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The rise of big hair

By Ricky Toledo and Chito Vijandre, The Philippine STAR Published Mar 27, 2024 5:00 am

The last time we saw big hair everywhere was in the ’80s, the era of excess, but it was always in our consciousness, as our mothers and sisters teased their hair in the ’60s and ’70s. The bouffant always gave an air of being properly dressed, making it perfect with any outfit, whether it was with the ladies who lunch or for cocktails and balls where it was de rigueur when wearing the terno. As the pace of life became faster, however, poufs went the way of starched garments and Aqua Net hairspray, with short or medium-length, wash-and-wear styles taking over.

If recent sightings are any indication, though, big hair may just be on its way back. At Paul Cabral’s recent show “Una” at Laperal Mansion, the beehives towered to complement the impeccably cut gowns. At the Grammy Awards and in her new video Doctor, Miley Cyrus sports a supersize mullet, bringing to mind the original peroxide bouffant girl Dolly Parton, who happens to be her godmother and is known to espouse the philosophy “The higher the hair, the closer to God.” Bob Recine, Cyrus’s hairstylist, wanted it to be “a kind of punk, Raquel Welch from the ’70s” that was big through teasing but instead of being coiffed in the old way, it looks a little messy for an updated look. The sheer volume gives a sense of power, very apropos for the subject of her song Flowers that tackles taking control after a breakup.

First Ladies Lady Bird Johnson, Dang Tuyet Mai and Imelda Marcos in Tagaytay during the 1966 Manila Summit Conference

Commanding as much authority is Julia Roberts’ blown-out tresses that occupy a good deal of the cover of British Vogue’s February issue, recalling the Pretty Woman star’s breakout role in the 1988 film Mystic Pizza.

At the recent shows, Marc Jacobs sent his models down the runway with puffed-up, full-lace, human-hair wigs coiffed to suggest “a late ’60s, early ’70s disco moment,” shared hairstylist Duffy, who had images of Diana Ross and the Supremes on his mood board. With the TV mini-series Feud: Capote vs. The Swans creating a buzz in the industry, it’s no wonder that the lacquered updos favored by Babe Paley are inspiring designers and stylists. 

One of the looks from Paul Cabral’s show “Una” at Laperal Mansion

At Christopher Cowan, big hair is part of the “mob wife aesthetic” of massive fur coats, glossy leather, clashing animal prints and stacks of gold jewelry linked to the 1999 cult series The Sopranos, which is now being discovered by Gen Z and Alpha through the Soprano TikTok account featuring the female characters’ gaudy style. Film director Francis Ford Coppola posted on IG a still of his sister Talia Shire dripping in diamonds in The Godfather to illustrate how the “mob wife” is back.

Miley Cyrus

Voluminous hair actually has its roots in ancient times. Egyptians preferred a thick bob and used wigs with major volume. The Greeks favored long hair pulled back and dyed red with henna. The Romans preferred it blonde, either dyed or in the form of wigs made from the hair of slaves, which was used to construct curls piled high over a wire framework.

Beyoncé announces her new country album with big hair.

In the Philippines, lush hair was also prized by our pre-colonial ancestors. In the 1520s, Visayans in Homonhon had hair down to their waists. Records of Antonio de Morga in his 1609 Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas noted how both men and women dressed their hair carefully. Women even added artificial hair extensions called panta ot talabhok to make it fuller. Alot, or closely cropped hair, was actually an insult, according to the late historian William Henry Scott. “Only where Spanish influence was greatest did Filipinos cut their hair short, a change considered a part of taming their ancient ferocity with the gentleness of the Gospel.”

Amalia Fuentes in the 1960s

In Renaissance Europe, hair was always long and propped up by upper-class women with elaborate hair coverings embellished with ribbons and jewels. By the 18th century, the hairstyles reached their biggest and most outlandish, crafted over tall cage frames. The most impressive towers of curls were topped with scenes such as gardens, windmills and even a birdcage with a live bird inside. Marie Antoinette would order a new hairdo each time, conveying a mood or to mark an important event like a maritime triumph, which would be symbolized by a boat atop her head. All the lavish and expensive hairdos, not to mention all the flour used to powder all those wigs at a time when people were starving, were enough to start a revolution.

The Duchess of Beaufort by Thomas Gainsborough, 1778

By the 1800s, hair reached more sensible proportions but still had curls, braids and updos with the use of hairpieces to create volume and height. In the 1920s, the flappers’ shorter hair in the form of bobs and softly waved styles became a message of rebellion and independence. The war also resulted in more practical hairdos, as women took on jobs while the men were on the battlefield.

Cailee Spaeny as Priscilla Presley in the 2023 film Priscilla

Big hair returned in the 1950s with the “Domestic Goddess,” who kept a beautiful home while being perfectly groomed and ladylike, sporting medium-length waves that were teased and sculpted into a helmet. By the late ’50s and early ’60s, the bouffants grew into massive beehives, which would catch on in the Philippines with our local movie stars and celebrities. In the late ’60s to ’70s, the big afro hairstyle worn as a political statement by African-Americans also became trendy as women frizzed their hair to achieve the look.

Marc Jacobs SS 2024

Madonna and the TV series Dynasty exemplified ’80s excess, which was mirrored in permed, crimped and blown-out hair to achieve phenomenal proportions that later deflated in the ’90s and 2000s when more natural looks dominated. With the pandemic, the styles became even more relaxed and easy to maintain to go with a lot of the minimalist fashion. 

The Blonds FW 2024

But, just like in any era, there’s always the need to express oneself and to stand out as an individual both in clothing and hairstyle, and big hair may just be what one needs during these times when people are feeling powerless because of what’s happening in the world. Letting hair rise to the occasion could certainly give a much-needed boost, both to one’s look and to one’s state of mind.