What is a Bouffant?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A bouffant, or beehive, is a hairstyle which involves piling the hair on top of the head and puffing it out, creating a very distinctive and eye-catching look. This style was very popular in 17th century Europe, and it experienced a brief resurgence in the 1960s. Once one has seen a bouffant, the style is quite unforgettable, and as anyone who has tried to create one knows, the style is very challenging to create and to maintain.

Large amounts of hairspray are needed to create a bouffant hairstyle.
Large amounts of hairspray are needed to create a bouffant hairstyle.

The word “bouffant” comes from the French bouffer, “to puff.” While this style certainly does involve puffing, the look is a bit more complicated. The longer the hair, the better, as a general rule, as long hair can be curled and layered to create a complex stacked knot on the head, with strategically placed loose strands to soften the look.

Jackie Kennedy commonly styled her hair in a bouffant.
Jackie Kennedy commonly styled her hair in a bouffant.

There are a number of ways to style a beehive, depending on the length of the hair and the exact look desired. In all cases, the hairstyle requires a lot of hair gel or hairspray to keep the hair stiff, ensuring the hair will hold its shape through the day. As a result, the texture of hair styled in a bouffant can be decidedly unpleasant, and if the style gets wet, the results can be disastrous.

For people with short hair, a bouffant is typically created by setting the hair in rollers and then combing it out so that it stands out from the head. Margaret Thatcher is famous for wearing her short hair in a bouffant, and Jacqueline Kennedy also styled her hair in this way while her husband was in office as President of the United States.

For examples of more elaborate styles made with longer hair and wigs, television shows from the 1960s have an abundant cross-section of this hairstyle, from teased and combed bouffants with a slightly ratty look to sleek beehives with every strand of hair firmly cemented in place. Ginger from “Gilligan's Island” often had quite an astounding bouffant, and Jayne Mansfield, an icon of the 1960s, sported a bouffant quite frequently as well. Marge Simpson also has a notable beehive.

Although the style is not as popular as it once was, they are sometimes used for special occasions. Some people style their hair in bouffants for weddings and other important events, for example, with the assistance of a stylist to ensure the look is even and attractive, and bouffants are utilized in the film industry as well, for both period pieces in which the style would be appropriate and more modern settings.

The character of Marge Simpson styles her  hair in a bouffant.
The character of Marge Simpson styles her hair in a bouffant.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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