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Published on Nov 21, 2013 in Asia, China, Featured Articles, News

The Evolution of Women’s Hairstyles in China

Women’s hairstyles in China have been evolving, just as in other countries, for centuries. Individual personalities, one’s age, societal position, and trends of the time have resulted in marked changes in the length and style of women’s hair in China. For example, a little more than a century ago teenage girls wore their hair in two buns beside their ears, while unmarried younger women wore their hair in a braid fastened by a piece of red wool thread. Older married women, however, wore their hair in a single bun while a younger married women’s hair was shaped like a butterfly.

Women’s hair styles in China began to change in the early 20th century when braided hair became the norm. In fact, at this time, both men and women wore their hair in braids. Men, however, would have the front half of their hair shaved while the back portion would be in a braid. Hair styles for both male and female children at this time would be unisex, with all children having uniformly short hair. As they reached their teens, their hair would then be allowed to grow out.

Around 1911, as Sun Yat-sen led a revolution ending dynastic rule in China, Yat-sen cut his braids. Since he was the national hero at the time men and women, over the next few years, also cut their braids as a show of support for the revolution and its views. However, short hair didn’t last long and women gradually began to grow their hair longer and put it into the “S” shaped bun that became popular during this time.

With the end of dynastic China women felt free to diverge from the previous conformity in their hair styles. Women students, for example, would often cut their hair, in what they termed a “Napoleon” or “Washington” cut, to attend functions that were limited to men, or to avoid being hassled as a woman when entering or leaving school. Moreover, haircuts at this time were very rudimentary as barbers were not exactly hair stylists. When asked to cut a women’s hair short most barbers would cut it in a man’s style, the only style they were familiar with.

In the 1920s Western influence began to spread throughout China and many Chinese women wore the short hairstyles of the Roaring 20s, with bangs becoming the rage of the day. In the late 1920s and 1930s the permanent wave began to dominate Chinese women’s hairstyles. Also during this time hairdressers began to appear and women could now go to those who specialized in styling women’s hair.

Women kept the wave, as well as other styles which reflected a simple and clean appearance, until the 1950s and 1960s, when Mao Zedong’s social and political policies dominated China. During this period double braids, and the short-cut hair worn by female soldiers, known as the Liberation Hairstyle, were in vogue.

In the 1960s women’s hairstyles became even shorter. Instead of extending to their neck, as with previous short hairstyles, they now extended to their earlobes. Permanent waves, thought at the time to be bourgeois, disappeared.

In the 1970s Deng Xiaoping ended China’s isolationism and opened the country to foreigners. Permanent waves again became the vogue and, by the 1980s, became common along with shoulder length hair without a perm, known as “noodles in clear soup.”

By the 1990s, as social constraints on women continued to relax, many hairstyles were now worn by women in China and even the dyeing of one’s hair became commonplace. Today women in China can be observed wearing their hair in many different styles, reflecting the internationalization of Chinese society.

Alan Refkin

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