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Iconic big hair for backcombing inspiration

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Anna Brech
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Backcombing is the must-have technique for a look that women have adored for decades: BIG hair. The pinnacle of glamour, a dynamite ‘do with acres of volume and lift is a trend that dates back to the early 1950s. It’s been used as an instrument of sex appeal, power and energy ever since. We investigate the iconic big hairstyles that made waves throughout history, over the course of four key decades. Come step back in time for your very own dose of backcombing inspiration...

1950s: The cropped bouffant

The bouffant came of age in the 1950s: an eye-catching yet demure ‘do, often finished by neat bangs and gentle curls around the face. This is the kind of look that paired perfectly with a twin-set and pearls. Movie stars of the era re-worked the theme with an edgy kick. Screen sirens such as Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor opted for stylised bobs, with wavy layers and curls creating a major infusion of volume. How did they keep it in place? Why, backcombing, of course.


1960s: The statement beehive

With the 1960s came the birth of one of the most enduring updos of all time: the beehive. Invented by Chicago hairstylist Margaret Vinci Heldt, the striking turret was an immediate hit. At a time where the use of hats was still widespread, women saw it as an answer to deflated “hat hair”. It was formal enough to replace the need for any kind of millinery. Brigitte Bardot famously gave the beehive a slightly dishevelled, undone air known as the choucroute. In 1968 cult film Barbarella, Jane Fonda secured the beehive’s reputation as a style that oozed va va voom.

Brigitte Bardot

Jane Fonda as Barbarella

1970s: The wavy flick

Helmet hair really came into its own in the 1970s. In an age of first-wave feminism, big hair became less about pure sex appeal and more about an expression of power. The tidal change was brought about by none other than Farrah Fawcett, the doyenne of big hair, in her role as detective on 1970s TV show Charlie’s Angels. The “Farrah flick” had enough movement to strike just the right balance between feminine and kick-ass, and was an immediate sensation. “People were lining up down the street,” recalls her hairstylist Allen Edwards. For a similarly undone feel, look to actress Sophia Loren, whose oversized mane encapsulated the look of the moment.


Farah Fawcett

Sophia Loren

1980s: Wild and free

The dawn of the 1980s saw big hair at its zenith. The rule book went out the window and everyone from Jerry Hall to Tina Turner was embracing the “more is more” vibe. This kind of hairstyle was all about verve, expression and energy – and it took backcombing to heart. Though ‘80s hair generally gets a bad rap nowadays, you have to respect a decade where women were 100% fearless when it came to their locks (and anything else). Just like shoulder pads, big hair was an assertion of authority and presence. Women found their voice in limitless volume and styles that physically took up space. Three cheers to the sisterhood...

Jerry Hall

Tina Turner

Photos: Rex Features


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Anna Brech

Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.

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