A Short, Uneven History of Bangs

From Cleopatra to Kate Moss, a journey through some of history's greatest bangs.

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Sep 16 2015, 7:00pm

Photo via Wikicommons

Bangs are great. They can change your look aggressively with relatively little work, hide a fivehead, and let your ex know via Instagram that you are completely over them and, actually, making a lot of fun new choices as a single person, for reference please see: bangs. But with bangs as with banging, there are hundreds of ways to do it. Join us on a journey through the history of the "French facelift."

30 B.C.E.: Not to start off on a total bummer, but Cleopatra's famously blunt bangs are a myth. In actuality, she would have worn a wig of tight curls over a shaved head, as was the fashion at the time. The popular image of Cleopatra with bangs comes from the 1934 film Cleopatra, which made use of actress Claudette Colbert's pre-existing bangs.

1200s: Women's hair was mostly hidden under hats or tightly braided during the medieval period, but what is a wimple if not fabric bangs?

1800s: The regency period brought tightly curled, forehead-framing tendrils into fashion—not quite bangs exactly, but the early cousin of the limp tendril situation that swept proms in the mid-90s.

Photo via Wikicommons

1910s: The turn of the century saw the Gibson Girl's pouf-y updos loosened and swept forward in parted bangs that look like the brushed out relative of regency ringlets.

1920s: The twenties were when bangs really got going. Women were officially experimenting with all kinds of looks—dark lipstick, shorter dresses, riding bicycles, can you imagine—and their hair was getting wild too. The most famous bangs of the period are the blunt, fringed cuts of flappers like Louise Brooks, but Josephine Baker's curled, slicked down fringe was an ahead-of-its-time take on the kind of swooped bangs that would come into popularity in the 30s and 40s.

via Wikicommons

Photo via Wikicommons

1940s: Hair was generally kept off the face in the 40s, but dramatically so. Unwanted forehead hair was combed up into poufs and pompadours, or teased into "bumper bangs" which were suspended in the air above the forehead and often embellished with hats, pins or flowers. (If you were a teen with any interest at all in the ukulele, you have at one point attempted this kind of bang.) A sultry alternative was a Veronica Lake-style "peekaboo bang," a long, sideswept section of hair brushed over part of the face—very Jessica Rabbit, very inconvenient.

1950s: This decade was all about what's now known as baby bangs: Audrey Hepburn with her short, wispy, impulse fringe in Roman Holiday; Natalie Wood's child-like pageboy cut with gamine bangs, a throwback to her child star days with her trademark bangs and braids. But the most famous bangs of the period belong to Bettie Page, whose short, rounded pinup fringe is probably, I'm calling it here, the most influential set of bangs of all time? Page, whose mother was a hairdresser and who often did her own hair and makeup on pinup shoots, initially cut the bangs to minimize a high forehead but allow for light on her face in photographs. To date baby bangs have been associated with the riot grrrl movement, "rockabillies," and Beyonce's first-ever (only?) aesthetic mistake.

1960s: Bangs in the sixties were still fairly short, though generally sideswept and sprayed into place beneath beehives and other Aquanet-assisted updos. The end of this decade saw the pixie cut + barely-there bangs combo that became legendary as the reason Frank Sinatra left Mia Farrow. (She has corrected this rumour: she had cut her own mini-fringe and short crop earlier that year, and Sinatra loved it.)

Photo via Wikicommons

1970s: The aesthetic was very long, loose, and flowing in the 70s, and bangs were no exception. Jane Birkin's delicate, piece-y fringe was just as iconic as the Hermés bag she inspired (and recently rejected). Farrah Fawcett's feathered hair was a high-volume approach to bangs that carried into the 80s, hard.

1980s: Bangs got bigger and weirder in the 80s. As feathered, brushed out bangs gave way to the Statement Bang, fringes were hairsprayed up and out into improbable hair-hats, or permed into oblivion a la Sarah Jessica Parker. Hair metal bands got men in on the bangs situation in an unprecedented way: 80s Bon Jovi and present-day me have the same haircut.

Screengrab via Friends

1990s: The 90s were a great time for weird girl bangs, with goth V and rounded Spock options popular among vampire chicks and vintage babes, respectively. Uma Thurman rocked some impressively blunt bangs to dance and do drugs and almost die in Pulp Fiction, and shiny, curled-under bangs worked with Drew Barrymore's girlish curls. But this was also the decade that gave us the Rachel, and with it, the sidebang. In the layering frenzy of the 90s a bang-like layer of swooped, face-framing hair was mandatory, leading to the aforementioned formal tendril situation: two perfect bits of hair, pulled out of an otherwise intense updo, lying limply on either side of the face.

2000s: The sidebang continued its terrible reign until Zooey Deschanel started a full, retro-bangs trend that hit pensive girls with poetry ambitions particularly hard and never looked back, becoming a shorthand for a particular kind of whimsical indie lady who owned vintage teacups and loved collage. In 2007 Kate Moss got blunt, thick, straight-across bangs and they became fully, properly cool. It is a scientific fact that between 2008 and 2009, 100% of women were at the very least considering getting bangs.

Screengrab via 500 Days of Summer

2010s: The heady days of the late aughts bang explosion are over. Bangs are being grown out right now, with the favoured hair a sort of middle parted, two days after a wash, slightly tousled that The Cut is calling "rich girl hair." However, just as ubiquitous is the "lobb" ("long bob," get it), a blunt, shoulder-length cut that often comes with bangs. (Think Taylor Swift, Emma Stone, and other small white celebrities.) It's a beautiful time to be thinking about bangs: they are so ubiquitous that they'll never be out of style, no matter what weird thing you try! Dry shampoo has solved the clean hair, greasy bangs dilemma! You can buy clip in bangs that just snap into your head and come off whenever you want! They're still the most fun you can have with scissors in a bathroom and a glass of wine! With every of bangs from history on offer, you just have to decide what kind of girl you want to be.