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Chris McMillan’s Secret to Iconic, Old Hollywood Hair

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10 . 26 . 18
Emilie Branch

Emilie Branch

Writer at Mane Addicts
Emilie is a writer and editor based in New York. Though she writes about beauty, she has written for a variety of lifestyle and industry publications over the last ten (plus) years. Find out what color Emilie’s hair is now by following her on Instagram @emiliebranch.
Emilie Branch

While the woke-up-like this look definitely has a place in our hearts, sometimes it’s nice to get done up without purposely creating bedhead. TBH, there’s no look that feels more full-on glam (without edging into bad prom territory) than vintage Hollywood hair. To find out more the look right now, including which starlets we need to inspo-stalk stat, we speed dialed Chris McMillan, the Hollywood hair stylist whose client list includes everyone from Jennifer Aniston and Michelle Williams to Bruce Springsteen. Here’s how he sees old Hollywood hair transitioned from the red carpet to the street, plus his fave timeless muses.

Hollywood Muses

When Chris thinks of Hollywood hair, certain names standout. “I love Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, Rita Hayworth, Veronica Lake,” he lists, noting that they encompassed the full range of hair lengths, from short to medium to long. Veronica Lake is a must look-at for “long-hair glam,” he says, while Audrey Hepburn served “gamine glamour,” because of her short hair. “Rita Hayworth was always known as the red head—she was the red hair glamour. The classic, glamorous—but its sort of expected, is Marilyn Monroe,” he notes of the “iconic bleach blonde.”

 

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Rita Hayworth, in an advert for Max Factor shot by Robert Coburn, 1946.

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Shiny + Wavy

Hollywood hair revolved around a few key trends, namely super shine and polished waves. Since color was not captured on camera through the ‘60s, all images were curated around how light would be reflected; this majorly impacted how hair was both styled and colored (and also helps explain why blonde became a go-to for actresses). Dull hair was to be avoided at all costs, especially in black and white. “Glam hair was very shiny,” Chris says.

Texture was also a key element to the vintage Hollywood look. “The waves were a big part of it, you never saw hair that was stick straight or frizzy,” he comments. Waves were generally created with pin curls or rollers and then always purposely brushed out. “There was no hair out of place and it was always polished,” he says.

The Look Now

The vintage Hollywood look of the moment has been updated, but classic elements define the trend. “I like it with a more modern edge, a combed out hairline,” says Chris. He references Michelle Williams as an example of the trend in action, noting, “she likes to go a little glamorous,” though her version is more in line with a “50s or 60s, Jean Seberg or Mia Farrow pixie girl.” He also likes the way Kirsten Dunst channels modern glamour, referencing how he styled her for Interview Magazine (pictured above), creating a Veronica Lake or even Rita Hayworth vibe. “You’ve got to have the right actress that’s willing to go there,” he explains of Hollywood hair RN.

Of course, the cut of the moment will take you from brunch, to game time, to old Hollywood. “When you glam the bob up it works really well and creates a more modern look,” he says of the cut. Another hack to modernizing Hollywood hair is making it a little less than perfect—it’s “messier in some places and more groomed in others.”

 

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If there’s one star that stands out for Hollywood hair to Chris (and us) it’s got to be Lady Gaga. Mother monster is serving starlet at every premiere, translating the vintage look for today. “She’s showing up as a star, she’s respecting the image of old Hollywood but in a modern way. That’s my take on modern Hollywood, whatever Lady Gaga is giving to us at this exact moment,” Chris says.

 

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Hairspray Holy Grail

If there was one product that every stylists relied on during the film noir days, it was hairspray—other than being an obvious go-to, all the products we rely on today didn’t exist at that time. “Back in the day they didn’t have all these products,” Chris reminds us. “They didn’t have serums or shine serums and dry shampoos or texture sprays and things like that.” If he is creating a glam look, Chris reaches for Sam McKnight prods because of their hold and versatility. “Sam McKnight has created a line of sprays that really help create slick, glamour looks,” he explains.

Styling yourself like your stepping out of a premier in the 1950s is sometimes all it takes to make you feel like you really are a star. And if you’re not sure how that should look, take a page from Lady Gaga. “They groomed girls to look like movie stars and they don’t do that any more,” explains Chris of the timeless vintage beauty. “Lady Gaga is bringing old school Hollywood not only to the red carpet but everyday life.”

These women will always be icons. HERE are our 1960s muses.

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