and lavender were used, as well as those matching the wearer’s hair. 

False hair attached to a wide velvet headband was very popular, as were bows with hair attached to them. Clusters often had a comb attached to help push it into the natural hair. Long backfalls were attached to the crown to create a bouffant look at the back with a long tail of hair – useful for those with shorter hair who wanted length without having to wear a full wig. 

Hair Colouring

Developments in hair colour science gave rise to new tints and tones. Improved off-the-shelf kits made it easier to dye at home. In addition to the new colours came new techniques like “frosting”, which is the bleaching of small strands of top hair all over the head.

Find Out More

Sources:

Corson, R. (2000). Fashions in Hair: The First Five Thousand Years. Peter Owen.

Sherrow V. (2001). For Appearances' Sake: The Historical Encyclopedia of Good Looks, Beauty and Grooming. Greenwood.
A variety of hairstyles (1965).
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26 thoughts on “Women’s 1960s Hairstyles: An Overview”

  1. hey can you add 1980s and 1990s women’s hairstyles to? and also this website is really helpful. Thank you 🙂

    1. Hi Maddy, The 80s and 90s are defo on our list of things to do. We’ll get there eventually! Thank you 🙂

    1. I know for sure I’m also doing a 1960’s thing, but it’s an essay. I’m quite glad this existed too!

      – Eugene J.
      June 5, 2018

  2. Can you tell me when streaked hair really became fashionable? I’m critiquing a novel set in the 60s but written now, and the author speaks of an actress having streaked hair. Growing up I know it didn’t get popular where I lived until the early 70s, but then it was a small town. Who’s right, the reader or the writer? (The author has committed a few other anachronisms, so it’s kind of important.)

    1. As a fashion trend, highlighting became popular in the 1970s. But streaking was around in the 1960s, where a plastic cap would be used with holes in it, and strands of hair pulled though for bleaching. So it would be perfectly possible for someone to have streaked hair in the 1960s, even if the fashion hadn’t yet reached its dizzy heights of the 70s and 80s.

  3. I know this article was written in 2012 but can I ask, do you know how to make that headscarf? The one Jean Shrimpton is wearing?

    1. We’re guessing it’s made from a square of fabric, nothing too flimsy as it seems to be holding it’s shape, then simply tied at the nape 🙂

  4. thanks for the help, i have got lots of course work on the 60s and i have to research EVERYTHING so looking for sites on everything is really hard but this site really helped thankyou

    1. Hi Caitlin – thank you for letting us know; really glad our site helped your research, makes what we try to do worth it! All the best 🙂

  5. Love this site and the information, the detail and useful pictures to illustrate. Thanks guys for what I can imagine takes a lot of time to put together! Carrie x

    1. Hi Carrie – thank you for commenting and it does take a while to put together, esp. between jobs, family and life! Ah well. Cheers 🙂

  6. thank for all the info i really needed it for my project ! thanks to you im so prepared for this essay on 1960s …. thanks to creators of website once again !

      1. No thank you for the info …. i will make sure to recommend this site to anyone who needs it 🙂

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