The history of alternative hair

The history of alternative hair

What makes alternative hair so different? From dangerous bob cuts to mohawks now being sported by footballers, Anya Goy looks at the history of alternative hair, from its idealistic non-conformist roots (look! a pun!) to a future where subcultures are increasingly led by product and style rather than any beliefs. Read on. And chew your alternative hair with concentration as you do so.

Dreads? Crazy Colours? Mad Cuts? Mohawks? Alternative hair stands apart from the mainstream commercial fashion. In most cases it is the style of a subculture (for example: grunge, goth, emo, hip hop, punk, industrial, hippy, cyberpunk, etc.) or influenced by a subculture. It may often be more artistic than practical. Alternative hair is about hair that throws down a challenge to accepted norms.

Alternative hair changes with each generation, as new styles are created. But the reason for alternative hair is to be rebellious, to make a statement. It’s the next generation’s way of saying: “We are new, we are different, we are unique!”

However, the word ‘alternative’ has gathered a very strange meaning over the years and isn’t really all that much of an alternative any more, since many once-alternative styles have been incorporated into the mainstream.

For example, The Bob Cut:

It was created in 1909 in Paris by the hairdresser Antoine, who was inspired by “Joan of Arc”. And was made widely popular in the 1920s . At the time it was considered a sign of a liberated woman. It was a refreshing alternative cut, and a statement for women. Now what was once a statement is now simply part of today’s fashion and one of the most popular cuts of our time.

Another example, The Mohawk:

Mohawks became common in youth punk subcultures in the early 1980s and were then adopted by various other groups, becoming more diverse in style. Today, Mohawks are still associated with the Punk subculture, but have also become a part of mainstream fashion. David Beckham is an example of how the Mohawk has become acceptable in pop culture.

Another example, The Quiff:

The quiff is a hair style that comes from the 1950s pompadour hairstyle.

The hairstyle was a staple in the British ‘Teddy Boys’ movement, and as a result the quiff was associated with rebelliousness. However, the contemporary quiff is a standard style for men, and has even been adopted into women’s hair fashion, with many models wearing a variation on the quiff.

So, if alternative hair of the past has been adopted into society as normal to semi-normal then how will the next generation look? Will brightly coloured hair eventually become acceptable in the future?… Possibly. How will the next generations rebel and make statements about themselves? Each generation is different and finds new ways to define itself.

Why should mainstream society care about alternative hair?

Why do most institutions not let you have alternative hair? Why don’t we see business men walking down the street with a full Mohawk? Or school teachers with blue streaks? Does it even affect your work? Why does it matter so much?

Well, possibly because alternative hair styles are born of different subcultures. Business, government and educational institutions tend not to like subcultural hair because subcultures (like grunge, goth, emo, hip hop, punk, industrial, hippy, cyberpunk, etc.) are generally born out of a frustrated response to the institutions around them.

During the point that these subcultures enjoy their peak, they are simultaneously the subject of much negative attention from the media. This is because of the subcultures’ disregard for the law, the acceptability of the physical appearance of their members, their anti-establishment and/or anti-consumerist values and their frequent indulgence in sex and drug use (two time-honoured ways of flouting disregard for mainstream thought).

However, it is this publicity which often draws more young people into each subculture, attracted by its apparent unorthodox nature.

Once a subculture is at a peak and has fully developed its unique characteristics – namely its ideology, style of dress, a new genre of music to call its own – the media latches onto it and makes sure it enters mainstream consciousness. The ensuing publicity causes a large influx of new members into the community and the marketing industry popularizes and commercializes its unique aspects.

However, the nature of most subcultures means they resist glamorization and are soon abandoned by the media, leaving the scene to wither as a result.

As a corporate, government or educational institution you require organization and control to achieve the goals and targets required. That’s why they lay down rules against alternative hair – while the hair style itself is harmless, the rebellion it represents and the anti-establishment history behind such styles then make it hard for a company or school to create a sense of control and organization around its members while allowing them to display what is seen as the image of not only individuality but rebellion.

The excuse they often give for these rules is that “Bright hair might cause distractions.” What a load of BS!

Does this mean they should ban sexy blond women with big bubbies from teaching? They would be more of a distraction than a kid with blue hair.

The truth is: It’s not about the hair. It’s about what alternative hair represents. It represents rebellion, which goes against that ‘you-must-conform’ mentality.

Is today’s subculture based on product and styling rather than ideals?

If institutions don’t condone alternative hair, how can we expect to see brightly-coloured hair eventually become acceptable in the future?

Looking at the past it seems that a hairstyle that is born out of a subculture, after it has passed its peak or mostly died out, will then be reinvented at a later stage once it’s passed its peak and died out as a representation of any subversive thought or behaviour. The quiff is an example of reinvention.

Also, it could be argued alternative culture has slowed down since the mid 1990s. The major reason for this can be largely attributed to the prevalence of “top-down” culture, which is where young people tend to have taken to consumerism as a source of identity.

This is opposite to alternative cultures’ tradition of innovation, geographical diversity and communal self-sufficiency. It has become regular practice to attribute this to the members of Generation Y- (people born roughly between the 1980s and late 1990s) – having grown up with different values than those before them.

Rather than a subculture being perceived as something that could be contributed to, it has become accepted by people of this generation that being part of an “alternative culture” requires little beyond personal styling.

On the other hand, people of this generation have broader tastes than their elders and so they incorporate various elements that they like from a range of subcultures, while never claiming to be a member of any. Or if they do, they often lack the occasional narrow-minded preferences of the group’s original members.

Due to subcultures of this nature being in a state of constant change, they often splinter off into niche groups.

Nowadays, you’ll find many subcultures have become heavily associated with products rather than ideals.

For example, hippies stated a belief in the shedding of material possessions, but the Volkswagen Kombi Van is inseparably associated with them.

Because of this new perception of ‘alternative culture’ as being more about fashion and music, rather than ideals and innovation, it is also less offensive and rebellious.

Since this generation is more open-minded with broader tastes I suspect the future of alternative hair may become more accepted in future institutions.

So let’s make that dream a reality. A future where we don’t stereotype based on appearance, and we are all free to colour our hair however we wish. Let’s look forward to a more colourful tomorrow!

1920s actress Louise Brooks had a killer bob cut. And she was a dangerous lady.

The quiff. As worn by the kind of guy who probably shaves himself with a flick-knife.

Mohawk. Spot the difference.

Institutions frequently claim a look such as this is unsuitable for school/work because the brightness of the colours is ‘too distracting’.

Anya’s signature hair style, The Rainbow, may one day be worn be a president.