Fifties hairstyles were soft and curly. Straight hair was out. Short hair was in.
Young women often tied their hair back in a ponytail and circled it with a pretty chiffon scarf. But this would have been for casual activities and rarely for evening.the Fifties look was usually achieved by an arduous process of pin curling and rolling. Remember, no blow dryers in the 50s. As demonstrated by super model Suzy Parker, one pinned the hair and sometimes sprayed it to keep the set.
And yes, we actually slept in curlers and rollers. Don’t ask me how because I don’t remember. Denial is a wonderful thing.

Popular film stars like Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren, Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor and Doris Day influenced the latest hairstyles. Others like Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield had their influential trademark looks.

Popular Hairstyles

New products and techniques influenced how hair was styled, and the more ‘natural’ look was favoured, even if it was achieved by products and perms. Hair varied in length from short to long, with shorter styles most commonly seen. If someone had a fringe, it was worn quite short, generally no longer than the middle of the forehead.


The Italian Cut

The popular Italian cut hairstyle emerged in the early 1950s, predominantly from the stars of Italian movies.

Italian screen sirens Gina Lollobrigida and Sophia Loren had the short and shaggy, yet sculptured hairstyle, featuring all over waves, soft curls and fluffy kiss curls. Elizabeth Taylor also adopted the Italian cut at one point.

Italian haircut

Gina Lollobrigida and Elizabeth Taylor wearing the carefree yet elegant Italian Cut.
Curled and Waved Short Hair




Shorter hairstyles were popular with the young and old alike and hair could be worn in a variety of ways, but it would always feature soft waves and/or curls.

Many shorter styles tended to be quite straight and flat on the crown area, with the curls and waves concentrated around the mid-length to the ends of the hair. Curls would continue all around the hair, including the nape. Other shorter styles include the bubble cut, where the hair was teased into tight curls all over, and the poodle cut.

These shorter styles were worn throughout the decade, and the hair was kept ‘close to the head’ and compact in size. However, by the end of the decade, hair was being worn with more lift and volume, hair was getting ready for the birth of the modern bouffant and beehive.





Italian haircut

 While shorter hair is most commonly seen in the ’50s, some women had long hair, in particular teenagers, students and ‘Beat Girls’ like Bettie Page.

Hair could be worn down, or tied back into a ponytail. If someone had a fringe, it would be a short fringe, as was fashionable then.

Audrey Hepburn (pictured) wore her long hair in a pony with a short fringe in Funny Face (1957), possibly inspiring the popularity of this look.

The high ponytail was a popular look for western teenagers, so much so that this popular hairstyle was seen on the early version of Barbie. The ponytail would often be tied with a scarf.





Pageboy or Brushed-under Bob

This popular hairstyle could vary in length from quite a short bob to shoulder length.

Either way, the hair was worn quite sleek and smooth, possibly with a slight wave at the front, or maybe the sides – that all depended on the wearer’s choice.

The ends of the hair were always turned under in a soft roll.

Grace Kelly often wore her jaw-length hair in a sleek pageboy. Marilyn Monroe sometimes styled her hair this way too.


The Gamine Look

Audrey HepburnA really short, elfin hairstyle that emerged in the early 1950s, worn most noticeably by Audrey Hepburn (pictured).

Audrey had her long hair cut during a scene in Roman Holiday (1953), as a mark of her character’s independence. This inspired women to go for a short haircut.

Also known as a pixie cut, it is a very short, layered, and almost masculine cut with a high-cut shaggy fringe.

There were other short cuts too, like the butch cut.



Bouffant do from 1959The modern bouffant started in the mid-’50s, getting larger and more popular by the end of the decade before becoming a mane event in the 1960s. The late ’50s also saw hair piled on top of the head – a forerunner of the beehive.

The main element of a bouffant hairstyle was volume and height. Hairspray was needed to keep this look set rock solid – women might not touch their do until it needed washing out completely. Large wire-mesh rollers were now on the market, used to help create the lift needed.

Bouffants didn’t go well with hats, but hair could be decorated with jewels, feathers or out-sized bows.


Black Women’s Hair

The vast majority of black women in 1950s Britain and America straightened their hair – it was the socially acceptable thing to do.

Straightening was done at home or in a black beauty salon. A protective pomade or oil would be put through the hair and a heated metal comb run through it, transforming tight curls into glossy straight hair. It stayed this way until it got wet or was washed. The straightened hair could then be dressed in a 1950s style.

The 1950s saw the introduction of chemical hair relaxers. Johnson Products had several lye-based relaxers on the market, including Ultra Sheen relaxers that could be used at home. Once straightened, hair could be cut and styled however the wearer wanted. It was permanent, so stayed straight even after contact with water.

Wigs were also popular – a quick and easier way to have the latest fashionable style without having to resort to the time-consuming and potentially painful process of straightening.

Towards the end of the ’50s, a tiny minority of women started to leave their hair natural and unstraightened. It would set the ball rolling for the politically-charged Afro revolution of the 1960s.






Setting and Perming Hair

Pin Curl Setting (1953)
Pin curls were still used to create waves and curls
Curls and waves were created mainly by setting wet hair in pin curls.

Small rollers and water waving were also used. A setting lotion could be applied and hair dried off under a hooded dryer. This really baked the set into the hair.

Pin curls wound in alternating directions (referred to as clockwise and anti-clockwise) creates soft waves, and upright pin curls (or barrel curls) create lift.

Pin curls were kept in by using hair pins or small metal clips – carefully placed to prevent creasing and a skill in itself!

For longer-lasting sets, perming was popular, the curls being created with small perming rods.







Bleached fringe (1953)
Bleached fringe (1953)
Colouring products and techniques advanced in the 1950s, allowing women to change their hair at a whim at home.

Experimentation with colour was seen, and coloured sprays and paint-on colours made it easy to temporarily match one’s hair with the outfit. Even products not meant for hair at all were used!

Temporary gold and silver streaks were popular and could be achieved by using tinted metallic powders to sprinkle on or liquids to paint on.

One-step products allowed hair to be bleached, shampooed and dyed easily at home.

Henna was a popular colourant. Apparently henna was used by Lucille Ball to achieve the auburn-red colour she had.

Bleached streaks added a swoosh of blonde to hair, particularly used in the front, and actresses like Marilyn Monroe, Diana Dors and Jayne Mansfield made the ‘blonde bombshell’ look all the rage.