An appointment at a hair salon for a shampoo and set was a weekly highlight for many women during the 1960s. Once husbands headed for their offices and children made their way to school, wives and mothers left their homes to spend an hour or more in the company of their regular stylist. They emerged with tidied-up versions of the same iconic hairstyle with which they entered the salon–the bouffant.
Production Line Hairdressing
With just a few exceptions, a 1960’s hairdresser spent much of the day washing, trimming, setting and combing out bouffants. Creating a hairstyle that would hold for seven days was an art in itself, but occasionally clients booked longer appointments for two other types of hairdressing procedures–permanent waving and coloring. The aim of both techniques was to keep the bouffant looking its best.
Permanent waving (commonly referred to as “having a perm”) created tight, strong curls. Setting this hair on rollers resulted in a bouffant with extraordinary staying powers. Like today, coloring was carried out to hide the onset of graying. As hair grew, it had to be touched up. Amongst the ladies of the day, this was commonly referred to as “having my roots done.”
Stage One of the Bouffant
The creation of a bouffant was not always the most pleasant of experiences, even though it provided the perfect excuse for the suburban housewives of the era to escape from their cookers, vacuums and washers for a couple of hours. To begin with, the hair had to be thoroughly washed. In the 1960s, backwash basins were not common, so women had to sit with their heads over sinks and water pouring down their faces. They had to keep their eyes closed to protect their sight as their crowning glory was soaked and lathered up with strong shampoo. The suds were then rinsed away and a second application of shampoo was massaged into the hair followed by another thorough rinse. Once hair was squeaky clean, it was dried roughly with a towel. The ladies then had to move from the row of sinks to the styling section of the salon for the next stage in the process.
Setting the Bouffant
The styling area was where the serious business of creating the perfect bouffant really began. Sections of hair were rolled on to rollers and pin curls. Some were rolled up from left to right, and others from back to front. At times the hair was being pulled very tightly. Once the rollers were in position, the stylist opened a little bottle of setting lotion and sprinkled the liquid over the client’s head. This was especially important to give the bouffant strength if a perm was starting to grow out.
Drying the Bouffant
Drying areas in 1960’s hair salons had at least one row of identical hair dryers. These were chairs with a large hood attached to the back. The client sat down and the hood, which was made of metal or plastic, was pulled down over their hair. The dryer was switched on and the bouffant was left to dry. The lucky clients of some salons were presented with a dial-type control on a cable that allowed them to lower the temperature if it became too high. However, in other salons, ladies had to rely on the quick response of stylists if they feared their hair was about to singe. The drying phase of bouffant creation was not without its benefits. Ladies were able to enjoy a cup of coffee and read the magazines of the day while the hairdryers removed the moisture from their hair. Traditionally, this was also the stage at which they fixed their make-up after its run-in with shampoo and hot water at the start of the process.
Finishing the Bouffant
As soon as their stylists declared their bouffants dry, ladies of the 1960s returned to the styling area of the salon for the final stage of the process known as “combing out.” Rollers and curl pins were removed to reveal a head covered in dry tubes of hair. This was brushed through and then combs were used to add volume and height.
A popular technique was back combing, also known as “teasing.” It involved combing strands in a direction opposite to the direction in which they were growing. Backcombing, combined with a strong perm, created bouffants with both height and volume, but it was still traditional to cover the creation with lacquer (the forerunner of hairspray) to hold it firmly in place. Once coiffed, the 1960’s housewife left the salon and returned home in time to greet her children at the end of their school day and prepare dinner for her weary husband–but not before making an appointment to undergo the same process exactly seven days later.
References and ResourcesBeauty and The Bath: Bouffant styles in the 1960's
Fifties Web: 1960's hairstyles
Fifties Web: Hair setting in the 1960's