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Perspectives In Circulation

From Waves to Wigs

Exploring Hair History Books in The Costume Institute Library

Oct 18, 2023

Pink cover featuring wig

While #NationalHairDay may have come and gone, celebrating a good hair day is an everyday affair for devoted hairstyle enthusiasts. For those passionate about vintage hairstyles, the art of hairdressing, or wigs, we have a delightful assortment of treasures from The Costume Institute Library to indulge those interests.

Unlocking the Elegance of Past Eras

Two interior shots with portrait illustrations

Left: de Rumigny, Legros.  L’art de la coëffure des dames françoises, avec des estampes (Paris: Chez Antoine Boudet, 1768–1770); Right: Recueil général de coëffures de différents gouts (Paris: Desnos, [1778]). This book is digitized.

First, let’s step back to the opulence of the eighteenth century France, a time of meticulously crafted fashion and hair trends, with a couple of exquisite rare books from our library collection. L’art de la coëffure des dames françoises, avec des estampes was published in 1768. This five-volume set showcases French ladies’ hairstyles and intricate headpieces with illustrations and includes essential care tips on maintaining and preserving natural hair. Another literary treasure, acquired thanks to the generosity of The Friends of The Costume Institute, is a book from 1778 titled Recueil général de coëffures de différents gouts. It includes a stunning series of illustrations showcasing hairstyles from powdered wigs to towering updos. The book, which is entirely digitized here, is a marvel, with full-leather binding in silk moiré doublures, gold tooling, gilt edges, and colored silk embroidered end bands.

Haircutting and Styling Wisdom

3 headshots

Georgius, G. La technique et l’évolution artistique de l’ondulation… ([Paris]: Éditions du Chancelier, 1936)

Hair is a canvas for artistic expression, a conduit for showcasing one’s unique personality, and a bold proclamation of individuality. Our library houses a rich collection of reference materials that unlock the mysteries of hairstyling and share the tools of the trade and intricacies of distinctive hairdressing techniques. One such rare gem, La technique et l’évolution artistique de l’ondulation, transports you back to the glamorous 1930s through a comprehensive guide on crafting waves and wavy hairstyles. Dive into the secrets of the Marcel (or Marcelle) wave, finger wave, pin curling, and straight-back waves—all of which reigned supreme in this iconic era.

Fast forward a few decades for the book Cutting Hair: The Vidal Sassoon Way, published in 1978, which is your passport for seeking insight into the legendary Vidal Sassoon’s groundbreaking approach to haircutting and styling. Every signature look in this book includes step-by-step photos and detailed instructions. It also contains engaging anecdotes for each model, including their professions, specific hair needs, hair type, and the Sassoon look chosen for them. A keyword search in Watsonline for Vidal Sassoon also unveils numerous books dedicated to this celebrated hairstylist.

Two interior spreads

Sassoon, Vidal. Cutting Hair: The Vidal Sassoon Way (London: Heinemann, 1978)

Legendary Hair Salons

Cover and interior spread

Vezzuso, Jerry. New American Haircuts: Astor Place Barber Stylist (Ballantine Books, New York, 1985) 

These two books take us back in time through iconic hair salons that have shaped the art of hairstyling. New American Haircuts immerses us in the essence of a true New York institution, Astor Place Hair, which has served patrons in the East Village since its establishment in 1947. Through the lens of photographer Jerry Vezzuso, these portraits uncover the diverse clientele of all generations and provide a poignant glimpse into the rich tapestry of American hair history.

Next, we cross the Atlantic into the hallowed grounds of Cuts, a publication documenting the cult-favorite hair salon founded by the late James Lebon in 1978 and co-owned by Steve Brooks, whose celebrity regulars included Boy George, Neneh Cherry, and others. This collection of images, photographed by Brooks from 1990 to 2006, were once proudly displayed as enlarged 35mm black-and-white contact sheets, each set replaced as soon as the next roll of film was developed. These portraits serve as time capsules of this shop’s diverse customers. Collectively, they embody an era, preserving a slice of London’s history steeped in vibrant youth cultures loaded with style. The rediscovery of these forgotten photographs by director Sarah Lewis culminated in this special book project in two editions, which will eventually become part of a documentary film project.

4 interior spreads

Brooks, Steve. Cuts (London: Gimme 5 ; London: DoBeDo, 2022)

Trade Publications and Hairstyle Catalogs

Our fashion library has stacks of trade publications and hair inspiration catalogs that offer insight, guidance, and a touch of nostalgia for enthusiasts and professionals alike. We have scattered issues of Beauty Trade, created by and for Black hair stylists and beauty professionals. This magazine provides insights into the beauty industry during the mid-1960s and offers a comprehensive view of trends, products, and techniques; it serves as a platform to share wisdom and hair expertise specific to this community. Each issue also contains fold-out pictorial content for salon display.

Video of Beauty Trade magazine issues, Coiffure de Paris: Mode 72 and タレントヘア大感激: ニューヘア増刊号 / 鷲津秀彥編集

Our fashion library holdings include numerous volumes of 30 Coiffures de Paris spanning two decades, from 1964 to 1984. Each volume of this annual anthology consists of a meticulous compilation of thirty carefully selected hairstyles. The volumes serve as an invaluable archive of Parisian hair trends, encapsulating the history of hairstyles for different eras, and are popular amongst our researchers focused on hair.

1980s Japan beckon us with this recent acquisition, タレントヘア大感激: ニューヘア増刊号 / 鷲津秀彥編集, a Japanese publication edited by Hidehiko Washizu. This book is a fun title to peruse and see who the most popular celebrities were of that era in Japan, with a small sprinkling of American stars such as Madonna. Throughout the book, readers will discover an assortment of small, illustrative technical hair diagrams. These diagrams provide guidance, replete with precise measurements and angles, enabling enthusiasts to replicate these iconic figures’ totally eighties hairstyles.

Hair in Fashion

Two covers

Right: Phillppon, Laurent. Hair: Fashion and Fantasy (London: Thames & Hudson, 2013); Left: Collins, Amy Fine. Hair Style (New York: HarperCollins Publishers/Callaway Editions, 1995)

In fashion, every detail matters, and the realm of hairstyling is no exception. With the following selection of books, readers may explore the captivating relationship between hair and fashion and the dynamic interplay of these two creative worlds. Hair: Fashion and Fantasy, by Laurent Philippon, showcases the imaginative and boundary-pushing hairstyles, from chignons to mohawks, that have graced fashion editorials. This book includes archival historical images alongside memorable fashion spreads by leading photographers, with contributions from fashion icons and noteworthy hair stylists.

One of the books I cherished when I was years younger in the mid-1990s was Hair Style by Amy Fine Collins, the style editor of Harper’s Bazaar and previous contributing editor of Vanity Fair. This large-format book dives into the world of top hairstylists from the nineties captured through the lens of prominent beauty and fashion photographers. Within its pages it showcases the iconic celebrities and models of that period, offering insights into hair trends, various techniques, innovative practices, insightful interviews, and engaging commentary. The book carefully celebrates the collaborative synergy between hairstylists, designers, and photographers, underscoring the pivotal role of hair in shaping fashion statements and pioneering trends.

The Artistry of Hairstylists

Two covers

Left: Palau, Guido. Guido Palau #HAIRTESTS ([London]: IDEA, 2021); Right: Palau, Guido. Hair by Guido (New York: Rizzoli, 2014)

One highly influential hairstylist celebrated for their visionary approach to hair is the world-renowned Guido Palau. He created beautiful mannequin head treatments and masks for several Costume Institute exhibitions, including Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations, and Punk: Chaos to Couture. Several books document Palau’s work, such as Hair by Guido, a coveted hair bible made in memory of Alexander McQueen (with whom he collaborated for many years). It surveys over seventy expressive hairstyles photographed by David Sims, emphasizing his imaginative sense of creative styling and unconventional details. Palau manipulates hair with the same intention as a fashion designer drapes fabric. In his words, “My thoughts are about creating something out of hair, building a character. The hair is just my cloth.” He is also acclaimed for setting trends for top design houses like Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs, and Prada, to name a few; he is not just a hairstylist but an artistic leader in beauty and fashion. The recent 2021 publication, #HAIRTESTS, invites the reader to a unique photoshoot of iPhone portraits featuring models flaunting his meticulously crafted, directional hairstyles in a beautifully designed, thick, spiral-bound artist book. Both publications indicate that Palau’s avant-garde creations often become fashion focal points. Palau actually started his career working for the Sassoon salon cutting hair in the mid-1980s but was fired after eighteen months. Despite this, he followed in Sassoon’s footsteps, revolutionizing the art of hairstyling as his predecessor did for the art of haircutting. 

Two interior spreads

Top: Matsuyama, Yusuke. Hair: Yusuke Matsuyama, Collection of Photographs (Tōkyō: Ei Shuppansha, 2018); Bottom: Le Mindu, Charlie. Haute Coiffure (Dublin, Ireland: ROADS Publishing, 2015)

Haute Coiffure offers an exclusive glimpse into the remarkable life and accomplishments of Charlie Le Mindu, famous for crafting Lady Gaga’s most extravagant wigs. This book chronicles his journey from modest beginnings in France to his Harrods salon, highlighting his work in Fashion Week, Hollywood movies, and global exhibitions. Photographs in this book include works by Tim Walker, Ellen von Unwerth, and others. Another captivating book is Hair: Yusuke Matsuyama, Collection of Photographs, a compilation of striking photography that showcases Matsuyama’s artistic and hair-focused perspective, giving readers a peek into the world of avant-garde hairstyling and its intersection within beauty and fashion. Every image has a thoughtful behind-the-scenes commentary for each photo shoot, the cameras used, aperture settings, lighting/backdrop setup diagrams, model movement details, and even how to use a fan for special hair effects.

Hair and Culture

Hair has always been more than just strands of keratin; it is a canvas for self-expression and cultural storytelling. Across the globe, hairstyles have woven narratives of tradition, innovation, and artistic expression. African Hairstyles: Styles of Yesterday and Today provides a comprehensive view of the history and the evolution of hairstyles in Africa, showcasing both traditional and modern versions. The book looks into the cultural significance of these hairstyles and how they have evolved, offering readers a window into the rich and diverse world of African hair traditions. It celebrates the beauty and cultural importance of African hairstyles through imagery and text, making it a valuable resource for those interested in African culture and hair aesthetics.

Two interior spreads

Top: Sagay, Esi. African Hairstyles: Styles of Yesterday and Today (London ; Exeter, N.H., USA: Heinemann Educational Books, 1983); Bottom: He, Jianguo. Hair Fashions of Tang-Dynasty Women (Xianggang: Xianggang shen mei you xian gong si, [1987?])

Hair Fashions of Tang-Dynasty Women delves into women’s hair and fashion trends during China’s Tang Dynasty, which lasted from the seventh to the tenth century. It provides an intricate exploration of the hairstyles, hair accessories, and clothing choices that were popular during this historical epoch. By utilizing illustrations and photographs featuring contemporary models skillfully recreating these ancient Chinese hairstyles while adorned in period dress, this book enables readers to envision this captivating period’s beauty standards and trends. It also sheds light on their significance in Chinese history and aesthetics, offering valuable insights into the cultural and societal factors influencing women’s hairstyling choices.

Wigs Unveiled

In the landscape of hairstyling, one accessory that has consistently stood out for its ability to transform not just appearances but entire eras and societies is the wig. These intricate and often surprising headpieces have influenced fashion, identity, and culture for centuries. Wigging Out: Fake Hair That Made Real History is a fascinating exploration of this very phenomenon. Penned by our former Costume Institute colleague, Jessica Glasscock, this book investigates the intriguing history and cultural significance of wigs. It takes readers through the unexpected ways wigs have influenced culture, from royal courts to rock stages. Through engaging storytelling, historical context, and interviews, the book reveals the fascinating and often surprising role wigs have played in shaping fashion, identity, and society. Overall, it is a captivating exploration of the wig’s impact on our world and how it has left a lasting mark on various aspects of human history and culture.

Pink cover featuring wig

Glasscock, Jessica. Wigging Out: Fake Hair That Made Real History (New York, NY: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2023)

In our library’s assortment of wig-related books, Historical Wig Styling: Victorian to the Present is an e-book guide to creating beautiful, historically accurate hairstyles for theatrical productions and provides a comprehensive guide to hairstyles spanning from the Victorian era to modern times. Each chapter starts with an introduction to influential figures and styles of the period. It offers detailed instructions and photos showcasing the finished hairstyles from various angles. The book also shares all essential supplies and styling products, wig-handling tips, a historical makeup overview, and basic techniques for both wigs and natural hair. 

Dive Deeper

Coco Chanel once said, “A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life.” Her words also remind us that hair isn’t just about aesthetics: it is a powerful form of self-expression, transformation, and reinvention. All of these materials from The Costume Institute Library reveal how hairstyling is a pivotal art form shaping the aesthetics of different periods, cultures, and identities. So, whether you are a hair history buff, a budding hairstylist, or simply someone who appreciates the art of hairstyling, these books offer a glimpse into the treasure trove of inspiration within our library collection.

To dive deeper into our holdings, some suggested keywords to search in Watsonline include hair, hairdressing, hairstyle, hairstylists, hair in art, and wigs. Materials from our fashion library collection can be requested and viewed in the Thomas J. Watson Library. For additional information about The Costume Institute’s Irene Lewisohn Costume Reference Library, archives, and special collections, please check out our website. For more updates on new acquisitions and more examples of what is inside our fashion library and department, please follow us on Instagram @costumeinstitutelibrary and @metcostumeinstitute.

About the contributors

Associate Museum Librarian, The Irene Lewisohn Costume Reference Library