The History Of Hairspray: How Updos Became A Thing
Joan Collins, British actress, with her hair in a beehive hairstyle with a white bow, circa 1955. Source: (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
A look through a timeline of historical hairstyles will show you that women of the past liked to wear their hair up. Buns, braids, and updos gave women a chance to show off their style as well as keep their long hair out of their eyes at a time when the wrong step would find you knee-deep in horse poop. But have you ever wondered how women in the past created these gravity-defying hairstyles prior to the introduction of aerosol hairsprays? Let's look at the history of hairspray to see how women of the past were able to keep their curls from falling.
For Victorian women, Bandoline was a welcomed alternative to animal grease or wax. Source: (hairraisingstories.com)
Bandoline, the Victorian Lady's Best Friend
We will start our look at hairspray in the Victorian Era, though we know that women prior to this used various substances such as wax, grease, and sap to keep their updos up. In Victorian times, however, a commercial product known as bandolinewas sold as a sort of pre-hairspray hairspray. Bandoline was a liquid made of watered-down tree gum with a few teaspoons of rum and a dash or two of fragrances such as essence of almonds or rose oil that was applied to the hair to make it sticky. It held the hair in place, but the clear liquid didn't show on the strands, lest observers get the impression that their hair wasn't naturally cone-shaped. The product was so successful that soon, Victorian ladies abandoned hair waxes entirely in favor of bandoline.
Flappers needed a little product to keep their finger curls looking fantastic. Source: (chicvintagebrides.com)
Flapper Girls and Their Finger Curls
Women have traditionally worn their hair long since antiquities, which is what made the short, bobbed hair of the 1920s flappers so shocking and controversial. Although short hair cannot be worn in fancy, elaborate updos, it does need its own special care. The adorable, wavy finger curls that flappers wore could only stay in place with the help of styling gels. Similar to the waxy, sappy products of the past, the hair gels locked in the curls so every hair stayed in place all day and night, no matter how many fountains you dove into.
Aerosol spray cans were developed for bug sprays during World War II. Source: (en.wikipedia.org)
World War II Technology Aids the Hair Care Industry
In 1943, the United States Army developed aerosol cans so they could spray insecticides and kill bugs in the Asian jungles. The pressurized cans made with fluorocarbons meant that the spray could be powerful, consistent, and easily aimed, if not super great for the ozone layer. This was state-of-the-art technology in the 1940s, and when the war was over, environmentally unaware engineers sought out new ways to use the aerosol can technology.
Helene Curtis jumped on the aerosol hairspray bandwagon in the 1950s. Source: (clickamericana.com)
Spray Cans and Hair-Dos
Workers in the hair care industry had recently developed resin-like chemical polymers that, when applied to hair, had much the same effect as bandoline but in a compact, user-friendly package. Like the natural resins of the past, this chemical compound could keep hair in place, even when it was fashioned into an updo. The National Mineral Company, later renamed the Helene Curtis Company, was one of the first to utilize the new aerosol cans as a way to apply hair resins. Although Curtis's product was called Spray Net, she coined the generic term "hairspray" in 1950 for all sprayable resin hair-holding products.
Beehives and bouffants required lots of hairspray. Source: (nostalgiacentral.com)
Hairspray and '50s Hair Styles
If it weren't for the invention of aerosol hairsprays, we would not have had the iconic hairstyles of the 1950s. You decide whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. These styles, such as the bouffant, relied on pounds of hairspray to keep the enormous poofs aloft. Other 1950s styles that required curling, teasing, and upsweeps were indebted to the hairsprays that made the styles possible.
The winners of a 1964 hairstyling competition. Source: (facebook.com)
Hairspray in the 1960s
The 1960s was a time of turbulent change, and the hairspray industry was not immune. During the first half of the decade, hairspray was the number-one best-selling beauty product. The hairsprays on the market were so effective that many women only washed and set their hair once a week and relied on hairspray to keep them looking freshly coifed, and hopefully freshly scented, between hair appointments. Hairstyling competitions were held among stylists to see who could come up with the most interesting, gravity-defying, alien-looking style. But all that changed toward the end of the 1960s. Non-conformity was the attitude among the youths, and women were eager to rid themselves of society-imposed gender roles and all the gunk that came with them. They opted for more natural, easy hairstyles and long, flowing locks. But that didn’t mean the end for commercial hairspray products. Even the simpler, more natural hairstyles benefit from a light hold.
New aerosol technology was developed in the 1970s to heal the damaged ozone. Source: (nationalgeographic.com)
Hairspray in the 1970s
One of the biggest things to happen to hairspray in the 1970s was the switch from aerosol cans to pump bottles. Environmentalists in the '70s discovered that the chlorofluorocarbon aerosols were damaging the ozone layer and spoiled the fun for everyone. As aerosol was being phased out, some hairspray manufacturers opted for pump bottles while others used chlorofluorocarbon-free spray cans, because it's just not the same without that terrifying hiss.
Big hair...it was an '80s thing. Source: (hairstylesfeed.com)
The 1980s: The Return of Hairspray Domination
Hairstyles in the 1980s—sky-high teased bangs, punk spikes, and lots of curls—needed lots of hairspray. In fact, White Rain and AquaNet became symbols of the decade. To keep the hair standing on end, stylists used can after can of hairspray. Their recycling bills must have been as hideous as their customers.
This modern bride is ready for her big day in a classic updo. Source: (closetcouture.com)
The Modern Updo
Styles today tend to be more natural and free-flowing. Think beachy waves and fluffy 'fros. However, updos remain extremely popular, especially for special events such as weddings, proms, and parties, and bobby pins can only hold hair in place for so long before they need a hand. Hairsprays, now less "hard hat" and more "light hold," make it possible for hairstylists to create the stunning, beautiful updos that that litter the 'Gram and make you feel inadequate.