Mid-Century Mania – Revisiting Hairstyles

While une femme did voice some predictions regarding the return of “mid-century” style, please don’t read those (necessarily) as recommendations.  Some of these we’ll leave to the kids.

A note about bouffant hairstyles: some of the comments noted that few women would take the time to style hair this way on a daily basis.  That made me realize how much things have changed in the last fifty years regarding how some of us deal with our hair.

When I was young, my mother went to the “beauty parlor” once a week for a shampoo/set and style.  In between, she didn’t touch her hair, other than to wrap toilet paper around the “do” to sleep in, and in the mornings pull various pieces back into place, re-backcomb those bits if necessary, and spray into sculptural submission. C’est tout.  Women who didn’t go to the salon weekly would set their own hair with rollers, which were put in with the hair wet, and would dry over a few hours (originating that convenient excuse, “I can’t see you tonight; I’m washing my hair”). Often women slept in their rollers or pin curls. By the time I reached my teen years, blow dryers and hot steam rollers were the norm, and straighter, more natural (for me, anyway) hairstyles had come into vogue so I was spared sleeping in rollers or backcombing.

Here are some pics of my mom’s 50’s and 60’s hairdo’s.

Circa 1958.  Mom looks pretty groovy here with those aviator shades.  I’m guessing this look was done with pin curls and a little backcombing.  Her hair wasn’t naturally curly.
Above, 1964.  I don’t remember her being this blond, but you can see the beginnings of The Helmet.  (That’s me center front with the scowl.)
Mom in the center, probably 1965, at her most bouff’d.

This picture wasn’t labeled, but I’m guessing 1967 or ’68.  This was the hairdo that she wore some version of for most of the rest of her life. (No idea whose baby that is.) Once curling irons became available in the early 70’s, she learned how to recreate this look at home, and the weekly salon visits dwindled to a monthly color and cut. 

Some variations of the bouffant included the infamous beehive, the French Roll (see Audrey above right and worn most memorably and elegantly by my second grade teacher) and the flip, which tended to get longer and more pronounced as the 60’s progressed.  My mother-in-law says that the popularity of bouffant and beehive hairstyles is often blamed for the demise of the millinery trade in the early 60’s, as hats became difficult to wear the more gravity-defying the hairstyles.  I tend to think it was just changing times and increasing informality.  After all, men stopped wearing hats regularly about this time too.
You won’t find une femme adopting the bouffant style anytime soon.  Back in the 80’s we did the spiky Big Hair that required nothing more than a blow dryer and industrial strength mousse, but that was enough for me.
The other trend I’ll take a pass on are the full skirts.  Aside from having worn this style the first time around,
this silhouette now creates fullness where I least need it.  (But I’d kill to find some sunglasses like those again.)
Next chapter, some ideas to incorporate “mid-century” style elements into a modern wardrobe.
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33 Comments

  1. June 30, 2010 / 1:24 pm

    I love the pictures of your family. The cars bring back memories.

  2. Maravonda
    June 30, 2010 / 1:30 pm

    Love the photo of you in the little striped dress…a perfect little lady! My favorite Audrey “do” will always be the gamine cut from Roman Holiday, I love my hair that way but just don’t have the bone structure for it anymore. One thing that I still love, more 60’s than 50’s, of course,are hairpieces…chignons, braids and such. They got me through a terrible year a while back when I’d broken most of the length of my hair with bleach (which is why I’m a redhead again!).

  3. Maravonda
    June 30, 2010 / 1:32 pm

    Oh! And remember when Bette Davis said “I’d like to kiss you but I just washed my hair”?

  4. June 30, 2010 / 1:47 pm

    Great photos.

    My mom, too, had the weekly appointment for the perm, and wore a cap when she showered the rest of the week. But oddly, she didn’t teach me to do my hair that way – she didn’t really teach me any of the so-called womanly arts. I was taught to curl my hair by a neighbor teenager, but I really didn’t spend more than a couple years messing with curlers.

    I got a super-short haircut (like Twiggy!) around 1974, and pretty much stayed with it the rest of my life.

  5. June 30, 2010 / 3:18 pm

    Wow. I love those photos of your mother. That khaki skirt with the buttons up the front? I fear I have always had a thing for that silhouette. These photos are fuel for the fire.

  6. June 30, 2010 / 3:37 pm

    The photo of little you in the shades and full skirt is adorable!

    Oh Lordy, did your story of your mom’s visits to the salon ring true to me. Mine (now 70) did (and to my knowledge still does) wash and set hers in rollers and sit under the helmet table-top dryer. The hair is then styled, sprayed HARD, and at most puffed/back combed/un-dented for several days of wear.

    I, child of the 1980s and someone who sweats when she exercises, etc. always found this gross – walking around with ‘dirty’ hair for days? EEEEW.

  7. June 30, 2010 / 4:00 pm

    Oh I love the photographs.
    I still go to the hairdressers once a week, twice a week when I used to work full time, I have very difficult hair.

  8. June 30, 2010 / 4:42 pm

    What a great idea! I loved the series of photos of your Mom. I have photos of my children as they grew, but now I am going to go back to do a collection with my family when I was the child. My Mom is 94 and still lives in the New York City apartment where I grew up. There should be some interesting style details in the over nine decades in her photo boxes.

  9. June 30, 2010 / 5:59 pm

    My Mom is 84 and she STILL has the weekly appointment. Once a month haircut; toilet paper wrap every night with a gentle comb touch-up each morning. As a matter of fact, she has had the same style/cut for the last 40 years!

  10. June 30, 2010 / 6:14 pm

    Miss J well remembers Mama Janey going to the salon once a week (with Mamaw Janey) for their weekly style/set. Followed by the hair being wrapped in TP and their pillows being encase in half-slips. Who says this was a “simpler” time?

  11. Sal
    June 30, 2010 / 1:11 pm

    Hah! I never knew why “washing my hair” would qualify as an actual excuse.

  12. metscan
    June 30, 2010 / 1:36 pm

    Lovely pictures. The colors have faded as they do, but it is a part of the charm. Coloring the grays away, was extremely important for both my mother and grandmother, my father too ( he did the coloring himself ). Maybe it was a monthly affair too. My mother, being frugal, had her friend, a hairdresser, do it for practically free. OMG.

  13. Kathysue
    June 30, 2010 / 2:45 pm

    It is true, what goes around comes around if you wait long enough. Glad sleeping on rollers is no longer needed, Oh I do remember those days, Ouch!!

  14. La Belette Rouge
    June 30, 2010 / 3:01 pm

    But you are ADORABLE in a full skirt and that is a great Audrey Hepburn cut that you have there. Even as a child you were chic!
    xo

  15. M
    June 30, 2010 / 3:06 pm

    This post really brought back some memories. I also recall those portable hair dryers with the hose and cap and I remember my sister having me iron her hair to make it stick straight.

    Maravonda mentioned hairpieces. I had a “fall” that I wore a few times in middle school. Remember those? It flew off during a dance class once and that was the end of that!

  16. July 1, 2010 / 2:01 am

    Sal – I know, we take it so much for granted that we can just wash, blow and go! Or air dry. 40, 50 years ago, that just wasn’t *done.*

    Juliana – thanks so much! My dad loved his convertibles.

    Maravonda – aww, thanks. I’m with you on Audrey’s “Roman Holiday” hair, but I no longer have the bone structure either. My hair was always too fine for the “accoutrements,” but I remember my mother also had a blond “fall” that she’d occasionally wear. I think wigs, falls, and the like were also more commonly worn.

  17. July 1, 2010 / 2:07 am

    metscan – yes, and the coloring was a whole science until itself. For a while, she was getting a “frost” which required wearing a rubber cap with lots of little holes that small pieces of hair were pulled through and bleached.

    Aunt Snow – I love your Twiggy cut!
    Like you, my mother really didn’t teach me much about doing hair or grooming either. I learned from friends how to use the hot rollers.

    Kathysue – even though we had hot rollers, I did have a couple of high school friends who slept with hair rolled around empty frozen orange juice cans to get that bouffant look!

    LBR – you’re too kind. I do have to give my mother credit for dressing me there. I would’ve been in cowboy boots, given my druthers.

  18. July 1, 2010 / 2:12 am

    M – oh yes, we had one of those hair dryers too! And the fall…yikes! I always wanted one because I wanted long hair and my mother always kept ours cut so short.

    LPC – you’d look great in that ensemble. It really is a classic look.

    Artful Lawyer – I KNOW, can you IMAGINE not washing hair for a week??? It makes my scalp itch just to think about it. But I know women who do that and because of the texture of their hair, are perfectly OK. Mine would look like an oil slick after 3 days.

    Tabitha – thanks! Do you have your hair set in rollers? Or just a blowout? I know women with curly hair who do that weekly.

    hostess – awww, thanks. I just remember being so uncomfortable in those stiff petticoats!

  19. July 1, 2010 / 2:17 am

    Deborah – ooh, that sounds like a fun project. Unfortunately when my parents divorced in the early 70’s, the photographic record dead ends there.

    Lillian – the women I know who still do the weekly salon thing would never think of changing. It’s like a comforting and familiar ritual, and who can argue with that?

    Miss Janey – add in girdles, garters, matching shoes and handbags, white gloves and the like and “simpler” sounds like a cruel joke!

    Wendy B – and you wear one so well!

  20. July 1, 2010 / 2:20 am

    Frugal Scholar – me either, mostly. Who has the TIME??

    Fabulous Finds – oh, what a great story about the bank! I’ve really enjoyed looking back over old family photos and sharing them.

  21. Frugal Scholar
    July 1, 2010 / 12:44 am

    Oh, I remember my mother with the toilet paper in her hair. I swore then that I would never have time-consuming hair and I never have.

  22. fabulous finds
    July 1, 2010 / 1:00 am

    what a great post! thank you for sharing your family pics…makes me want to go look through old pics of my mamacita…

    i remember when i was a bank teller…and the cute little old ladies would come in and make their withdrawal…because it was the day to go to the salon…and literally yes…they did the once a week visit…and in between…they did nothing! i can’t even imagine not touching my hair for a week!

  23. July 1, 2010 / 1:56 pm

    Your mom was so pretty, reminds me of June Allyson.

    I recall two other styles of the early ’60s, a sort of reverse-angle bob all the girls wanted in high school (but you had to have no wave) and the “brush up”, which was a cap cut with the back trained to go straight up, kind of like a boy’s ducktail. And no one wore wild curls, which is what my hair did naturally.

  24. July 1, 2010 / 5:31 pm

    Faux Fuschia – thanks!

    Duchesse – thanks so much. When I was little I thought she must have been a movie star before she was married. (She had more than a little diva in her personality too.)

    Until the mid to late 60’s, I think there was little tolerance for “natural” hairstyles, that didn’t require all kinds of manipulation. I can’t imagine having to sculpt my hair to the degree that women did then.

  25. July 2, 2010 / 12:00 pm

    Oh, dear Pseu, I loved every word, every picture.

    Yesterday Mater, Pater and I met for a verre at Deux Magots, wish you had been there. Next year?

    Oui?

    xo

  26. Nemia
    July 3, 2010 / 7:04 am

    Brings back memories… my grandmother did those weekly sessions, too, but my mother rebelled and had her hair straight and shoulder long – in the swinging sixties.

    I think the reason for the Big Revolution was Vidal Sassoon’s invention of the structured layered cut – a cut that is intended to be low maintenance. It is supposed to fall into place after it dries, or with a little blow drying. Before, hair was not cut for a finished look – the cut was only the base for “laying and styling”. No hairstyle without rollers.

    The layered cut of course, in order to fall perfectly, has to be re-cut every four to six weeks.

    I never did all that. I have truly old fashioned hair – long and bunned or braided. The times when I tried to be chic and have a structured cut that had to be re-cut, I felt as if this is not me. I guess I must have been a squire’s wife in some former incarnation… and I still style myself that way.

    But I love to see other women stylish and chic.

  27. July 3, 2010 / 4:25 pm

    My paternal grandmother still does this. She has a peach, lacy satin cap she wears over her tinted pink or peach beehive. She’s 87 and still living on her own (as is my grandpa), so it’s actually quite charming. 🙂

    My maternal grandmother still gets up at the crack of dawn daily to wash and set her hair on rollers, then comb it out and spray it.

    So you could say vanity and stubbornness run equally strong on both sides of my family. And no, I will NOT leave the house without mascara, thank you very much. At least not until I’m at least 88.

  28. July 3, 2010 / 6:15 pm

    Love the trip down memory lane. My mom is 91 and still goes every week to the “hairdressers”. She gave up rollers for blow drying in the 80s but she will get there every week come hell or high water.

  29. July 5, 2010 / 2:58 pm

    Yes, a lot of elderly ladies still do the weekly shampoo and set. But I don’t think most are of the kind that do much vigorous exercise in their later life. Around here many of them do walk a lot though.

    When I was little my hair was kept in braids as it was so kinky-curly. I of course tried to wear it straight as one had to do mid-60s. Then I turned hippie and hair was happy. Mum wasn’t, though.

  30. July 17, 2010 / 4:28 pm

    “When I was young, my mother went to the “beauty parlor” once a week for a shampoo/set and style. In between, she didn’t touch her hair, other than to wrap toilet paper around the “do” to sleep in, and in the mornings pull various pieces back into place, re-backcomb those bits if necessary, and spray into sculptural submission.”

    that was my great aunt Dorothy!! (‘Dutch’ for short). she ususaly slept in a hairnet, her french roll added a good 5-6″ to her height. we were amazed as kids. plus, she’d shaved her brows so many times in the roaring twenties that they never grew back and she had to draw them on every am. of course, sometimes only one would survive the nite, cause for more amazement amongst us kidlets…….fun memories!!

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