Boomers Loved That Beatles’ Hairstyle

The 1960s will be remembered for many things in the cultural milieu, and most notably among them is hairstyles. Any discussion of hairstyles of the 1960s would hardly be complete without acknowledging the tremendous influence the hairstyles of The Beatles — John, Paul, George and Ringo — had on a Youth Culture poised to explode.

The Beatles themselves changed hairstyles throughout their tenure as rock ‘n roll kings, but it all started when John spotted a young Norwegian schoolboy in the 1950s who, after swimming, left his hair hanging over his forehead. That look, combined with his fringed hair on the back of his head, was one that John particularly appreciated, and remembered. That boy was J├╝rgen Vollmer. In late 1961 when the band was playing in Hamburg, Paul and John decided to hitchhike to Paris. As luck (or rather, destiny) would have it, Mr. Vollmer picked the pair up on his way to Paris — sporting the style that John had so admired years earlier. John and Paul remarked how much they liked Mr. Vollmer’s haircut, and asked if he would cut their hair like his when they got to Paris. Thus, John and Paul were the first to receive the style, which became known as the moptop.

The moptop was a medium-length hairstyle, noted for its straight cut at the base of the neck, continuing over the ears and straight across the forehead. George and Ringo followed suit after seeing John and Paul, and the Fab Four took on the additional moniker of the Moptops.

Immediately upon their arrival in the U.S., The Beatles became style icons.

When they were introduced in the U.S. in February of 1964, their moptop hairstyle was an instant hit. It was copied worldwide and spawned one of the first licensed Beatles products: Beatle Wigs, manufactured by the Lowell Toy Manufacturing Corporation of New York. Many companies followed suit making wigs out of plastic and real hair, but only Lowell could claim their wigs as “authentic.”

Soon after arriving in the U.S., the group faced a press conference at the Plaza Hotel in New York. Having never seen their hairstyle before, a reporter asked George Harrison what he would call his haircut. In true Beatles fashion, George responded, “Arthur.” That scene was recreated in the movie, A Hard Day’s Night (1964), when a reporter asks George, “What would you call that, uh, hairstyle you’re wearing?”

In the 1950s, the predominant hairstyles for men were the shorter Crew Cut and Flat Top, while longer styles included the Pompadour and Ducktail. Some say it was President John F. Kennedy who ushered in the era of longer hair being more acceptable by flaunting his locks without a hat as the decade of the sixties began. Nevertheless, the likes of The Beatles’ haircut had not been seen on our shores before the band landed in New York.

As the sixties progressed, so did The Beatles’ hairstyles. It becomes hard to distinguish where The Beatles’ influence on worldwide hairstyles began and where what was happening in the world influenced The Beatles. By the time they recorded Sgt. Peppers in 1967, the group had replaced their moptops with much longer hair and, often, full beards.

Mister Boomer, like so many baby boomers, first saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. He recalls how their appearance shook the boomer world, and was all that was being talked about around school. Girls loved their hair, calling it “cute,” while guys thought it was “cool.” Mister Boomer was somewhat ambivalent about their hair, but did greatly admire their suits — an Edwardian style with black velvet-trimmed collars. His attention was quickly drawn to their music as he developed a preference of “She Loves You” over “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Hair, for Mister B, was neither here nor there.

Mired in a Parochial School education, Mister Boomer and his classmates had to adhere to rules and regulations regarding dress codes and hairstyles. As soon as the first inklings of this new hairstyle were uttered on school grounds, new regulations expressly prohibiting the moptop hairstyle were adopted, naming The Beatles as the example of what would not be permitted. Parents had no choice but to enforce the rules, despite the pleadings of their children. Since Mister B didn’t care much either way, he never sported the hairstyle, though some friends did eventually acquire a moptop when they got into high school.

What do you remember about The Beatles hairstyle, boomers? Did you have to have a moptop of your own?

Boomers Experienced the Home Perm

Permanent curls have been around since the 1870s when Marcel Grateau invented two-sided irons that could heat and curl hair. Since it was a hand-done operation, the risk of burning the scalp and skin was great, and the process took an inordinate amount of time. Further inventions in the early 1900s made it more practical for a salon to perform perms with machines that suspended heating elements from a stand to reduce the risk of burning. The process still took several hours.

By the 1930s, it was determined that alkaline-based chemicals, when applied to the hair, would break down the bonds in the hair’s protein. Then the hair could be wrapped around a shape and heat applied to achieve a curl. This short, tight-curl look is the basis of the quintessential 1930s hairstyle we see in old movies and ads.

In the 1940s, Toni was the first company to release a home perm kit. These kits contained a chemical agent that had to be put on washed hair and left on for a designated amount of time. After that, hair was wrapped around curlers and heat was applied, after which a neutralizing agent was applied to hold the resulting curls. This made the process cheaper than going to a salon, and took less time. Chances are our mothers used this product shortly after World War II. In the 1950s, other companies followed suit with their own products.

Mister Boomer, being of the male gender, never had a home perm. His experience with home perms is strictly as an observer when his mother or sister used Push Button Lilt. With houses being much smaller and having only one bathroom, one family member giving themselves a home perm could could seriously disrupt the regular ebb and flow of a household.

As far as Mister Boomer was concerned, whenever his mother and sister had home perms, it was not cause for celebration. Walking past the bathroom door, he observed his sister sitting in a chair in front of the mirror, with a towel draped around her shoulders. Mister B’s mom would apply the vile concoction to his sister’s hair which had been rolled around foam cushions. Whatever chemicals were involved stunk to high heaven and lingered for hours. In Mister Boomer’s home, his mother and sister would use the product simultaneously, doubling the agony, not to mention tying up the bathroom for what seemed an eternity. In the end, they were happy with their curls but Mister B would have preferred to breathe … and uncross his legs.

This commercial mentions the exact push-button foam Lilt used by Mister B’s mother and sister.

As the 1960s progressed, straight hair became more popular than curly hair, so home perms waned in the Boomer household, as they did across the country. A decade later the TV show Charlie’s Angels gave the industry a huge boost when actresses Farah Fawcett and Jacyln Smith sported voluminous hair with prodigious curls.

By the 1980s curly hair was seriously “in” again for men and women. Some men even jumped on the home perm bandwagon. That is not something that happened in Mister B’s experience or with his friends, so he doesn’t know if the same products smelled as bad in the ’80s as they did in the ’60s.

What memories do “Lilt” or “Toni” home perms bring back to you, boomers?