Hair is political. The way we wear our hair is often much more than an aesthetic choice -- it’s a code. Our hairstyles are a way of signifying our affiliations and affinities, as well as setting us apart from others. Every subculture has an intimate relationship to hair; a certain hairstyle can be an act of rebellion or an act of conformity. The SVA Pictures Collection’s Hair folders are an excellent resource for matters mane-related. The 1960s, 70s and 80s are particularly interesting with regards to hair because they bore witness to some of history’s most fast-paced and significant social shifts, which were in turn reflected in society’s relationship to their hair. Hair became a critical site for subversion, among other things. As society was transformed at breakneck speed, so did the complex relationship between the body (notably, hair) and the political and cultural.

The 1960s
Hair was simultaneously big and sleek in the 60s. Beehives and bouffants held court with straightened hair and bangs. In the early 60s, women wore their hair glossy and coiffed, sometimes with the addition of bows or headbands (think Brigitte Bardot and Anna Karina of the French New Wave). In the later 60s, as countercultural movements gained more momentum, the emphasis was less on looking “done” and more on looking like you had better things to do with your time than spending it tangled up in a hairdryer. Both men and women started growing their hair long (women sometimes opted for a pixie cut, like Twiggy) and wearing it loose -- all the better to fight the hetero-patriarchal-white-supremacist hegemony with.
Close-up of Dusty Springfield's face and large bouffant hair.
Dusty Springfield
Back of a redheaded woman's head. Her hair is jaw-length and she wears a white scarf with red polka dots.
Three women with 1960s bouffant hairstyles cluster together against a green patterned background.
A woman wearing a thick choker of pearls looks at the camera. Her large afro cascades down her back.
Diptych of two women in close-up shots. Left: short brunette bobbed hair before an orange background. Right: bouffant of dark blonde hair before a green background.
Woman with dark hair piled in an elaborate topknot with a braid cascading down her back and elaborate hairclips throughout. Her body faces away but she turns slightly toward the camera.
Vogue May 1963
Close-up of a blonde woman's hair and face in profile. Her hair is in an elaborate updo and she sports dangling crystal earrings.
October 1965

The 1970s

Long, flowing, unbrushed, (sometimes) unwashed hair was the mode du jour in the early 70s. People were too busy smoking illicit substances and going to sit-ins to be bothered with getting done up, and anyway, growing their hair long was an act of rebellion against their conservative parents and the oppressive culture they grew up in. With the later 70s, however, came a return to glamour. Disco culture promoted big hair in the form of afros or swishing Farrah Fawcett layers.

Diptych. Left: Woman with hanging twisted braids and a small beaded choker. Right: A blonde woman with curled hair down to her collarbone and a beaded necklace.
A woman with long blonde hair in profile.
Diptych. Left: A woman with dark curled hair looks away from the camera. Right: Blonde woman with a bowl cut looks beyond the camera.
March 1971
A woman with strawberry blonde curly hair looks at the camera. She wears pink lipgloss, dark eyeliner and a pink and green neck scarf.
A woman wears a side ponytail.
A blonde woman in a high-necked white frilly shirt clutches a bouquet of flowers.
A blonde woman learns her chin on her palm.
November 1971
A woman with a large afro wears gold jewelry looks towards the camera.

The 1980s

Hair stayed big into the 80s. The bigger, the better, in fact. Most people looked like they were part of a static electricity cult. However, subcultural groups such as the punks and post-punks and the new wavers etcetera responded to the repressive cultural climate (Reagan, Thatcher, Neoliberalism) by taking an androgynous and provocative approach to hair. Things got spiky and gelled and dyed and short and asymmetrical.

Close-up of a woman with a large intricate braided hairdo and pink lipstick.
Close up of the back of a woman's head. Her hair is slicked back and super-short and she wears dangly silver earrings.
Four women gaze off into the distance. All of them have very large poofy hair.
Halsa Swedish Botanical Shampoo Ad 1987
Image of a person with a mohawk wearing a black blazer.
Image of a woman with a large afro wearing dark blue eyeshadow and pink lipgloss.
Woman with spiky red hair and a red coat.
Woman faces a wind machine and clutches her pearls.