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The Beehive: How to Define a Decade

bridget bardot beehive

The Beehive hairstyle has achieved iconic status; it is famous as a historical oddity, often devoid of the original context that made it popular. Modern interpretations have also called attention to the more outrageous aspects of the style, warping it into something exquisitely carnivalesque.

The Beehive was developed in 1960 by a hairstylist named Margaret Vinci Heldt, who was one of Chicago’s most prominent stylists at the time. The Modern Beauty Salon magazine asked her to design a brand new hairstyle one that would encapsulate the culture of the new decade. It was a formidable task.

“Big hair” is a standard industry term among hairdressers; it’s an umbrella that covers any style that favors volume and takes up a lot of space. The concept has gone in and out of style many times throughout the ages, and new styles have emerged each time the trend becomes vogue. While huge elaborate wigs had been a symbol of masculinity and wealth in the 18th century, the foppish look had fallen out of favor soon after the French Revolution. Big hair as a feminine trait began to take hold more consistently even if it was just for a special occasion.

During the 20th century, big hair had come back a number of times. The bouffant was developed by famous hairstylist Raymond Bessone in the 1930s; hair was piled high atop the head and allowed to hang down the sides. It was immensely fashionable among many of the most famous women in America: Jackie Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson, and Pat Nixon had all sported bouffants during their time in the spotlight (and the White House). The page boy cut became popular in the 1950s; it was characterized by straight hair that curled under slightly at the ends. Difficult to maintain, it became an edgy look for many actresses.

With this background knowledge, Heldt increased the concept of teasing and hair height, and ultimately fashioned her new hairstyle after a fez hat that she had lying around her house. The result was the beehive: a style that resembled a formidable insect nest perched atop the head, teased and styled for maximum height. It was also called the B-52, as the hair resembled the large nose of the titular air bomber. But whatever the name, the style was a massive hit, worn by girl groups like The Ronettes and Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

amy whinehouse hair

Nowadays, the beehive is considered a prime symbol of the kitsch of the 1960s. Singer Amy Winehouse made a massive beehive hairdo a fundamental part of her image, and Simpsons character Marge has an infamously high blue beehive. Even smaller beehive styles are still requested in stylist’s chairs all over the world, as women seek to recreate the iconic beauty and style of the Swinging Sixties.