Bouffant

Lacquered puffiness, usually  on top of the head  but  sometimes also on the sides, to increase the hair’s height and volume  characterizes the bouffant hairstyle. The hairstyle’s  name  comes  from  the  French verb  bouffer, meaning to puff out  or to swell. An urban legend, known to folklorists as “The  Fatal Hairdo” or “The  Spider in the  Beehive,” alleges that  black  widows,  cockroaches, or other small creatures are likely to nest  inside  the darkness and warmth of the lacquered bouffant, feeding  off the  blood  of their  hosts, especially  when  the  hair  is uncombed or  unwashed  for extended periods of time. None of these  legends have any basis in fact and can be traced  to English tales from the 13th  century in which  spiders inhabit the elaborate hairdos of excessively vain women.

Although the bouffant can be traced  to late 18th  century France, it achieved its greatest popularity in the  United States  from  the  late 1950s  to the  mid 1960s.  Its rise was aided  in large part  by two consumer innovations of the  time: the  plastic hair roller, which was used for winding and curling the hair (usually overnight) before teasing  or backcombing it to increase volume, and the aerosol can of lacquer hairspray, which  was applied  liberally to create  a rigid shell that  held  the bouffant in place. During the 1960s,  the bouffant could  be seen on the heads  of first ladies Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy and Pat Ryan Nixon, film and television actresses Audrey Hepburn and  Mary Tyler  Moore, singing  groups such  as the  Supremes and the Shangri-Las, and many other influential models of fashionable style.

Not all appreciated the new style. Newsweek reported in 1962 that the bouffant’s popularity among teenagers was troubling to parents, who thought their  daughters were wasting  too much time rolling  and combing their  hair; to teachers, who observed a correlation between low grades  and  high  hair;  and  to hairdressers, who cautioned that the scalp underneath a lacquered shell was not able to breathe properly. An exaggerated version  of the  bouffant, known as the  beehive  or B-52 (because of its resemblance to the  bulbous nose  cone  of this  particular aircraft), was popular around the same  time—and has subsequently been  spoofed in various  forms  of popular culture, such  as the  film and  Broadway  musical Hairspray, Marge  Simpson’s hair in The Simpsons, and the New Wave rock  band  the B-52s.

By the late 1960s and early 1970s, more  natural hairstyles that  did not require rollers,  teasing  combs, and  hairspray had  become increasingly popular, causing the  bouffant to  fall out  of  fashion. The  women’s liberation movement, along with carefree  and  often  more  gender-neutral fashions, fit the  workaday lives of a younger generation of wage-earning women who  seemed less interested in and/ or less likely to be able to afford the time and cost associated with weekly trips to a beauty  shop  or salon  so familiar to an older generation. However, thanks to certain  celebrities in the  2000s,  such  as Jennifer  Lopez,  Gisele  Bündchen, and  even Sarah  Palin,  the  bouffant may be making a comeback along  with  the  emulation and condemnation that  has long been  associated with such  exaggerated feminine style.

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