Elvis may have been known as “The Pelvis” but his big pompadour hairdo was just as famous as his swivelling hips (it just didn’t make that neat rhyme).
High, off-the-forehead hairdos were a classic style throughout the centuries, but it took the rock and roll teens of the 50s to turn them into an unforgettable rebellious style.
The pompadour hairstyle is forever linked to the advent of rock & roll when rockers like Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Little Richard swept their hair into the high wave pompadour.
Teenagers went crazy for the pomp, emulating their heroes with the ultimate 50s hairdo, the ducktail. The D.A. (as it was also known – an abbreviation of “ducks arse/ass” – depending on which side of the Atlantic you reside) featured an off-the-forehead pompadour front with a feathered back.
The D.A. received its name from the characteristic feathered part down the centre back of the head, much like the converging feathers of a duck’s behind.
This look was achieved by brushing the back sides of the hair towards the centre of the head, dragging a comb down the centre to part the hair in a slight wave. To achieve this slick style, a generous helping of hair ‘grease’ like Brylcreem or even Vasoline was needed to saturate the hair to prep it for sculpting.
Some daring girls even attempted the pompadour D.A., but it was mostly considered a boy’s style (although women did have their own variations of the pompadour).
According to lore, the D.A. was created in 1940 by South Philadelphia barber Joe Cirella. It took a while to catch on, but when rock and rollers began sporting the D.A. as part of their loud, flashy musical act, teen boys followed suit.
Elvis is credited as being the first rock star to influence the teens with his black pompadour ducktail. Parents blamed rock and roll music for the bad influence, and anyone with a D.A. was targeted as being a ruffian. So naturally, the boys were all dying to have one.
Boys were not supposed to care about their hair or how they looked, but when the D.A. walked onto the scene, boys battled their sisters for bathroom time and spent endless hours smoking in the boys’ room while they shared the mirror to re-tame their locks.
Wide-toothed metal combs were in the back pockets of every boy’s jeans, and the sight of a greaser running his hand and comb-over his slick style was as common as the white t-shirt.
Rumbles and fights would mess up the pompadour’s perfection, and the comb guaranteed good grooming should your feathers get ruffled.
Variations of the D.A. were dependent on how the top of the hair was styled, as it was only the back nape part that gave rise to the term D.A. Tony Curtis’ curly-topped cut became a popular variation of the smooth wave pompadour.
Other variations of the D.A included the bop, dupe, back sweep and crest. Whatever the name, the back was the same, and a heavy hand of grease guaranteed a motionless mop.
The only way to achieve pomp perfection was with a hearty helping of pomade or actual grease. This gooey, greasy glob saturated the hair so that it could be sculpted with a comb and a careful hand. Achieving balanced heights was more difficult than it might seem, and boys spent much time in front of the bathroom mirror carefully lifting and combing and smoothing. Achieving the perfect shape was as great a pastime as was drag racing.
The close-cropped crew cut was the regulation haircut given to servicemen in the military, and throughout the years, it was adopted by patriotic youths and by those who just wanted to look tough.
While the buzz cut was a complete shearing of all hair across the entire head, the crew cut left up to an inch of hair at the top of the head. The crew cut was called a flat top when the hair at the top of the head was grown out and cut in a straight, flat style.
The biggest “hair” name of the ’60s was probably Vidal Sassoon, who, in 1963, introduced the asymmetric 5-point style and the famous ‘Bob‘ cut. He let the hair swing free and cut the style into the hair, eliminating the need for an hour in front of the mirror armed with hairspray and pins.
The bob proved very popular with young women, especially in London, and is still one of the most popular female haircuts. The geometric style worn by Mary Quant was popular with young girls – It was very short, straight and severe, and was another speciality of Vidal Sassoon.
In the mid-’60s (particularly during the Swinging London period), teenage hair was either very short (the 5-point and bob, for example) or very long and worn fallen over one eye.
As the decade progressed and Mod segued into Hippie, the most memorable visual symbol was the long, flowing, often unkempt hairstyles of the Peace and Love era.
Invented by hairstylist Paul McGregor in 1965, the streamlined style called The Shag cropped the hair close to the head, leaving longer wispy pieces at the sides and nape of the neck.
A daring style twist from the long-haired hippie or the mop-top mods, the shag was quickly adopted by glam rockers for its dandy, androgynous look.
Rockers like The Rolling Stones and Rod Stewart quickly cropped their manes into this effeminate style, as did legendary glamster David Bowie‘s Ziggy Stardust. While variations abounded, Ziggy’s shocking red plumage was the most extreme, sporting an ultra-short spiked top that influenced a new trend of dyed shags.
Women sheared their locks after seeing Jane Fonda’s sexy shag in Klute (1971), and even Mrs Brady of The Brady Bunch is best remembered with her blonde shag from the early seventies.
When men started to grow their hair long there was a tremendous fuss. Most older people saw these males as “scruffy, long-haired layabouts”.
Long, straight hippie hair carried over into a popular hair fashion for 70s girls. But unlike the hippies, these kids were taking care of their locks to guarantee a crowning glory.
Girls like Marcia Brady brushed their hair 100 times a night to keep it soft and silky. Barrettes and headbands were the accessory of choice to help tame such flowing tresses and keep them smooth.
Special hair products like Clairol’s Long and Silky were specially formulated to keep hair, well, long and silky.
Farrah Fawcett‘s feathered do was the icon of the 70s, and her infamous swimsuit poster – plastered on bedroom walls across suburbia – not only hypnotised teenage boys but propelled girls to emulate her style with a rash of curling iron and hairspray sales.
The 70s flair for feathered hair was expressed in different variations, but Farrah’s wingspan was considered the most impressive. Farrah’s flip was total glamour girl style: a helmet of luscious waves perfectly curled and brushed back to seductively reveal the face behind a soft frame of hair.
But unless you had a team of professional hairstylists available from morning to night, the look was almost impossible to keep longer than the time it took you to get to your first class of the school day. But that didn’t stop girls from trying.
A large, round curling brush and industrial-strength hairspray were necessities for Farrah style, both working in tandem to the windstorm of heat from your raygun blow dryer. After taming the hair into soft yet flippy curls (at the ends only – doing it close to the scalp would give you Shirley Temple hair!), a hearty application of hairspray helped to defy gravity when the curl wanted to go straight.
When you got off the bus, your hair would be as flat as your deflated self-esteem. But surrender wasn’t a part of the 70s teen vocabulary, and a vented brush (hopefully, the kind that held hairspray in the pump handle) was ever-present in the back pocket of your Chemin de Fer jeans to whip your hair back in defiance, if even just for a second before it fell flat on your face again.
Other girls, more rocker chicks than glamazons, opted for the brushed feathered cut as seen on Joan Jett.
The hair didn’t surround in curls and waves but generally stuck straight, except for the bangs brushed back in haughty defiance. Each layer was sharp, perfect, and in line with the next. The best way to achieve such perfection was not through styling products, but through the cut, and any girl who didn’t have to glue her wings in place via hairspray was considered a superstar.
Scissors snipped the hair into gentle layers, while razors chiselled the hair into sassy submission, creating perfect layers in indistinguishable steps, but with definite style.
Even more important than a pair of skin-tight designer jeans (or leather pants, as preferred by Suzi Quatro) was a perfectly coiffed head of feathered hair.
Boys borrowed the feathered flybacks, preferring a centre part, and a shorter side (except for pretty boys like Leif Garret and Cassidy bros Shaun and David).
Like the 50s greasers who carried combs in their back pockets to smooth out their dishevelled hair, the boys of the 70s had such a fondness for their back pocket combs.
Unlike the girls, who had the help of hairspray, boys were considered uncool if they sported hairstyling products, so the guys needed constant re-combing to perfect the wings.
But don’t think any old comb will do: the teeth needed to be wide, and the handle perfectly shaped for a tight grip and a cool look when it stuck up from its place in the back pocket.
Crimping started out as just another over-the-top decadence of the disco era, but the strange hair manipulation was better embraced by the punk-rock scene and was repeated with the outrageous New Romantics of the early 80s.
This look was best achieved with the help of a crimping iron, which was like a curling iron except it had two zig-zagged shaped plates that ironed the hair into the ‘crimped’ shape.
Those who didn’t have the latest in hair-care technology could achieve the same look naturally by braiding the hair tightly when it was still damp and letting it dry before unbraiding. The hair would shape itself in a reasonable assimilation of the crimped style.
In the 80s, it became fashionable to streak hair with coloured mousse and then crimp only these sections for a zebra effect. While the look was übercool, it didn’t last long. Late 80s big hair bent crimping out of shape.
The stack perm (also known as the disco wedge) was a new trend in permanents that took the dance floor by storm. Hair designer Dwight Miller created this disco diva look that was a crimped variation on the sweet wedge style that Dorothy Hamill popularised.
Gilda Radner’s Saturday Night Live character Roseanne Roseannadanna was most memorable for her frizzy fro cropped straight across the bottom at chin level, with a blunt cut of bangs straight across the forehead. It’s easy to see why the stack perm didn’t become a permanent fixture on the hair scene . . .
By the end of the seventies and into the early eighties, the mullet became an integral part of teenage fashion along with tight jeans, mirrored sunglasses and a single dangling earring (in the appropriate ear of course).
In the late Seventies, punks were out to shock. Hair was cropped short but then extended out in outlandish sculptures, such as Mohawk style dyed bright green.
The crowning glory of the Mohawk was the way it defied gravity: whether through hairspray and gel, Knox gelatin, or glue, punks tried every trick in the book to maintain a stiff broom of hair.
Sometimes the points of the Mohawk would be shellacked to such intensity that their sharp and pointy tips were considered weapons!
A variation of the Mohawk was liberty spikes, a crown of spikes that ran from ear to ear across the forehead instead of front to back. Some chose a broom-style sweep, while others preferred the clumpy spikes like a dinosaurs back.
Whatever style, the shock-locks were high-maintenance and demanded attention.
Mr T turned a variation of the Mohawk (the Mandinkan) into a friendlier cut during the early 80s thanks to his good-guy roles on The A-Team and his own cartoon series, but not for long.
The style regained its shock value once T left the limelight, and even today, the Mohawk remains the favourite do-it-yourself unisex punk hairstyle.