In October of 2017 I had the amazing pleasure to work with stage director, Kristin McIntyre on her beautiful production Don Giovanni. For those of you unfamiliar with this opera it was written in 1787 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, it is based on the legends of Don Juan, a fictional libertine and seducer. What made this production interesting was that it was set in 1940’s-1950’s with a film noir style, the reason why this was a brilliant direction to take is because you have characters seen in this opera that are also seen in film noir. You have your villain, femme fatale, alienated characters, and the obsessed characters.
I’m not going to talk much more about this opera, my focus is on hair and makeup trends during this time, granted I could write an entire book about this but I will try and just hit key areas on how and why the style was what it was during this period.
First let me back track, before the film noir style came to be the United States was involved with World War 2. Picture it, women are in the workforce while the men are out at war, swimsuits and bras are changing styles to provide more fabrics and material in effort of the war. Women had shorter, cropped hair to keep them safe while working in the factories. If a woman had long hair and was working in a factory they were prone to accidents, i.e. hair getting caught in machinery and hurting/killing them.
Fast forward to 1945, the war is over. Men are returning home and back to their jobs, women are now forced out of the workforce and back into their homes. Some women are growing their hair out, while others are leaving it short. Women are beginning to conform back into wives and mothers, while others trying to work outside the home. Meanwhile, the world is recovering from the war, dealing with the fear of communism, exploring new concepts like Freudianism, Marxism, and of course Feminism.
With all these events and ideological views flourishing it was the perfect soil to grow the concept of film noir. Also, during this time makeup artist, Max Factor was redefining women’s cosmetics and beginning the transition from cosmetics into makeup. A topic I will dive into further detail at another time.
With the world in this interesting transition period women were taking ownership of their appearance in new ways. Women who have shorter hair may no longer need to go to the salons to get their hair styled weekly (obviously depending on the style). Women with longer hair are getting their hair set weekly but are maintaining the styles their self. When I say getting your hair set I’m talking about when women go to the salon to get rollers placed in their hair and sit under a hair dryer to set the curls, see photo below.
I want to start by discussing styles for women in a mid to lower class setting. Women with longer hair in this class would get their hair set. Setting the hair would have a structured curl, as they wore the style it would loosen up, hence where the loose ‘Hollywood wave’ came from. This style was popular because of how easy it was to maintain, and the longevity and versatility of the style. Women with bob length, wedge, and page boy styles were incredibly popular because of the women re-growing their hair out after chopping it off from working in the factories. These styles were also relatively easy to maintain, especially if they were receiving permanent waves or getting a weekly roller set.
Women in a higher-class system could afford to get their hair styled multiple times a week if necessary. Typically, these women had bob length or longer hair. The hair would be dressed with clips, pins, and sometimes flowers. These styles were more structured curls and plastered with hair spray to maintain the style, typically pulled up and away from the face.
In film noir your femme fatale would have more of the Hollywood wave style or short hair to show and express their feminism or struggle in the story line. While the more ‘well to do’ or successful characters would have more structured styles to show the structure in their life.
These styles were popular on Joan Crawford, Betty Davis, and Jane Greer, they are still relevant and seen today and are a sign of feminism and independence for women. Hollywood waves are seen almost every season on the red carpet for their iconic and timeless style.
The hair styles are founded on the struggles that women endured up to that point in history. From working in the work place, the women’s fight for equality, and the fears of ideological views in the world. The 1940-1950’S birthed a style that has forever shifted how we view and express women’s hair and fashion. Next time you’re waving your hair or finding inspiration from the film noir era remember, these styles represent so much more struggle and history, it is more than just a glamorous look it is a fashion and political statement.
Film Noir Compendium. (2016) Alan Silver & James Ursini, Applause Theatre and Cinema Books, Milwaukee, WI
THE GEOGRAPHY OF HAIR
The Geography of Hair is devoted to share experiences and stories in cosmetology and how it has affected people, myself, or us as a society.