Modern Hairdressing (20 and 21 centuries)

When an exceptional hairdresser Marcel Grateau from Paris, in the mid-1880s discovered an ingenious way to give hair a beautiful and wavy look with a soft texture, it ushered in a new era of modern hairdressing. Rendering the postiches and fancy Bijoux redundant. The new Marcel wave was the in-thing and greatly simplified women’s hairstyles. At that time, many renowned coiffeurs loathed the hairstyle for its look, but women loved it. A new craze followed, leaving the coiffeurs no choice but to adopt the Marcel wave which became a staple style for the next twenty-five years. Marceled hair was decorated in a variety of ways with the traditional assortment of feathers, flowers, and pricey doodads. The “négligé” styles of Belle Époque, often colored with henna or dusted with white or gray powder, featured ribbons, enameled combs, and big chignons.

When Emile Long, dean of French coiffeurs made sardonic remarks about the cheap waves donned by midinettes sashaying on the streets of Paris, he was making reference to the fact that the elementary change in the social contours of fashion influenced to a great extent the success of the marceling hairstyle. It was contemporaneous with initial stages of massive expansion in the market for things that were fashionable in Western society.

Creating the Modern Beauty Salon

The modern beauty salon and its associated culture were greatly influenced by three factors. First, increase in wage enlarged women’s disposable income allowing greater independence and freedom to spend money as they so desired. Second, lax social constraints gave leeway for women to carry around their toilettes out of the boudoir and into the hairdressing salon. Third, technological advancements propagated an array of improved services in the salon.

Emerging perceptions about hygiene in conjunction with water heaters and hair dryers spurred shampooing among women. The advent of non-toxic dyes helped women discard old notions about hair coloring. Revenue for hairdressers greatly increased when the permanent-wave machine which allowed women to transform their hair look and texture, was invented. Women paid ten to fifty time more than an average haircut. Movie stars and celebrities who dominated the fashion and beauty world peddled the new hairstyles in magazines, middle and working-class women were not left out.

The Bob

All these precipitated the birth of the “bob”, which proved to be highly influential for both coiffeurs and Western society. The bob had many variations and had been spotted on women before World War I, particularly in the United States. However, the fad became prominent in the 1920s due to its association with “flappers”, and since then, the bob has become a registered staple for every modern woman.

Never had any hairstyle in the history of mankind generated quite a fuss. Provincialists despised the bob. It was found repulsive, that even weird incidents of incensed men locking up and killing their wives for donning a bob were said to have occurred. Millions of women, however, continued to propagate the bob hairstyle. The bob came to be associated, by observers, as a symbol of women’s emancipation. Though the bob provided quite a relief from times of Edwardian coiffures, it was actually not on the cheap side due to its time and money consuming requirements where it needed to be dyed and retouched consistently.

In the long run, the bob was more fashion-driven than political, and such as is the nature of every fad, interest in the bob among women began to dwindle during the close of the Roaring Twenties. International stars such as Antoine and Guillaume began to exhibit longer and “feminine” hairstyles ushering a new era of hairstyles, though the extravagant hairdo of the pre-bob era was never returned to. The depression decade took on a new definition of the “New Woman”—the platinum blonde, curvy and sexy. For men though, short and neat haircuts with a thin mustache (no beard) were highly preferred, like in the manner of Rudolph Valentino and Clark Gable.

War years

New fashion hairstyles were not common during the war years which was rife with misery. Hollywood was where Haute coiffure survived mostly, an example being Veronica Lake who came into the spotlight due to her “bad-girl” hairstyle, the silky long blonde hair which covered half her face and caused discomfort to moralists. Millions of women embroiled in the war simply tucked their short hairdo under military caps or hard hats. But the most peculiar hairstyle birthed during the war was the shaved heads of camp survivors.

Effect of the Consumer Revolution

Great transformation of hairdressing and hairstyles surfaced in the wake of the war bringing about the consumer revolution. The petite tête, a compact hairdo that was an emblem of Christian Dior’s fashion revolution, became the New Look. In the 1950s a partial return of long styles emerged subsequently followed by the cut that Jacques Dessange made for Brigitte Bardot, the “artichoke”.

The 1950s is renowned for the change in consumption structures that occurred and less commonly known for stylistic innovation. With the increase of disposable income, sprouting mass media of movies, television, and women’s magazines became prevalent engendering an increased demand for fashionable items. An increasing number of women frequented saloons. This was later known to be the fundamental custom of middle-class femininity. A surge of new hair products hit the market—do-it-yourself coloring, “cold” perm and setting gave women the avenue to explore more of the available beauty regimen at home.

For men, the field of art and profit became poorer and poorer. Men’s haircut was utterly bland in the 1950s not until recalcitrant teenagers ditched the crew cuts and flattops and began to rock the “duck ass” cut, hairstyles of famous stars like Elvis Presley, Johnny Halliday, and James Dean. In 1956, George Hardy from France was quite an emulation when he introduced the razor cut. Nonconformist and “beatniks” began growing beards and mustaches on their chins and lips as well.

A New Diversity

With the coming of rock stars and hippies, “Anti-fashion” hair spread over subsequent decades. American and European blacks ditched hair-relaxing agents and began to sport voluminous Afros. The “Mohican”, dreadlocks and skinhead became protest hairstyles. Men began to visit new “unisex” salons and pay more, as men’s personal grooming products increased. However, hairdressing still remained a thing uniquely related to women.
Lacquered hairspray brought about the invention of the “beehive” coupled with the generous use of artificial hair, the 1950s ideal of femininity were carried into the sixties. That rough decade did, however, belong to the geometrical cuts that Vidal Sassoon created to fit the latest styles of Mary Quant who invented the miniskirt. Professional hairdressers coifed runaway models, society debutantes and Hollywood stars, which ensured the survival of haute coiffeur. However, innovation and variety was the rule for the latter years of the twentieth century. Variety of hairstyles abounded, from natural or tinted, long or short, flowing or spiked, straight or permed.

Effect on Fashion.

As coiffeurs became diversified a paradigm shift in fashion emerged. Privileged elite enacted laws that governed taste and styles in the days of Marie Antoinette or Marcel. The success of a vogue, in the twentieth century, was, on the contrary, influenced by the masses. Hairstyles were produced on the “streets” which would eventually pervade into the formal structures of fashion.

The plethora and transition of hairstyles have sparked both casual and academic interest on the etiology of hairstyles and their meaning. Coiffures have been linked, organically, by many speculations, to their historical moment. The perfect depiction of this, are observers who linked the widespread popularity of the bob to women’s emancipation. Others have probed further and deeper, trying to unravel the meaning of this forms. Entire science and study dedicated to understanding those forms were propagated and carried out by French critic Roland Barthes.

Etiology of Hairstyles

Hairstyles can reveal, undoubtedly, subtle clues about societies which they originated from. A close study of the bob shows an environment with electricity and hot running water used to perm and tint hair, with millions of women spending considerable amounts of money. It speaks volumes about Western Civilization in the 1920s. Other times, coiffure has a more vivid meaning, such as can be in a lesbian rights parade, a punk band or a hippies’ commune.

Obeying an Elusive Logic

In more ways than one, the assertion that there is a free-flowing nature of fashionable “signifiers” is true. “Free folks” of the 1960s mostly donned long, straight hair, while Joan Arc, the defender of a medieval king wore a Bob. It might be right to assert that fashion forms are obedient to an intrinsic elusive logic in a historical world where Charles II and Cher have the same view from behind.

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