Fashion and beauty trends are reflections of culture in a fragment of time. They have the power to showcase everything from behavioral norms to economic stability. Sometimes what's being communicated through hair, makeup, and wardrobe can be so impactful and significant that it echoes through history and leaves us with looks that recycle themselves time and time again.
In the 1950s, folks were settling down after the war had ended (the baby boomer years). In doing so, they displayed their patriotism in part by trying to uphold the idea and the image of "the perfect American family" (which, ya know, obviously doesn't exist). But as a result, there was a trend to be adequately groomed at all times.
With the resurgence of jobs, consumerism came in full swing. TV sets became a popular household commodity, and it not only changed the way people received the news, but the images they saw on the screen impacted their daily behaviors and opinions. Hair and makeup were mimicked by what was seen in magazine “pin-up” photos, television, and film.
Despite the circumstances we have adopted in 2021, the hairstyles of the '50s are still relevant today. With icons like Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, and Elizabeth Taylor, it's hard to imagine the industry without their indelible marks on beauty. We asked two of our favorite stylists, George Papanikolas and Kara Williams, for their tips on how to bring these classic looks into the modern era. Keep scrolling for 30 '50s hairstyles that still look amazing today.
Meet the Expert
- Kara Williams is a Redken Certified Master Designer and Colorist as well as an expert stylist specializing in textured hair. She is the owner of K. Louise Boutique Salon in Philadelphia, PA.
- George Papanikolas is an expert colorist/stylist and brand ambassador for Matrix. He has worked on countless celebrity clients and can be found at the Andy Lecompte Salon in Los Angeles and Rita Hazan in New York City.
Made popular in the early '50s by Audrey Hepburn in the films Roman Holiday and Sabrina, the cropped, face-framing pixie was copied by many women. Tyra Banks' version is updated for the 21st century.
- Start by asking your stylist for longer, face-framing layers to create choppy bangs. Keep the sides and back cropped more closely to the scalp.
- "The key [to a modern pixie] is to get maximum fullness and volume," says Papanikolas. "Start with a volumizing foam like Matrix Total Results High Amplify Foam Volumizer ($18) on damp hair before you blow dry."
- "Use a round vent brush and go section by section to give you maximum volume and a slight bend," he adds.
- "Use a flexible pomade like Matrix Style Link Shape Switcher Molding Paste ($18) to give a piecey texture which makes the style more current and modern."
There was a time, pre-Dry Bar, when going into the salon weekly to get your roller set and wash was more common than not. Today, plenty of red carpet 'dos are still beautifully shaped and fluffed out. A favorite take on this look is Mandy Moore's big and voluminous waves at the 2019 Emmy's.
- "Deep glamorous waves can seem super intimidating," notes Williams. "Give them a modern and fresh feel by curling your whole head with a small to medium size curling wand."
- Then, let your hair completely cool down from the hot tools before continuing to style.
- "Brush out with a paddle brush," adds Williams. Top off with a flexible hold hairspray like Kristin Ess Ultra Fine Workable Hairspray ($14).
Short and Sculpted
Short hair with fluffed out or structured curls was one of the most popular hairstyles of the '50s. Here, Janelle Monáe channels her inner '50s starlet. Don't have short hair? You can fake this look with the faux bob technique.
A loose silk scarf draped over the hair and tied around the neck or shoulders is a great way to make any hairstyle instantly look a bit vintage.
- First, pull your hair back into a low bun or ponytail. Don't worry about styling too much—the scarf will do most of the work for you.
- If you're using a larger piece of fabric, Papanikolas suggests folding into a triangle shape before laying it over the crown of your head with the points hanging downward.
- Then, he suggests tying the scarf around the neck, as pictured above.
- For a smaller scarf, you can roll it up into a narrower strip and secure the fabric at the nape of the neck like a headband.
- Bonus points for adding oversized sunglasses.
Bouffants, beehives, and French twists were popular updos that consisted of lots of hairspray and backcombing, giving the hair both lift and structure. Here, Mary J. Blige wears a clean, modern hybrid of the beehive and a classic French twist. To achieve:
- Start by teasing the hair at the crown of the head, using a rattail comb, says Papanikolas.
- "Smooth out your backcombing, then pin it in the back" to secure.
- Next, set the entire look with a generous amount of hairspray.
- Side-swept bangs, pictured above, help to update the look and keep it fresh.
A simpler look that caught on in the '50s was the ponytail. Reincarnated, we love this modern, flirtatious pony on Zoey Deutch. The front is similar to look #5, but instead of a teased backcomb, simply secure your hair into a high ponytail and use a flat iron or to gently curl the ends outward, creating that sumptuous S-shape.
Bettie Page Bangs
Katy Perry is a vintage queen who has been rocking Bettie Page bangs on and off for years.
Go rockabilly-chic with a tied-up bandana in bold pin-up red. "Hair scarves have endless styling options," says Williams.
- To begin, pull your hair back into an up-do of choice. No need to make it complicated; a loose bun or ponytail will do.
- "Brush your hair back and tie around the front for a cute headband," suggests Williams.
- Another option is to actually tie the scarf around the base of the ponytail "for a great pop of color."
- Or, "leave out bangs and pull your hair into a cute messy bun, tie the scarf around the middle and make a bow in between your bangs and bun!"
Largely made popular by Lucille Ball, the Poodle was a notable hairstyle in the '50s, with bouffant-like volume in front and fluffed out curls pinned up in the back. Kate Winslet's red carpet updo is a modernized version. "Those patterns from the '50s still translate to a great foundation for current hairstyles," says Papanikolas. "What makes them more current is that there are less stiff and less teased so that they have a more moveable texture."
More often than not, pin-up girls in magazines were seen wearing victory rolls, a hairstyle that took voluminous curls and pinned them up to frame the face and add height. Here, Tessa Thompson wears one elongated victory roll above her long, flowing tresses. "Hot rollers are a great tool for quick curls," says Williams. Follow her tips:
- Start by setting the desired victory roll section with hot rollers.
- Once cool, brush out the curls.
- Next, "wrap your hair around your finger at the desired height of your victory roll." To copy Thompson, you may need to bump the height a bit.
- "Slide your finger out carefully, and pin into place."
A curly crop is both timeless and oh so modern.
- Start by following our tips for look #1, using your favorite product for creating curl dimension instead of brushing out the hair.
- Then, apply some pomade or modeling paste. If your hair is longer in front, lift the front sections back for a windswept appearance.
The lifted crown on Lucy Liu's sleek ponytail has a bouffant vibe, with a slightly teased crown that elevates the look beyond your average gym-friendly style. Copy the tips from look #5, leaving the ends down instead of pinning them up.
We can't get away with a post about 1950s hair without mentioning inward, forward-facing curls usually created using a widespread roller set, softly brushed out and held up with hairspray. Lily Collins's red carpet appearance in this look has kept it alive, relevant, and lust-worthy.
- The vintage wave is easy to replicate with rollers.
- Simply wrap your ends up towards the face, stopping around the ears (exactly where you stop depends largely on your length).
- "You can achieve the same look with a curling iron by pinning it in place to let it 'set,'" adds Papanikolas. "You should follow a pattern to achieve your desired looks."
This classic, old Hollywood style worn by Lucy Boynton at the Oscars was an obvious ode to Grace Kelly, who was known for her soft, blonde hair and face-framing waves. While Boynton has turned down a bit of the volume, with asymmetrical curls and clean, structured ends, this modernized style hasn't lost one bit of its glamour.
All Rolled Up
Stylized updos were worn by many women in service during the war. While it may not be how working women show up for the job today, Rihanna displays a '50s inspired updo as one of pure glamour and glitz.
This cool braided style nods to '50s up 'dos like the poodle and the bouffant without looking dated in the slightest. It's also much simpler than it looks.
- Braid a medium-sized section of hair in a classic braid and secure at the end.
- Loop the braid in a crown-like diagonal across the forehead.
- Secure into place with a headband. Use one that mimics the color and texture of the real braid to create the illusion of more braids in the hair.
- Leave hair down or pull it back into a ponytail or bun for the final touches.
Soft, structured waves never go out of style. Follow the tips from #2, taking care not to brush out the waves too much to keep the curls intact.
"Baby bangs like Mia Farrow and Audrey Hepburn are having a huge moment in pixie cuts right now," says Williams. Zoë Kravitz gives us a contemporary take with sexy, jagged edges. To get a similar look at home:
- Bring a photo of the look you're going for to the salon and request a pixie with baby bangs.
- To style, "blow dry hair flat with Matrix Total Results High Amplify Foam Volumizer," says Williams.
- Then, use your fingers and a pomade/styling paste like Matrix StyleLink Shape Switcher Molding Paste to get that piece-y, high-shine appearance.
Lizzo demonstrates the totally timeless effect of pin curls, which work beautifully on any length.
- "For pin curls wrap a small section around your pointer and index finger in the direction that the curl falls and use a pin to place the curl flat," says Williams.
- "Pin curls can be done on damp hair and allowed to dry for a damage free set," says Papanikolas.
- If you're short on time, "speed it up with a curling iron and hair clips to allow it to set."
- Let the pins out, shake out your curls, and you're ready to hit the red carpet.
Zendaya's modern beehive is softer than the '50s version. Go light on the hairspray to allow flyaways to sneak through.
Curly French Twist
The French twist gets a bad reputation as a staid prom hairstyle that's stuck in the past, but this curly version is totally current. Follow this video tutorial by stylist Caitlyn Meyer:
- Divide hair into two sections, clipping the top part out of the way.
- Working from top to bottom, form the iconic French twist shape.
- Start by pulling the hair to one side and securing with bobby pins, then wrap the hair under to create the twist and pin into place.
- Release the top section and spiral over the head to create a faux bang, once again pinning into place to secure and gently arranging the curls with finger tips.
- Leave a few strands loose by the ears for a soft, romantic effect.
French Twisted Ponytail
This low ponytail combines elements of the French twist to create a red carpet-worthy style. Follow the guidelines from #21 but leave the ends hanging loose instead of wrapping all the hair.
Shoulder Length Pin Curls
As Emma Stone demonstrates, pin curls work on most hair lengths. This wavy bob follows the same general steps as #19, just with shorter strands.
Stealing J.Lo's red carpet style is simple, but it makes a big statement (especially when paired with stunning diamond and emerald drop earrings):
- Slick the hair back into a high ponytail, using copious amounts of gel and hairspray to obliterate flyaways.
- Tuck the bottom of the ponytail underneath itself and secure with bobby pins to form a large loop.
- Fan the tucked hair out over the back of the head and use a light coat of hairspray. Don't overdo it; you want the hair to remain soft and pliable.
Super Curly Crop
Another curly pixie with tons of height that proves the cut works with any texture.
Grease is the Word
Traditionally feminine hairstyles are not the only option when it comes to '50s inspiration. For example, Emma Roberts is serving up impeccable greaser vibes (Danny Zuko, anyone?) with this slicked-back style. All you need is some gel and a pack of bobby pins to pull this off on chin-length hair.
Unless you're a professional braider you'll probably need some help from the salon to achieve Amandla Stenberg's impeccable up 'do. Reminiscent of the classic poodle style, it utilizes goddess braids and a low bun.
Loose Scarf Ponytail
Forego the elastic entirely and create a bohemian ponytail by tying it only with a silky scarf. To get the look, follow the above tutorial by stylist Emma Chen:
- Begin with pre-styled and fully dried waves or curls.
- Take your scarf of choice, ideally something thinner and longer that will be easy to manipulate.
- Gather the hair loosely at the nape of the neck, tying the scarf around base of the ponytail.
- Double knot the scarf, then create a soft half bow and let the ends mingle with the ponytail. Pretty simple!
Once again, follow Williams' advice from look #2 to achieve sexy vintage waves, giving them a thorough brush out and a center part to update them for today.
Pink Bettie Page Bangs
A surefire way to ensure your Bettie Page bangs (or really any '50s hairstyle) reads as up-to-date in the 2020s is to dye the whole thing pink!