There have been a lot of surprising comebacks in 2021 so far. Low-rise jeans and babydoll tops. Sex and the City and Space Jam. Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez. But I'd have to say the return of the bouffant hairstyle on the red carpet may just be the most unexpected comeback of them all (because c'mon, we all saw Bennifer coming, right?).
Extremely popular in the 1950s and '60s, the bouffant — which comes from the French word bouffante, meaning puffed out — is a hairstyle that's raised high on the head and features a rounded shape. (It's sometimes referred to as a beehive, although a beehive apparently is even higher and rounder than a bouffant.) Iconic bouffant wearers of the past include Brigitte Bardot, Dusty Springfield, and Lisa Marie Presley, but since the mid-20th century the style has never truly made a resurgence. Sure, you'd see it on the high-fashion runways, or on singers like Amy Winehouse and Adele who adopted it as part of their musical personas, but otherwise it was a hairdo strictly relegated to pop culture of the past. That was, until 2021 came along.
This year, we've seen bouffant after bouffant on the red carpet courtesy of young stars like Dua Lipa, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ariana Grande, and Aimee Lou Wood. I, for one, was shocked at this '60s-inspired hairdo, but hairstylist Sam McKnight — who has worked with everyone from Princess Diana to Kate Moss and created quite a few bouffants backstage at Fashion Weeks over the years — was not too surprised at the retro style's return. "There's always a '60s fashion resurgence going on. The '60s is never far away from any fashion reference. I guess it's because the '60s was the last period where people spent a lot of time on their hair and the last time when there was one style that everyone wore. The late '60s, early '70s was about freedom and doing what you want, so I think people hark back to that because it was the last time we saw really done hair."
Turns out, the '60s wasn't the first time the world became bouffant obsessed. Voluminous hairstyles first came into fashion in Europe around the 1770s and 1780s with the help of Marie Antoinette and her hairstylist Léonard Autié. Together, the two created numerous lofty and extravagant updos, some adorned with feathers and flowers, and one even topped off with a model of a ship to honour a French naval victory. In the early 1900s, volume was back in style when the Gibson Girl (named so due to the drawings of illustrator Charles Dana Gibson) of the era wore an upswept bouffant that finished in a chignon at the crown of the head.
Image Source: Getty Images/ Michael Ochs Archives / Stringer
Pictured above: The Ronettes in 1965
Extreme volume then began to resurface in the 1950s with the introduction of rockabilly culture. "The hairstyle started [taking off] in the late '50s with the Teddy Boys and Teddy Girls in London," McKnight explained. That style was nicknamed the pompadour, so called after Madame de Pompadour, the royal mistress to Louis XV who wore her strands curled and pinned backward. By the end of the 1950s, people's hair kept getting bigger and bigger thanks to the invention of hairspray, until you had the oversize styles that we've come to associate with the bouffant today. "In the '60s [the bouffant] was the look of all the pop stars — Dusty Springfield, The Supremes, The Ronettes — it was very rock 'n' roll."
With its origins in rock 'n' roll, it's no surprise that the bouffant has continued to be popular amongst musicians well into modern times. In the late '70s you had Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson of The B-52s (the band name actually refers to a particular beehive hairdo resembling the nose cone of the aircraft), Amy Winehouse and Adele in the early 2000s, and now Lady Gaga, Dua Lipa, Andra Day, and Ariana Grande in 2021. "I guess when you get right into it, [the bouffant] was about showing off. It was about saying, 'Anything you can do, I can do higher, I can do bigger, I can do bluer.' And the rock world is all about excess, and all about doing it bigger and better than the next person," McKnight mused. "It definitely can have a competitive edge."
Part of the bouffant's appeal, regardless of what era you're living in, is that adding volume to the top of the head creates a very flattering silhouette. "I think a bit of height always makes people feel a bit taller, and a bit grander, and a bit more 'done,' if you like," McKnight said. He added that you might make it super coiffed and dramatic or play it down a bit and make it more casual depending on your personal style. "It's all about the silhouette, so it's a style that works for pretty much everyone, regardless of hair texture."
"The best way to do them, the modern way to do them, is to have it kind of undone and not too perfect," McKnight explained. "I think when it's a little bit punky — when the texture is not too finished and not too curled and set — and you're really concentrating on getting that volume on top, then it doesn't matter if there's a few hair pins showing and it's falling out a little bit. I kind of like that."
Keep reading to see some of our favourite celebrities try out the bouffant hairstyle.