Last night I watched a film called San Francisco, which featured Clark Gable and the winsome Jeanette MacDonald, who my IMDB research reveals was one of most popular filmstars in America in the1930s and 40s. I love how enthusiastic the public were about stars back then – a nationwide poll elected a “King and Queen of Hollywood” every year and in 1939 Jeanette won; her king was Tyrone Power, another star whose fame doesn’t seem to have lasted.
It’s not often I go back and watch a film from as long ago as 1936 and I was intrigued by the hair and the clothes (check out her cute black bow with painter shirt combo). It’s a major Hollywood film and not the everyday hair of a 1930s woman but even by those standards, this curled style must have taken a ridiculous amount of time to achieve, hours and hours every day.
There must be a hundred tiny little curls in this hairdo, with intricate little combings around the ears, topped off with a ribbon. Although the film’s in black and white, we learn that the character is a redhead so the effect must have been lovely in real life.
In the 2000s, hair has been very low-maintenance relative to previously. Yes, blow-drying and straightening take effort and if you colour your hair that will always take a lot of work, but in comparison to using pins, paper, rollers and rags we have it easy, or at least that’s how it’s supposed to look. The style of the last decade or so has mainly been “just rolled out of bed”.
Compare and contrast the amazing 1960s style of Betty Draper’s hair from Mad Men, a program I trust to get the details right. Even the less high-maintenance look involves walking around all day with contraptions wound into her hair.
I really like these over-the-top hairdos. Hair seems to be dominated by a “sexy” aesthetic that you’re allowed to reject if you’re into fashion. Other than the bleached white pixie cut, we still go for long, smooth, flowing hair that is mainly designed to appeal to men – every time I suggest chopping off my hair to my boyfriend or best male friend they complain.
I don’t want us to be slaves to looks but I know women who spend hours on their hair to achieve a uniform straight texture so why not show off all the effort? Maybe for special occasions, we could bust out a whole different set of hair expectations and start doing elaborate up-dos like Bettty’s, or a La Roux diagonal hair spike. I am a big fan of the Luella hairbun with bow. It really doesn’t take a long time if you have willing hair or a big pot of hair gel.