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The Boyish Look and the Liberated Woman: The Politics and Aesthetics of Women's Hairstyles

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The "Garçonne" distinguished itself from all other hairstyles with a significance that spilled well beyond the usual borders of coiffure. We know that there was something important about cheveux courts (short hairstyles) because of both the fear and the enthusiasm they generated. The specter of women in short haircuts outraged opinion and set social conservatives to worrying about "a civilization without sexes." At the same time, short hairstyles attained an unprecedented popularity among young French women of all classes. Looking at the "Garçonne" from the perspective of those who cut it, this article teases historical meaning out of this unique fashion episode, pointing to both the technical and social revolutions that lay behind the aesthetic one, as hot water and electricity entered the hairdressing salon, and as the market for fashion was democratized and "youthified." It thereby connects this controversial moment in hair history to the birth of modern consumer culture in France. The article also makes a theoretical point: that understanding fashion requires going beyond the "text" to a study of real people in their motivations for wanting to look beautiful in particular ways—in this case, by cutting their hair.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: November 1, 1997

More about this publication?
  • Fashion Theory takes as its starting point a definition of “fashion” as the cultural construction of the embodied identity. The importance of studying the body as a site for the deployment of discourses has been well established in a number of disciplines. Until Fashion Theorys launch in 1997 the dressed body had suffered from a lack of critical analysis. Increasingly scholars have recognized the cultural significance of self-fashioning, including not only clothing but also such body alterations as tattooing and piercing.

    Fashion Theory provides an international and interdisciplinary forum for the rigorous analysis of cultural phenomena. Its peer-reviewed articles range from foot-binding to fashion advertising.

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