The Days of The Big-Haired Gals

Folks in the southeastern part of the states don’t consider Texas part of the south; it’s too far west, too close to New Mexico and Mexico, and too many cowboy types. Well, we tended to ride horses to work and school and live on ranches, but somebody had to do it.

The southeastern folks are dead wrong about this south thing; Texas is as much the south as Mississippi and Louisiana. We have deserts, mountains, miles of cactus, and even the Gulf of Mexico, but we don’t drink mint juleps for every meal and have black gardeners and maids. Our claim to fame is we were the first state to have what the southeast loves; big-ass hair. The bigger and taller, the better.

My uncle Jay was a hairdresser in Fort Worth; that’s what we called them back in the 1950s. He was a World War 2 veteran that shot down Jap planes from the deck of a destroyer and loved every second of it. Yet, he was an artist when it came to teasing, combing, and coaxing women’s hair into things of beauty. There wasn’t a fairy bone in his body, and he could have killed you with one hand and no weapon when he was drinking. He was a by-god legend because he was the man who invented “big hair.” It was purely accidental, but it made him as famous as Rock Hudson’s wedding album.

Up until 1956 or so, women in Texas wore their hair down straight, rolled a bit on spools, or a flippy-do at the ends.

Jay was working hard on an old lady who didn’t have much hair left on top, and she was ragging his butt about why he couldn’t do something about it. He started combing, teasing, spraying, and sculpting until she had a bubble of hair a foot high sitting on top of her head. He didn’t know it, but a monster had been birthed.

Women came to his shop wanting their hair styled in “one of them big bubbles.” The word was out. the cutting and curling days were gone; now, everyone wanted their hair puffed out like a cotton ball or a fluffy poodle and piled as high as the sky on top of their head. He would use two cans of hair spray on every hair-du. The gals couldn’t replicate the hairstyle themselves, so they had to return to the shop, which caused him to work more hours, but make more money too. He was soon driving a new Caddy convertible and wearing Brooks Brothers shirts. My grandmother said he was “shittin’ in high cotton,” and she knew all about cotton.

I came home from school one day, and this giant mass of hair with a small framed woman underneath was standing in the kitchen; it was my mother. She had gone to the dark side and got her brother to give her the full treatment. She dared not stand too close to the gas stove burner in fear of igniting the Spray-Net that held the mess together, but she cooked supper without burning up or falling over. I have no idea how she slept on a pillow with that mass of hair attached to her small head. My father didn’t have enough room in the bed, so he moved onto the couch.

At about the same time, women in Texas started talking strangely. The accent was still there, but the big hair made them articulate differently.

I was with my mother at the Piggly Wiggly on Berry Street. Most of the women in the store had the now obligatory “big hair.” One of her friends she hadn’t seen in a while came up to her and said, ” well lookit yeeeew, is that a new dresses? hows your momma and them? I just love your hair-du.” It sounded like Martian to me. My mother returned the greeting in the same manner. A new language had been born because of the big hair. Pretty soon, all the aunts and neighborhood ladies were talking that way. It was as if Texas had been styled out of us with a can of hair spray and a teasing comb. My uncle Jay didn’t seem to notice the cultural shift he had caused. He was making more money than he could spend, and man, could he spend it like a big boy. The trend spread to Houston, Lake Charles, New Orleans, and on east until it hit Florida and then up the east coast.

In the mid-sixties, thanks to the hippie chic movement, the young girls went back to wearing it long and straight, and so did their mothers, and the bubble head died out. Uncle Jay made a nice chunk of change from his invention, and to this day, in parts of the south, you can see old women with that “big hair” piled on top of their heads.

12 Replies to “The Days of The Big-Haired Gals”

  1. I never entirely understood the big-hair look — which some folks (me included) called the beehive look. Standing off to the side, I wondered if there was anything else living there that might prove dangerous to humans. A tall lady would have difficulty sitting in a car upright, e.g., not slouching, without ramming her hair into the overhead. I wonder if this is somehow related to the invention of convertibles. Probably not.

    I knew this fellow whose wife had a beehive in 1964, and we all wondered if her hair concealed horns … because she looked similar to a cow. I know, that wasn’t nice. The amazing thing was that this woman still had that hair-do in 1991. You can’t make this stuff up. I think it was the same hair-do from 1964, and that thing had so much hair spray in there it would take a jackhammer to make a dent in the do. Her husband wore his hair in a flat-top in 1964, the same “do” in 1991. Some folks don’t like change.


    1. My mother wore her big hair du a few years longer than she should have, but eventually let it go natural like my sisters. My uncle made a butt load of money off those old gals and that big hair. He refused to take any credit for his inventiveness, but most of the beauticians around FW agreed it was him that birthed that style. I saw a lady on the Granbury Square last year that had a hair du like that, she could have been an actress in one of the opry productions, but I’m betting she just liked it that way.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. LOL! MOOOOOO!

      My mom had the beehive when I was a little thing. I have pix of my parents from the late 60s. My dad dressed out at six feet with penny loafers or ROTC uniform shoes. My mom was 5′ 10″ without shoes. With heels & her beehive, she stood 6′ 2″. Made for some amusing shots at college grad.


  2. A legend was born…and I thought the 80s started big hair. There was a sign at a stylist shop my mom went to… it said: The Bigger The Hair The Closer to Heaven…Tease it to Jesus


    1. Oh my lord…LOL!

      Yeah, we had some big 80s hair, too. The preppy phase in the early 80s (Bean shoes & cardigans…did you ever see any pink & green hippo clothing?) quickly gave way to poofy, hairsprayed madness in the wake of heavy metal & new wave. The lead singer of A Flock of Seagulls comes to mind.

      Liked by 1 person

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