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Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow: Skating Hair Through The Years

Keep it under your hat... but we're going to talk about a little hair history today! Until the twentieth century, how a skater's hair looked made little difference. Whether under a top hat or a smart feathered bonnet, the length of a skater's locks was quite irrelevant until the introduction of the Continental and International Styles of skating made jumps and spins de rigueur and the sport gained more of a following as early hotel shows and ice pantomimes became popular in the first few decades of the twentieth century.

It really wasn't until the Sonja Henie era when women's figure skating became more much more glamourized that many skaters really started paying attention to creating a 'packaged look' and it was Henie herself who led the charge.

When she was in her early fifties, Sonja Henie had her hair done by a young hairdresser named Jon Peters, who went on to become a Hollywood producer. They became fast friends and she actually lent him one hundred thousand dollars towards his first salon. 

Left: Sonja Henie. Right: Advertisement for Glover's hair products featuring Věra Hrubá Ralston.

By the fifties, tiaras weren't uncommon sights in the hair of competitive skaters and especially in the popular British ice pantomimes, both men and women often wore wigs.

Photo courtesy "The National Ice Skating Guide"

Producers of touring productions led the war on errant hair-pins, which posed particular dangers to skaters performing under dim spotlights. In her 1952 book "Skate With Me", even Barbara Ann Scott warned of their dangers: "Don't use ordinary hairpins. They are too apt to fly out. Be sure that you have your hair tethered down securely, for there is nothing very appealing about a girl skating with her hair flopping all over her face. I used to wear a little bonnet which served the double purpose of keeping my hair back and my ears warm." Scott's reference to bonnets was in line to the trend to cover hair to keep it out of a skater's face when they performed jumps and spins, doubling as added warmth in the subzero temperatures during outdoor competitions. In her husband Tyke's 1959 book "Girls' Book Of Skating", Mildred Richardson noted, "Caps are never worn, as they tend to come off, but in windy or snowy weather hair is covered by a becoming pull-on hood or scarf."

Excerpt from Jacqueline du Bief's book "Thin Ice"

By the sixties, Carol Heiss had dyed her hair black for her role in "Snow White And The Three Stooges" and Sjoukje Dijkstra was jacking it up to Jesus with a beehive that contained more final net than the entire dressing room of the movie "Hairspray". In her interview with Allison Manley for "The Manleywoman SkateCast" in April 2014, she laughed, "You don’t know how much hairspray there was in there... It stayed, you see, it would be stuck. If it would be loose, I couldn’t stand it, if my hair came into my eyes or anything. But it had so much spray in it that it just stayed there. So it was good. I don’t understand now, when I see the skaters with the ponytails slinging around - that must be awful. Mine didn't move, it stayed. It took a lot of hairspray. I’m amazed that I still have hair on my head." Though Dijkstra managed to keep her hair, not everyone was so lucky. In one show, American Olympian Roy Wagelein's toupee got caught in his partner's costume during a lift and came right off his head. 

Without a doubt, the most famous skating hairdo in history was the Dorothy Hamill wedge. Achieved by lifting the hair and cutting at an inward angle, going from the longest lengths at top to the shortest at the bottom, the cut was copied by millions of women around the world after Hamill's win at the 1976 Winter Olympic Games in Innsbruck. After turning professional, Hamill signed a three hundred thousand dollar contract with Clairol and did commercials for their Short & Sassy Shampoo and Conditioner. In turn, the company donated twenty five cents from every bottle to the USFSA's Memorial Fund. 

By the nineties, short hair was on its way out and ponytails and buns dominated. Josée Chouinard did commercials for Pert Plus, Clairol sponsored a pro-am competition and even Scott Hamilton skated to music from the movie "Hair" in a hippie-style wig. Copying the glorious mane of Gwendal Peizerat, male ice dancers in the early twenty first century grew out their hair in droves... with extremely mixed results.

Whether Tonya Harding's mall bang or Maria Butyrskaya's Florence Henderson bob, the way that the world's top skaters have worn their hair over the years has just been one more way that they have set themselves apart. The grades of execution might have varied, but I think most skaters have earned a 6.0 for composition and style.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":