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Hairstyles of 1981

Updated April 17, 2017

By the year 1981, hairstyles developed dramatically from the styles found in the late 1970s. Sleek, smooth and groomed hair gave way to messy perms, big hair and mullets. Women and men became more experimental with their hair and would often copy the fashion-forward styles of their favourite celebrities. In 1981, performers such as Dolly Parton, Blondie and Olivia Newton-John all helped shape and inspire the most popular hairstyles of the year.

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The mullet is a hairstyle that features a short section of hair on the crown of the head, and a longer tail of hair at the back. There are many varieties of mullet; the top of the hair can be left shaggy or spiked with gel, while the back section can be long and curly, or even braided. The mullet was mostly worn by young men; however, some women chose to sport a mullet, a style that was nicknamed the femullet or fullet. Celebrities who sported the mullet in 1981 include David Bowie, Eddie Murphy, David Hasselhoff and Brad Pitt.

Punk Hairstyles

Punk hairstyles were popular in 1981, and many women copied the trendy styles worn by influential singers such as Blondie and Madonna. The classic 1981 punk hairstyle featured hair that had been chemically treated to produce white or yellow-blond coloured hair. Some punk styles had shaved sides of the hair and a longer mohawk on top, while others used rollers and backcombing to create a big, unruly style. As with many of the 1981 hairstyles, punk hairstyles were set in place with copious amounts of hairspray.

Side Ponytails

Side ponytails were originally popular in the 1960s, but they made a comeback during the early 1980s in a much more wild fashion. The hair was tightly scraped back into a high position above the ear on one side of the head, and secured with a scrunchie. American singer-songwriter Debbie Gibson wore a high side ponytail, which helped to bring the style back into fashion.

Crimped Hair

Crimping the hair was an incredibly popular pastime for many girls during the year of 1981. Crimping involves applying a special heated appliance onto the hair shaft to create a wavy, sawtooth look. Crimping can also be achieved without the use of hair appliances by braiding the hair and leaving it overnight, then removing the braids to create a more natural wavy look.


The perm is one of the most famous trademark hairstyles of 1981. Hair was wrapped around a perm rod and then set with a chemical solution, which broke the hair bonds and allowed it to permanently stay fixed in one style. There were several different styles of perms: poodle perms refer to hairstyles that had extremely tight curls, root perms only gave volume to the roots of the hair, while spot perms focused on a specific area or length of the hair. Big hair was popular during 1981, so it was often backcombed and set with lots of hairspray to create that classic voluminous 80s look.

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About the Author

Alice Stewart is an experienced freelance writer who has specialized in creating unique and informative Web content since 2005. Her previous clients include the Times Online, Wizz Air, Cyprus Air, BMI, Highland Experience and Scottish Tours. Stewart studied English language and law at Oxford F.E. College and completed a Post-Graduate Diploma in performing arts in 2007.

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