The pixie cut, which first emerged in the 1950s with Audrey Hepburn, has long been seen as a symbol of individuality and alternative beauty. Today, both Demi Lovato and Emma Watson have cut it, and the pixie cut has undergone a modern upgrade as it has become more accepted by the public.
This has been a big year for changing beauty and hair trends, especially when it comes to hair. In the past few weeks alone, celebrities including Demi Lovato, Cardi B and Emma Watson have decided to refresh themselves with a super short pixie cut. In fact, the pixie cut has become one of the most indicative hairstyles of 2021, but it also has an interesting history.
The earliest examples of European women embracing the short haircut date back to early 19th century France, when women wore Titus hairstyles, which are thought to have been inspired by the hairstyles worn by prisoners before they were sent to the guillotine. Unsurprisingly, the trend didn’t last long, and with the exception of the bob (a subversive hairstyle that became popular among fashionable young ladies) that emerged in the 1920s, long hair remained the dominant look.
In the 1930s and 1940s, long hair came back into vogue as the trendy young lady’s hairstyle faded from view. Soon after, in the 1950s, the pixie cut as we know it today was born, although it wasn’t as short as it is today. The pixie cut was made popular by Audrey Hepburn and Jean Seberg, whose bold refusal to wear long waves and turbans on screen made the pixie cut a symbol of maverickism and empowerment.
Hair history researcher Rachael Gibson explains, “Hepburn went a long way toward making the short haircut mainstream and is widely credited with driving the popularity of the pixie short, especially in her 1953 film Roman Holiday.” There is a scene in this film where Hepburn cuts off her hair, marking a fresh start for her character and a new sense of freedom. Since then, pixie heads have been fully integrated into modern culture, and the youthquake and sexual liberation of the 1960s brought with it the idea of gender fluidity, which meant that icons like Twiggy and Mia Farrow could wear their hair shorter.
As fashion ebbed and flowed, the 1970s marked the return of long hair, but in the ’80s and ’90s, pixie hair came back. Michael Angelo, hairstylist and owner of Wonderland Beauty Parlor in New York, says, “In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the short pixie trend came in, and people who were cutting it at the time wanted to make it very feminine.” Think Cyndi Lauper, Linda Evangelista and Princess Diana-whose hairstyles were much softer than the pixie cut of the 1960s, but still influential.
By the late 1990s and early 2000s, the pixie head ceased to be a gender rebellion and became a statement of individuality and a celebration of alternative beauty. Take Toni Braxton, Halle Berry, Monica and TLC’s T-Boz, for example. “Short pixie hair always reminds me of the cool alternative girls of the 1990s who had more of a do-it-yourself haircut. Chloë Sevigny in the movie Half Baked , [model] Jenny Shimizu and Winona Ryder are all great examples,” Gibson says. These women cut their hair as a form of empowerment, breaking free from the narrow definition of beauty paradigms that dominated at the time.
Short pixie hair became a symbol of individuality
Today, the pixie head feels sharp and profound. Amber Maynard Bolt, the stylist who recently cut Demi Lovato’s pixie short hair, said in an interview with Vogue, “The design of the haircut is a reflection of how she knows herself and how she chooses to express her inner feelings through her hair. For many people, hair represents a security barrier. People are afraid to cut their hair. But once you cut it, you get to know yourself in a way you never thought possible.”
There is no doubt that the pixie head became popular for a reason: the early 1800s, 1920s, 1950s and 1960s were all periods of turmoil and uncertainty. And in 2021, against a backdrop of protracted epidemics ravaging the landscape and global social tensions, it’s no wonder that many people are regaining a sense of control and rediscovering their identity by changing their hair. In that sense, today’s pixie heads represent a freedom, the kind of freedom people crave after more than a year of working from home, not seeing friends and rarely going out. “It’s really refreshing and exciting to go from long hair to short hair and get rid of the old image,” Angelo says.
Aura Friedman, creative director of Sally Hershberger’s Los Angeles salon, says, “I definitely see the pixie cut becoming more popular. After a long winter at home, people are craving a new, lighter look, and this pixie is a great way to cut long, lifeless, stale hair and start a new season with a new life.”
Others attribute the prevalence of short pixie hair today to a growing nostalgia. Trend forecaster Marie-Michèle Larivée explains, “Influenced by two Netflix documentaries, recent interviews with Meghan and Harry, and the Netflix series The Crown, the buzz about Princess Diana’s appearance and discussion is currently at its peak. ”
The influence of the unisex beauty movement is also undeniable in the return of short pixie hair. “In 2021, the pixie short is about ‘take me seriously’ rather than ‘look how pretty I am’, while at the same time the haircut is still very flattering,” Angelo explains. “Today, our perception of gender is paving the way for hairstyling, whether feminine or masculine, and people are free to choose their hair as they wish.”
How will it evolve?
So what will the short pixie cut look like in the future? Gibson predicts, “After the lockdown, we’ll see a return to 1920s style, a return to glamour and sophisticated dressing, with hairstyles that feel like their perfect match,” she says. “It’s exciting that people will prefer hairstyles that have structure, shape, and are technically complex than hairstyles that are just cut an inch shorter and blow dried properly. This is great news for hairstylists and will have a profound impact on fashion.”
Modern pixie heads, some dyed in fun colors, others in soft blondes and others in bold reds, all look great, and once you add color to your mix of dyes, you can create a very different yet equally bold look. Fashion pioneers like Zoë Kravitz, Halsey and Teyana Taylor prove that you can easily pull off a cool pixie cut. And the runway is where we really saw pixie shorts experiment with color: for example, at the Dolce & Gabbana Fall/Winter 2021 show, hairstylist Guido Palau dyed pixie heads cotton candy pink and blue.
But, in the end, it’s up to you to decide what kind of hair you want. As Friedman said, “Hair is a personal choice and it can be a true reflection of your personality. So have fun with it and don’t be afraid to change.”