Women’s Hair Trends Through The Ages

With the Spring Summer 2017 Fashion Weeks taking off, we’re looking at weeks of spotting, analyzing and confirming the major hair trends for 2016-2017. Trend mapping is one of my favorite things to do, both professionally and personally, and I thought it would be fun to take a look back at some of the major women’s hair trends of the past.

It’s so interesting to see how each era was defined by some signature hairstyles and haircuts which went on to not only define the style de jour of the period, but also became major symbols by which those decades were later recognized, and even understood. If you think fashion is ever ‘just’ about fashion, you’re mistaken: fashion draws from and feeds back into the art, social commentary, political developments and economic atmosphere of the time.

When you take a look back at hair trends through the decades, you see that they were indisputably linked to the zeitgeist of the time and were, as such, a powerful tool for expression and representation. For instance, during the World War years when morale was low, times tough and luxuries unthinkable, women took to using pipe cleaners to style their hair and found inspiration in the Victory Roll maneuver performed by American aircrafts, thus giving birth to a hairstyle that continues to be a hot favorite for themed-based hairstyles even today.

Here’s a look back at how hair trends have evolved through the years. 

The 1910s

The Look: The Gibson Girl

Carefully arranged volume at the crown, waterfall curls and deliberately loose strands on one side.

The Icon

Evelyn Nesbit- an American model, actress and chorus girl of the era.

The Mood

The trend is credited to the ink drawings of American artist Charles Gibson and his vision of the American woman at the start of the 20th century. The look was feminine, traditional and delicate. There’s something almost matronly about the look by today’s standards and yet, it was seen most often on young women. The look was defined by a ton of hair piled up at the crown in an almost pagoda-like shape. The bouffant-adjacent top would sometimes be accented with a bit of hair left loose on one side, which was typically styled into curled coils and arranged over a shoulder. It is said that the hairstyle defined the ‘ideal woman’ of the era: one who was a respectable lady, with the merest hints of subtle sensuality. 

The 1920s

The Look: The A-line Bob

Ultra-short, slightly tapered bob with a thick, blunt fringe.

The Icon

Louise Brooks

The Mood

The Roaring Twenties were the source of so many developments that would shape the world for decades to come, not least of which was the re-imagining of gender norms and female identity. By cutting their hair short, women began to defy age-old societal rules and the graphic bob of the Flapper era was born. A full, flat fringe topped off the ear-skimming short haircut and sparked off a new era in women’s fashion, politics and identity discourse.

The 1930s

The Look: Feminine Waves

Pin Curls, Finger Waves and Medium Lengths

The Icon

Vivienne Leigh

The Mood

Women begin to grow out their hair and move away from the stark bobs of the Twenties and towards a more conventionally feminine mood in the Thirties. Medium-length haircuts became the norm, and with curls being the standard for styled hair, finger waves and pin curls took off in a big way. Style in the 1930s was all about emphasis and exaggeration softened with a hint of old-world elegance.  Vivienne Leigh’s pinned-back, half-up-half-down hairstyles became all the rage and her meteoric rise to international stardom with Gone With The Wind made her a fashion icon with women the world over.

The 1940s

The Look: Old Hollywood Waves

Well-defined curls and waves in smooth hair, usually worn with a side part.

The Icon

Veronica Lake

The Mood

The look is all about timeless elegance, undeniable glamour and traditional femininity. Voluminous curls and waves continue to be a Red Carpet favorite even today, and are the go-to look for all Hollywood A-listers and beauty enthusiasts. You simply can’t go wrong with the hairstyle that defined Hollywood’s Golden Years.

The 1950s

The Look: The Flirty Fringe

Peek-a-boo bangs barely falling over the hairline.

The Icon

Audrey Hepburn

The Mood

The Fifties saw a number of iconic trends such as Marilyn Monroe’s curly ‘do, but none stand out quite like Audrey Hepburn’s barely-there bangs. Today, style sensibilities would dictate that such bangs would prove difficult to carry off but as Ms. Hepburn taught us, all you need is charm and a happy personality. The bangs proved effective in drawing attention to the eyes and imparting a childish innocence to the wearer and could be paired with a variety of haircuts and styles, ranging from cropped pixies and French twists to ponytails and the bouffant.

The 1960s

The Look: The Twiggy Pixie

A super-short, boyish pixie crop.

The Icon

Twiggy

The Mood

The Twiggy pixie was all about using the hair as a compliment to one’s features, and not as a focal point in itself. Ultra-short hair really opened up the face and worked well with the heavy eye makeup that was so popular at the time. Keeping in tune with the mod and androgynous movements of the time, the Twiggy pixie crop was all about gamine sensuality, playful fashion and fluid identities.

The 1970s

The Look: The Feathered Flip

A multi-layered, bouncy, shoulder-length cut with the ends flipped out.

The Icon

Farrah Fawcett

The Mood

The origins of the tousled, bed-head look can be traced all the way back to the Seventies. Did you know that prior to The Rachel, Farrah Fawcett’s flipped-out, super-voluminous layered-do was the most popular hairstyle of all time? The hairstyle took all the best style elements of the years to create a trend that was beachy, sexy, laidback and yet sophisticated- beauty ideals that ring true even today! Farrah Fawcett’s position as the ultimate It Girl of the era ensured that the feathery flip became synonymous with sex appeal all over the globe.

The 1980s

The Look: The Punk Fashionista

Teased hair accessorized with a head-wrap and long, chunky bangs to a side.

The Icon

Madonna

The Mood

The Material Girl cemented her place in international fashion by blending punk-rock grittiness with girly glam in iconoclastic trends that were entire lifestyles and cultural subsets as of themselves.

In a decade when hair was all about texture and the perm ruled the roost, Madonna embodied the gritty, piece-y finish that would later inspire grunge hair trends for years to come. Combining the messy matte finish with tons of hair accessories, angled bangs and serious teasing, Madonna practically invented the club-scene hair trend. The little-girl bows in particular added that trademark Madonna cheekiness to a look that was otherwise edgy. This one was for the 80s kid who loved to dance, flitted between color and confusion and had too much personality to stick to a single look.

The 1990s

The Look: The Rachel

A layered, voluminous haircut that frames the face and is defined by lots of body and movement.

The Icon

Rachel Green, portrayed by actress Jennifer Anniston on the TV show F.R.I.E.N.D.S.

The Mood

When a particular entry leaps out at you in a conversation about iconic, unforgettable, generation-defining trends, you know you’re witness to something legendary. Never before in the history of pop culture and international fashion has a single trend made such an impact. From the streets of New York to the by-lanes of New Delhi, the 90s saw girls and women of all ages sport the Rachel.  

Named after the sassy, fashion-loving, super-relatable character on the hit TV show, the Rachel is still going strong twenty years later. Chris McMillan, the genius behind the trend, changed the way the world identified with young women with very real struggles and very real dreams by creating a hairstyle that is universally flattering on all face types, features and personalities.  

The 2000s

The Look: The Beckham Bob

Short, angular, asymmetrical bob.

The Icon

Victoria Beckham

The Mood

Garçonne-chic made its way back in a big way during the 2000s, but edgier and more deliberately styled than the 1970s version. Where Twiggy’s look was all about innocent, accidental sexiness, the 2000s version more deliberate and overtly sexy. This look is all about powerful women taking control of their narratives; taking short hair away from the men and making it feminine, sensual and unapologetic. The minute you think of Victoria Beckham, you think of a woman who is strong, successful, stylish and always graceful. The angular bob is for the woman who’s not afraid to make a statement.

The 2010s

The Look: Classic Cuts, Crazy Colors

Natural texture/ Rainbow colors

The Icon

Katy Perry

The Mood

This past decade has seen a return to very classic styles in terms of haircuts: people are embracing natural lengths, shapes and textures and we’ve seen a lot of long, straight hair and messy curls. On the flipside, people have experimented with hair color like never before. Rainbow hair color, pastel hair color, bubblegum hair, opal hair color, teal hair, the oil slick hair trend, the mermaid hair trend, the granny hair trend: you name it, and we’ve seen it. We’ve seen these ‘non-natural’ hair colors on everyone from Katy Perry to Dame Helen Mirren- and loved every minute of it!

It’s rather telling to see that so many of the biggest hair trends from the last few years –the retro, Great Gatsby hairstyles or the vintage Old Hollywood waves– actually originated decades back. Style is cyclical and evolutionary:  revivalism is a big part of the fashion industry, but so is adaptation and modernization.