Hairstyles and the “Me Generation”
A look into how an era of individualism was expressed through the styling of hair.
Growing up as boomers, we’ve seen so many changes in society and cultural trends that have influenced our fashion, arts, and individualism. Baby boomers were nicknamed the “me generation” because of the perception of being self-absorbed, ascribing to self-realization, and self-fulfillment.
During a time of political unrest, activism, and cultural experimentation, boomers also took up new diets and health trends and popularized jogging. Nowhere is this generational odyssey more poignantly portrayed than in the award-winning film, Forest Gump. And what could immortalize our generation more than the musical Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical, first debuted in 1967. Treat yourself to this bit of nostalgia, the title song of the musical:
When it came to self-identity, nothing made a statement clearer than the hairstyles boomers donned on their heads. We learned our hairstyle was reflective of our personality and a source of self-expression. Both men and women sported their dos according to the changing times. Women went from bouffant to sleek and straight to carefree locks while men slicked back, showed off a pompadour, or grew long hair and beards.
If boomers and the generations that followed use hair to self-express, then perhaps philosopher and best-selling author Alain de Botton defines it best, “We are using our hair to speak. We’re trying, through the syntax of colored protein filaments, to express key aspects of our soul – and to communicate some of the deepest truths about who we are.”
Some boomer hairstyles were just a fleeting fad while others had staying power and are popular even today. Here are some of the hairstyles and haircuts we’ve grown up with, reflective of the times and the impression we wanted to make.
Face-slimming bouffant hairstyles were very popular in the 60s. Worn as is, with ponytails, or buns, it added height to your coif, making a more statuesque appearance. One of the best bouffant wearers was Jackie Kennedy, a trendsetter of elegance and style.
From tousled to close-cropped, the short pixie cut has become a timeless classic. First credited with the pixie’s introduction was actress Jean Seberg in the 1950s. But it was Audrey Hepburn’s little number that sent droves of women to lop off their long tresses. The style remains popular today, including among celebrities such as actress Michelle Williams.
The hairstyle long-haired women wanted most; the half updo had both volume and length. Soft and slightly wild, no one wore it better than the pop-culture icon, Brigitte Bardot. And country music darling Dolly Parton made the look seem so natural.
Long Straight Hair
Long straight hair parted in the middle became all the rage during the 60s and is still a gorgeous look today. Showing off the face-framing tresses creates a sleek and lengthy look. When we think of who wore that iconic look best, Cher and her sweetheart Greg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band would be among the top picks.
Sexy looking, loads of layering made this hairstyle a hit during the 70s. It was Charlie’s Angel actress Farrah Fawcett who wore her feathered cut and made it an iconic must-have for the era. Let’s not forget John Travolta with his gorgeous head of feathered locks that had women swooning over him.
The rebellious times of the 80s ushered in the punk movement, and with it, extreme hairstyles for both men and women. Shaved heads and partially shaved with liberty spikes and brightly colored mohawks represented the punk look the most. This trend carried into the 90s and has diminished except for diehards and is still experimented with by youths.
The shag hairstyle became wildly popular in the 70s and 80s for both women and men. Choppy bangs and excessive layering, the carefree look is still fashionable today. Who sports it best? Lots of choices out there but who can forget The Partridge Family teen heartthrob David Cassidy and Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks.
The mullet haircut sprung up in popularity during the 70s and 80s among men and women. Hair was cut shorter on the front and sides but left long at the back. Today, the mullet continues to be a popular choice from rural backcountry to celebrity status individuals. Who can forget that fantastic coif of Dirty Dancing’s Patrick Swayze or that of musician David Bowie?
Popular among African-Americans during the 80s, the permanent wave hairstyle was invented by hairdresser Jeri Redding. His chemical treatment relaxed naturally tight curls producing glossy, loosely curled hair. Still popular today, men and women of all races have adopted the look. Most iconic wearers would have to be Michael Jackson and Oprah Winfrey.
The afro gained popularity in the 60s and 70s and is the natural growth of curly textured hair. Those with straight or wavy hair used chemical treatments to obtain the look. Hair is combed away from the scalp, creating a round puffy shape. Among the best-known afro wearers are Mod Squad’s Clarence Williams III and the supreme lady herself, Diana Ross.
The men’s pompadour hairstyle started in the 40s, but it was Elvis Presley, who took it to new heights of popularity in the 50s. The heightened do flatters just about anyone, and today’s variations make it one of the most popular cuts among men and women. Another icon who wore it well was none other than bad-boy James Dean.
Boomers and their love affair with hair have seen a lot of changes throughout the years. As trendsetters, we’ve launched hundreds of new styles expressing individualism. Today, we’ve “matured,” and our hairstyles reflect that. Some of us have less hair to style with than we used to. Regardless, we can look back and see ourselves in faded photos of hairstyles we fashioned, reflective of our generation’s tumultuous and glorious times.