Who knew that someone actually created the beehive? The someone who did so was called Margaret Vinci Hedl, and she died recently on June 10, 2016.
In one form or another, this style has never gone out of fashion, although through the decades it has been very loosely interpreted.
For our teenage crowd, there were a couple of years when the high-hair look was an essential mark of being ‘with it’, as we used to say. (Quite a good phrase, actually. Time for a revival?)
The full-blown beehive was a bit too grown-up. What we wanted was hair that lifted a couple of inches, or as high as you could get, it from the crown, with sleek sides ending in perky flick-ups.
To get the look, you had to backcomb sections of your hair until it stood up in tufts, and smooth the top layer over to hide the cushions of hair which provided the height.
Flick-ups were achieved by putting in rollers and using a brush to pull the hair in the right direction. It often went wrong and you ended up with uneven or droopy flick-ups, not a good look.
Apparently this style was created for Jackie Kennedy to accommodate her little fez hats, which nestled becomingly in the pile of hair.
This was so not the case with our round, felt school uniform hats. Keeping them in place meant crushing your hairdo. The nuns, of course, were all in favour of this, having banned backcombing as soon as it became popular.
We developed a way of walking with our heads poked forward and our neck muscles tense in order to keep the hat technically on the head, but as far back as possible. Good news for osteopaths in years to come…
At going-home time, the school cloakrooms would see a line of gym-slipped girls standing in an almost identical pose, legs apart for balance, necks craned forward at an awkward angle to see into the mirror (inconveniently positioned in order to discourage vanity), left hand holding strand of hair aloft, right hand holding comb ready to comb down.
It’s fun looking at today’s online instructions about how to get the look. Apparently it’s better to start with rather dirty hair. Well, that was no problem in the early 1960s in the UK. The Clean Air Act had been passed in 1956 but the atmosphere was still a bit murky, and you would often find your fringe soaking wet, not from rain, but from fog. It was quite usual to wash your hair only once a week — Friday Night’s Amami Night, went the advert for the setting lotion which was discontinued only in 2010.
It was a fiddly style to maintain, and you never got quite the same effect as the singers and models who displayed it. Of course, they had all kinds of tricks to achieve the high hair look, such as wearing hairpieces or a hat or cap and stuffing it with newspaper. Huge blasts of shellac-like hairspray would keep a do in place. There was a story about a girl who kept her beehive in place for so long, missing so many Amami nights, that creatures nested in it. (A bit Edward Lear-inspired, that one. I think the nuns might have started the rumour.)
So it was quite a relief to move on to an easier look. At least, it should have been easier, but poker-straight hair? You’ve all heard about how we ironed it…
But other things had moved on as well. If you were a Beat Girl you could have just, well, hair, in the unstyled Patti Smith tradition. It had to be long, and parted in the middle, and a fringe was always good, but it had to appear as if you hadn’t tried. Suze Rotolo on Dylan’s Freewheelin’ album didn’t look like a hair-ironer. (Darn good hair, though.)
The beehive is a stayer. It can be so many things – Amy Winehouse’s wonderful stack, Adele’s sleek upsweeps. But through the decades the chic versions displayed by style icon Audrey Hepburn must hold pride of place, towering above the others not in height but in undiluted glamour.