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Women’s 1970s Hairstyles: An Overview

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women's 1970s hairstyles
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.

Television & Film

Publicity photo of the cast of the TV show Charlie’s Angels: (L to R) Jaclyn Smith, Farrah Fawcett-Majors and Kate Jackson.

Films stars were as influential as ever on fashion. For instance, there was Liza Minelli’s short feathered cut in Cabaret (1972) and Jane Fonda’s androgynous shag hairstyle in Klute (1971), which 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 later 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 – known as the Farrah Flick – she was the poster girl of many a teen’s bedroom. And Dads didn’t mind a jot!

Nostalgia

Nostalgia was big in the 1970s, leading to a whimsical look back to various periods, especially the 1920s to the 1940s. This looking to the past can be seen in fashion, TV shows and films, and music.

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.

Music

Music and fashion continued to hold hands. The 1970s 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), CherDebbie Harry (bleached blonde with a fringe), Barbra Streisand and Siouxsie Sioux (spiked black hair), among many others.

Hairdressers

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.

women's 1970s hairstyles
A selection of 1970s styles from magazines. (Top) Pageboy-influenced (1973); Something for the older woman (1973); A sleek pageboy (1973). (Bottom) Flicks (1975); Mid-length soft curls (1975); Short and flicked (1976).

Popular Women's Hairstyles of the 1970s

The Afro

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.

Marsha Hunt with a natural Afro and Barbra Streisand with a permed "Afro" in 1979.

The Ape

This was an early 1970s style that consisted of shorter hair on top combined with longer hair at the back, with lots of layers throughout the whole hair. The hair could be straight or curly, but it always had a shaggy look to it. It fell out of fashion by about 1972.

Asymmetrical Styles

In the later 1970s, wearing or styling the hair to one side was popular, creating an asymmetrical look. It could be anything from a ponytail on the side of the head, or waves dressed up and out on one side.

Cornrows

Here, the hair is plaited flat to the scalp, either in straight rows (hence the name, as it is 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 1960s and 1970s due to the black pride movement.

Cornrows also became somewhat well-known in the mainstream media when bikini-clad beauty Bo Derek wore her long hair in braids 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.

women's 1970s hairstyles
(L to R) Actress Cicely Tyson, who rejected straightening in the ’60s and wore an Afro, is shown here in the early ’70s with cornrows; Floella Benjamin in 1976; Bo Derek in about 1979.

Flicks & Wings

Flicks created by using the fringe 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.

Various ways to create the 1970s flicks and wings.

Long Hair

Long and very 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. The hair was parted in the centre. To get hair really straight, it could be ironed under a brown paper bag. 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). 

Long hair also came with a more bouncy-looking, blow-dried finish. It had more volume than the straight version, along with body and movement seen with the big and bouncy soft curls.

Mohicans & 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.

(L to R): Vivienne Westwood; Soo Catwoman with her trademark cat ears; and two women on the London Underground with jet black hair.

The Purdey & 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”.

women's 1970s hairstyles
(L to R) Joanna Lumley with the much admired “Purdey”; Very happy have a Purdey it seems!; A sleek salon pageboy.

The Shag

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 1970s 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).

women's 1970s hairstyles
Jane Fonda, Joan Jett and Suzi Quatro looking splendid with shag cuts.

The Stack Perm

Perming became more popular later in the decade, creating looks 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, leaving the crown area untouched. Lots of small perm rods were stacked away from the head 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. In short, it created a halo of curls.

women's 1970s hairstyles
(L to R): Donna Summer; A classic stack perm do; And how the perm rods were stacked up, hence the name.

The Wedge

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.

Dorothy Hamill (left) and two other examples of wedge haircuts.

Hair Colouring

Clairol advert for its DIY highlighting kit Quiet Touch (1975).

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 attempt 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 was then 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.

Hairstyling Tools

Supermax multi-purpose hairstyler with the attachments to do it all (1973).

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.

Find Out More

Sources:
Corson, R. (2000). Fashions in Hair: The First Five Thousand Years. Peter Owen.
Inness, Sherrie A. (2003). Disco Divas: Women and Popular Culture in the 1970s. University of Pennsylvania Press.
Sherrow, V. (2001). For Appearances' Sake: The Historical Encyclopedia of Good Looks, Beauty and Grooming. Greenwood Press.
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20 thoughts on “Women’s 1970s Hairstyles: An Overview”

  1. Why is there no mention of hairdresser Alan Jones in 1970-1980s worked in a lot of London top salons,magazine work,hair shows, sadly no longer with us ,was a good friend

  2. I think with Sandy they were aiming for a Marilyn Monroe look with her hair? It wasn’t entirely unheard of, but it was an uncommon style for sure. (Betty Grable had similar sometimes too)

    1. Hi Damien – guess the “Sandy” hairdo could be a cross between Betty Grable’s curly pompadour (those curls on top) with Marilyn’s longer curls at the back of her head. Together, to us at least, “Sandy” is a very “1970s big” bubble perm 🙂 Sandy’s earlier styles in the film look more 1950s (smaller hair, fringe and pony tail) when she was the good girl!

  3. Oh man this made me have flashbacks. I had a wedge, and later, perms. I remember the horrid smell of the perms and the way the hot liquid would drip down the back of your neck. But the curls that came out afterward were worth it. 🙂

    1. Haha! Yeah those tight 70s perms seemed to last forever – god knows what they did to your hair but, as you said, it was worth it! 🙂

    2. Yes.70.s and 80.s perms were great but i remember it dripping down my back.horrid smrell.lovely curly perms though.oh.happy days!

    1. !!!!!! that’s what makes this site SO good — the detail. “Detail” is what separates it from the 2 line wonders that tell you nothing. Keep up with the all the DETAIL! I love it!

      1. Thanks to both of you for commenting.
        (Don’t worry “Detail Fan” – the way we write is what we do, and it’s all in the detail! Non-detail lovers can always choose to skim read 😉

  4. I had a stack perm in the late 70’s! Yes….! Flicks and straight hair were popular at school. I remember wanting a “Sandy” do too! Thanks for great info and trip down memory lane!!

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women's 1970s hairstyles