Vidal Sassoon, the feminist movement and how hairstyling became an impact-driven category
“A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life.” — Coco Chanel
I always feel refreshed after a haircut. Reborn. I love getting it styled while talking about celebrities and hair trends with my stylist. Once you find the perfect stylist it's for life. Someone who understands your personality and embodies it in your hair. It’s a magical relationship. After a cut and style, I love swishing my hair about and watching how it moves.
But it wasn’t always the case. There was a time when women’s hair didn’t move at all. It was a bouffant. You see it in those period movies. The time and effort it took to set women’s hair. And worst of all it looked like we had these massive foreheads. But this sounds like I’m speaking of Elizabethan times.
But even as recently as the ’50s — women had to keep visiting the salon a few times a week to “get their hair done.”
Sounds like a nightmare! As much as I love my stylist, I only visit him once every 12 weeks.
All this changed thanks to one man — Vidal Sassoon.
There was a German art school by the name of Staatliches Bauhaus that existed from 1919 to about 1933. What the school was best know for was its modern approach to design. They generally tend to use geometric shapes and combined aesthetics with function.
In 1963, Vidal Sassoon created a “5 point haircut” that was inspired by Bauhaus. In a previous post about Issac Asimov, I detailed how art and science are essentially two sides of a coin.
Vidal Sassoon was an artist. He used the natural waves and glide of hair to create a geometric-inspired haircut. In recent times — the iPhone is the best example of combining art and science to create the new smartphone category.
The 1960s was also the time of the feminist movement. Working women became the norm. A few highlights of that decade:
- Betty Friedan published a book called The Feminine Mystique in 1963
- Maria Goepper-Mayer a physicist won the Nobel Prize also in 1963
- The national organization for women was formed in 1966
- More women started using contraceptives
Women were empowered. They were also trying to distance themselves from the “traditional” housewife role. And hair played a big role in that. Working women couldn’t afford to sit at the salon a few days of the week getting their hair done.
Enter Vidal Sassoon and his “wash and wear” haircuts. Suddenly women's hair was free. It also a great analogy of the changing times.
His five-point Mary Quant cut made having short hair chic. Hair became sexy. It added to a woman’s allure. Mary Quant herself was such an icon of the time. In an article in the Daily Mail, Mary Quant had this to say about Vidal Sassoon:
- Before him there were hairdos, he invented hair cuts and styles
- Hair cuts became a medium of expressing individuality
- He “liberated” women
- He bucked convention
He freed us as much as the Pill and mini-skirts- Mary Quant on Vidal Sassoon, Source — https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2142712/Vidal-Sassoon-dead-Mary-Quant-says-freed-Pill-mini-skirts.html
To us category designers, we can clearly see Vidal was creating a category, having a POV, and evangelizing it. This earned him the title of father of modern hair.
“He never ever changed his philosophy, it was all about beautiful hair cutting.”
If the success of the haircut depending on just Vidal cutting hair, then it would have failed. We know today categories can’t exist in isolation, they create room for others. Vidal may have not thought in such terms, but he did create training centers to train stylists on maintaining his geometric cuts.
He also created hair styling products under his name (one of the first to do so). According to the BBC, his wash and go 2in1 shampoo and conditioner was a huge hit in the 80s.
We can see how the data flywheel of category design gave Vidal Sassoon an “unfair advantage” as the Category Pirates call it.
I always go on about how impact-driven category creators allow individuals to create their own impact. Thanks to Vidal Sassoon, hairstyles are about individual impact. It's about me expressing my personality. The impact I and billions of women choose to have in the world, through our hair.
Today I can walk into the saloon and choose the story I want my hair to say.
That’s the impact he had on not just hairstyling but also on feminism.