1950s culture is distinct not only for its music, cars and fashion, but also for its hair. While there was not much variety in the popular hairstyles of the 1950s, the haircuts were still a clear marker of personality. For this reason, certain hairstyles were looked down upon, and people often adopted particular styles for the sake of being accepted. Whether you were a man or a woman in the 1950s, short hair was in.
Short, Loose Curls
The most popular look for women in the 1950s was short hair with loose curls. This was before the day of hand-held hair dryers and heated rollers, though, so if your hair was not naturally curly, you underwent a process that involved wearing curlers and roller for extended periods of time -- even overnight. Sandra Dee, Grace Kelly and Marilyn Monroe all popularised short hair with loose curls and waves that typically fell just above the shoulder.
Perms and Poodles
While wavy hair was the more popular trend, tight curls were also big in the 1950s. The poodle cut, for example, is a shot hairdo of small curls popularised by Lucille Ball. Achieving a look like this was a process that sometimes required chemical assistance, either in the home or at a salon. Permanents, or perms, are so named for the fact that they maintain a curly 'do over time. After the hair absorbed the chemicals and set, it maintained its curls until it grew out, at which time the process was undergone again.
The 1950s was a time of racial inequality in America, and African-Americans could be ostracised further for the unique qualities of their hair. Decades before the era of afros and kinky curls, African-American men either trimmed their hair short or treated it with chemical relaxers to straighten it. Women also underwent the process of straightening their hair out of its natural curly or nappy style.
Men's hair in the 1950s was generally kept short. In the decade after World War II, many men maintained short and simple haircuts. With the advent and popularisation of rock music and stars like Elvis Presley and James Dean, less conservative haircuts came into fashion. Presley, for example, popularised the ducktail and sideburns, while styles like the pompadour--high-mounted hair that swept the top of the head while the sides were flattened--ushered in an era of bigger and more unruly hair.
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