Weird History
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Here's What 'Edgy' Haircuts Looked Like In Every Decade Of The 20th Century

Updated March 3, 2020 96.8k views10 items

Like fashion, language, and many comparable cultural phenomena, hairstyles and facial hair change over time. Often, how men and women wear their hair reflects social convention and popular trend. Within the mainstream, however, some individuals test the boundaries of the norm, wearing edgy hairstyles to express emotion or make a statement. 

What may be one group's unique, cutting-edge hairstyle may eventually morph into a commonplace look for later generations. Young men and women commonly usher in new hair fashion, setting the foundation for widespread dissemination of a look, ultimately making it anything but edgy.

During the 20th century, hairstyles came and went - demonstrative of larger social change. Longer hair was cut short as women rejected tradition, while men grew out their tresses to push back against the models of masculinity. Each decade of the 20th century had distinct looks worn by "anti-establishment" men and women, even if they didn't stay outside that establishment very long. 

  • 1900s: Men - Clean-Shaven With Short Hair; Women - The Nestle Permanent Wave

    Through the 19th century, beards were quite common among men in the United States. After the turn of the century, beards faded away - with many men opting for a clean shave or simple mustache instead.

    Hairstyles for men reflected comparable preferences for less hair. Crew cuts and short sides were in vogue. Some men may have grown out the tops of their hair, either parting it to the side or simply slicking it back. 

    Women during the first decade of the 20th century embraced the Nestle Permanent Wave. Invented by Charles Nestle (also known as Charles or Karl Nessler) in 1906, the process to achieve a permanent wave involved 10 hours of chemicals, curlers, and heat.

    Nestle's process was more efficient than techniques developed by his predecessors, namely French hairdresser Marcel Grateau. While Grateau could curl hair for days, Nestle's process lasted for months

  • 1910s: Men - Undercut; Women - Gibson Girl

    Men continued to wear their hair short during the 1910s, especially on the sides. The undercut featured longer hair on the top, parted and drawn to the side with pomade. The back and sides of the hair were buzzed. 

    A popular look for women, especially young females, was the Gibson Girl style. Based on the drawings of Charles Dana Gibson during the 1890s, the Gibson Girl look was the epitome of style, confidence, and beauty. Hair was swept back from the face into a bun or a twist, somewhat wistfully, with an elegant athleticism.

    The Gibson Girl pervaded American culture and was featured in media and on consumer goods. It was representative of the "New Woman" and her expanding social roles. 

  • 1920s: Men - Flat And Slicked Back; Women - Bob

    The ever-expanding number of hair products on the scene during the 1920s made slicking back one's hair increasingly easier. Men continued to keep the sides of their hair short, but opted to keep the tops long, sleek, and shiny. Actor Rudolph Valentino perhaps best displayed the trend with his clean-shaven, modern look.

    Hairstyles for women shifted significantly during the 1920s. In contrast to traditional long hair, short bobs became popular. A bob might feature bangs or not - either way, what it represented was convenience, versatility, and, ultimately, liberation.

    Associated with flapper culture, bobs were the antithesis to conventional femininity. There were several types of bobs - the shingle bob was tapered, while the Marcel bob featured waves. Many women used styling products on their bobs or held their short locks in place using bobby pins - accessories that derived their name from the look. 


  • Photo: MGM / Flickr

    1930s: Men - The Clark Gable Cut; Women - Marcel Waves

    As (William) Clark Gable, the so-called King of Hollywood, personified masculinity and sexuality, men flocked to look like him. Gable's success in films like It Happened One Night (1934), for which he took home the Academy Award for best actor, and Gone with the Wind (1939) prompted men to mimic his mustache and hairstyle alike. 

    Gable's hair wasn't strikingly different than that worn by men during preceding decades. Gable was known for his neatly parted, closely trimmed coif, which he had cut at an angle to make it look layered.  

    Rising to popularity during the 1920s, Marcel waves grew in appeal throughout the 1930s. Named for Marcel Grateau, the French stylist who first developed a hot curling device for hair during the 1870s, Marcel waves were integrated into bobs and longer hair alike.

    Waves could be created using an electric curling iron, a water wave comb, or simply with fingers and some waving lotion. Hair could be parted on either side or down the middle; waves could be tousled or sculpted