50s hairstyles

1950s hairstyles emphasized traditional gender roles. While women’s hair was long, curly, and high-maintenance, men wore their hair in shorts, military-style cuts, or pulled down and away from the face. Men’s hair that touched the ears went against the grain and was even illegal in some parts of the US.

Movie stars like Elizabeth Taylor, Lauren Bacall, and Marilyn Monroe wore curly updos, while famous men like James Stewart, Cary Grant, and President Dwight Eisenhower wore their hair short and severely cut. The younger men had a little more freedom, but not much more; some emulated James Dean and Elvis by growing out a pompadour or pompadour-like haircut.

For women in the 1950s, hair required a lot of work. If your hair was straight, the easiest way to curl it was to use lots of small rollers (and/or rollers) in your hair and then let them settle over the course of hours, or even a night’s sleep. Women could also go to the salon and get a perm, which would chemically set the curls in their hair until it grew out or (with some processes) loosened with washing. Bangs were very popular with women; women even curled them to match the rest of their hair.

For African-American women, their naturally kinky or tangled hair was looked down upon. Many women chemically straightened or relaxed their hair, while African-American men kept their hair short. 1950s hairstyles for African Americans reflected popular styles of the day, with the limitations of relaxed hair.

As the 1950s progressed, women’s hairstyles grew in volume and stylized waves faded in favor of larger hairstyles such as beehives. These required hairspray and blow-drying to maintain their volume.
Debbie Reynolds in I Love Melvin. In the 1950s, curly hair was all the rage. Unlike today’s handheld hair dryers, a 1950s hair dryer was a large cap attached by a large tube to a heater. The cap went over the head; when the heater was plugged in and turned on, the heat went through the tube and towards the cap. This was essentially a home version of the big conical hair dryers you’d see in a salon.

Handheld hair dryers and curling irons became more popular in the late 1950s. Portable hair dryers offered less precision for the average user, but could make hair taller and larger.

For men, electric razors also became more popular in the 1950s. Men began to shave instead of going to the barbershop; this also allowed her hair to become even shorter in the back, leading to the iconic “flat top” hairstyle of a very short back with longer hair at the crown.

Men’s hairstyles of the 1950s were limited to flat or pomade hair combed away from the forehead. Young adventurers would go for a pompadour or pompadour, a combination of a flat top and pompadour haircut. The DA (duck butt) haircut was popular with young men, although it was disapproved of by more traditional members of the community.

Both men and women wear short hair. Due to the high maintenance of the curly look, many women with straight hair kept their hair at jaw or shoulder length. As far as I know, it was very rare to see grown men in mop tops or “bowl cuts” during the 1950s. Even little boys imitated their elders with short hair.

Some young women, such as teddy girls and butch lesbians, opted for a more androgynous or masculine look. In the 1950s this was very rare and even risky: a masculine hairstyle on a woman could get her arrested or assaulted for alleged homosexuality and later considered a perversion.

This article originally appeared in the Old Styles section of Enjoy Your Style.

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