Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.
The animator Jackie Lay, formerly of The Atlantic, put together this nostalgia-packed video of hairstyles throughout the 20th century:
Readers offered their suggestions for some 20th century styles we missed. From the comment section:
Dorothy Hamill cut in the late ‘70s.
Here’s the American figure skater at the 1976 Winter Olympics:
And Hamill again later that year:
From a 1976 People piece on her ‘do:
What’s it got that the Shag, Frizz or China Doll hairdos don’t have? All a body had to do was watch 19-year-old skater Dorothy Hamill twirl her way to a gold medal at the Winter Olympics to appreciate the value of the short bob she wore. The swingy, bouncing hair nearly stole the show. “I love it,” says Dorothy. “I don't have to worry about it before I skate. Afterward, if I have to go before the TV camera, it looks okay with just a quick brushing.”
Not all women flocking to hairdressers for “the Dorothy Hamill cut” are athletes, although the style is visible on tennis courts and jogging paths everywhere. By summer it may be as ubiquitous as the bikini.
Sometimes called “Wash 'n' Wear hair,” or the “Wedge,” it is basically a short cut that falls over the forehead, bares the earlobe and tapers to a triangle in the back. Its major benefit seems to be easy maintenance. After a 25-minute trim, the wearer need only keep her hair clean and well conditioned until the next cut five weeks later. “It's a social statement,” says fashion designer Halston. “Women are no longer willing to fool around with the curlers, the hairspray. They just want to wash their hair. It’s a terrific look, very modern, very chic and reflects the trend to easy-care clothes.”
New York stylist Suga did Hamill’s hair, but the vogue seems traceable back to Vidal Sassoon's London salon where it was named the Wedge in 1974. Actually, it is an update of the '60s Sassoon cut, which was more geometric. Many stylists have been offering the Wedge for about a year, but the boom did not occur until Hamill's Olympic triumph in February.
There’s no end to the ways the cut can be worn—straight, waved, curled or even frizzed. The only requirement is healthy hair. “We had the twangy, mattress-stuffing look long enough,” says pop culture critic Albert Goldman. “It was time for something different.”
Another reader is less-specific when looking for some 1980s pizzaz:
Only thing missing in the ‘80s would be high side/front bangs and spray-pulled sides.
There appear to be many, many different ‘80s looks that involve high bangs and hairspray. The Huffington Post put together a great slideshow featuring ‘80s fashion icons with different variations of that hairstyle: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Alyssa Milano, and Kirstie Alley.
Fast-forward a few decades. A commenter on our Facebook page asks, “No man bun?”
A photo posted by JARED LETO (@jaredleto) on
While Jackie’s animation ends in the year 2000, a follow-up video would surely need to include this lovely look. (Disclosure: I’m team man-bun all the way.) Vanity Fair put together this slideshow of celebrity man-buns in 2014.
Think of another iconic 20th century hairstyle we missed? Let us know.
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