The late 1940s and 1950s were a time in fashion history when many people were concerned with dressing just right, and the way they styled their hair and chose their hats was no exception. As with other areas of fashion, hat styles had been simplified during World War II (1939–45) in order to conserve precious materials that were needed for the war effort. French designer Christian Dior's (1905–1957) New Look, introduced in 1947, called for a range of accessories. Dior's New Look outfits and the many imitations that followed all featured hats chosen to match the outfit. These hats could be highly ornate, with wide brims and veils that hung around the head, or they could be as simple as a pillbox hat, a smallish, brimless round hat. It is estimated that the typical American woman in the 1950s owned four hats. Fashion-conscious women probably had many more.
Perhaps the only thing that kept women from wearing hats during the period was the need to display their carefully tended hairstyles. Throughout the 1940s Hollywood stars led the way in setting popular hairstyles. Actress Veronica Lake (1919–1973), for example, was famous for her long hair that trailed in front of one eye. Magazines tracked the hairstyles of the stars, and women went to their hairdressers to keep up with the latest styles. Hairdressers were aided in their quest to offer women perfect hairstyles by a new invention called hair spray, a sticky spray that held ornate styles in place. Beginning in the late 1950s hairdressers used curling irons and hair spray to create elaborately curled and piled hairstyles called bouffants and beehives. The era of big hair had begun.
Hats were an important part of every man's wardrobe and were worn nearly every day by men in the West. Men's hats included the homburg, the panama hat, and the porkpie hat. These hats were made of felt, straw, or man-made materials. The exact style of hats changed from season to season, varying in color, the width and bend of the brim, and the height of the crown.
Men wore a variety of hairstyles during this period. Perhaps the most popular was the crew cut, in which the hair was cut short all over, military style. By late in the period, however, young men began experimenting with longer styles, held in place with hair gels, pomades (perfumed ointments), or sprays. The more adventurous wore a jelly roll or a ducktail, two of the more elaborate male styles. Young men who carefully gelled their hair were known as greasers. Facial hair was generally not popular during this period. Some speculate that the mustache worn by German dictator Adolf Hitler (1889–1945), who led the Germans in World War II, killed the popularity of the mustache for decades in the United States and western Europe.
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