The ‘20s and the ‘60s, the two decades when short hair was most fashionable, were both periods of experimentation, innovation and even rebellion.
Perhaps it’s not unusual then (after a turbulent recession that has seen government, financial and regulatory institutions rocked), that short hair has been appearing on celebrity heads with increasing regularity. Miley Cyrus, Emma Watson, Anne Hathaway, Robin Wright, Rihanna and Yasmin LeBon have all shorn their lovely heads recently and while their personal motivations may vary from youthful rebellion, to re-invention to boredom, short hair is fast emerging as an alternative beauty trend.
Inspired by these brave beauties and bored with my conventional cut, I decided that I wanted a radical change and cropped my hair. So for the first time in 15 years I am feeling the breeze on the back of my neck and loving the results. Cheaper and less invasive than a face-lift, it has (I hope) taken a decade off my look and given me a welcome confidence boost. Channelling style heroines Jean Seberg, Audrey Hepburn and Twiggy has been liberating: a quick wash and go cut is a gift in the mornings and the rain and wind of the Irish climate are no longer a threat. Short hair throws your face into sharp relief so good skincare and regular trims are a must but the effort is worth it.
When women cropped their hair into androgynous cuts in the ‘20s it unsettled conservatives. Preachers declared that: “A bobbed woman is a disgraced woman”, and husbands even divorced their newly shorn wives.
Initially inspired by the dancer Irene Castle, a fashion icon of the era, the bob was adopted by women across America as a modern and daring innovation. Louise Brooks, Coco Chanel and Clara Bow, and other vampish celebrities who adopted a short sleek bob, were similarly influential and soon a range of short cuts such as the Eton Crop and the Shingle, styled neat to the head or in soft Marcel Waves were de rigeur on fashionable feminine heads. Women invaded male barbershops and in New York up to 2000 women a day cut their hair at the height of the craze. Flappers pushed the boundaries of acceptable behaviour, by wearing make-up, smoking, drinking and defying sexual norms.
In the ’50s Audrey Hepburn, the epitome of gamine chic, made short hair desirable for a generation of beatnik beauties, her large expressive features and fabulous dramatic eyebrows heightened by her elfin cut. Then in the ’60s short hair was symbolic of the youth-quake and was popularised by Mia Farrow when she had her shoulder length hair cropped into a dramatic pixie cut by the star hairdresser of the decade, Vidal Sassoon, for her role in cult movie, “Rosemary’s Baby”. The haircut, recorded on film as a PR event, was an excellent stunt to publicise the movie and inspired many young women to adopt the waifish style, already being worn by Twiggy.
Sassoon was the creator of modern short hair: for him the cut was the thing, as he fashioned clients’ hair into geometric shapes and sharp angles to complement their facial bone structure. His short, striking styles helped define a new kind of sexy. Sassoon created the iconic short cut of the ‘60s, the five point bob on Grace Coddington, and was also the stylist who cut Mary Quant’s hair into her trademark long fringed bob.
Sassoon revolutionised hairdressing, freeing women from rigid lacquered salon sets and created instead a new method of cutting hair based on architectural principles so that the cut held the hairstyle rather than heavy styling products.
The freedom of short sexy hair that was touchable, soft and easy-care, fitted perfectly with the mini skirts, sexual freedom and pop music of the era.
In subsequent decades, short hair was usurped, first by curtains of super-long hair in the ‘70s and then by helmets of BIG hair in the ‘80s. It wasn’t until supermodel Linda Evangelista cropped her hair in the ‘90s, revealing a striking bone structure that had been overshadowed by her previously long brunette locks, that short hair became fashionable again. Initially the model had many of her bookings cancelled when she revealed her boyish crop but then it suddenly became the cut that everyone wanted and Evangelista’s star soared. The sleek style epitomised the minimalist, modern attitude of the decade and complimented the era’s athletic body-con dresses perfectly. Women were establishing their presence in the workplace and short hair meant business.
Since then short hair has been regulated to the style sidelines. A long curtain of glossy expensive hair was a Celtic Tiger badge of affluence and idleness (all that hair maintenance — highlights, blow dries and extensions was so time consuming), but now women have less money and even less time to devote to their coiffure, short hair is appealing and liberating.
In a sea of reality TV starlets with their ubiquitous big hair and small IQs, short hair is also distinctive as an expression of an alternative state of mind — a discerning aesthetic and a desire for change.
Adopting short hair means you have to review your make-up, grooming and wardrobe — as Emily Watson revealed when she cut her hair: “You’ve got to be a little bolder, there’s nothing to hide behind.”
Older women, too, can look fantastic with short hair as Christine Lagarde, Tilda Swinton and Dame Judi Dench all show: There is an honesty and freedom about their look that suggests that they are confident, calm and happy in their skin.
While going short may no longer be as scandalous as it was for the Flappers, men typically are not huge fans. Actress Michelle Williams says: “I feel like myself with short hair … Of course, the only people who like it are gay men and my girlfriends!.”
When women cut their hair it’s a sign change is imminent in society. Why it’s re-appearing now in the midst of a period of great uncertainty is perhaps indicative of the new priorities women are adopting in the post-crash world.