We first see Barbra Streisand rocking a short afro perm around 1976. This hairstyle (featured In A Star Is Born) was undoubtedly influenced by her then boyfriend, producer and hairstylist Jon Peters.
Barbra would go on to wear this look in varying lengths through early 1983. It was an extremely trendy and of the moment look during these years. Though the perm had it’s heyday in the 70’s and 80’s, it dates as far back as 1872 when Macel Grateau was the first to use the method. It wasn’t until 1938 that the first “cold wave perm” was developed by Arnold F Willatt. Prior to this getting a perm required being hooked up to crazy looking a tall machine with heated curlers attached to long wires. The first cold perm formula consisted of ammonium thioglycolate, which breaks down the hair’s protein structures to create curls. It is sometimes still used today, along with sodium thioglycote.
In the 70’s perms with shaggy layers and tight curls giving the hair a fluffy look were the most in style.
During the late 70’s we see Barbra’s permed hairstyle evolve from a bubble shape to a tight spiral, a shaggier perm with bangs, and eventually a looser, longer soft wave perm in the early 80’s. Today, new-wave perms have made a comeback but today the curler technology is far better than it was in the 80’s, so it is easy to avoid the fish-hook bent ends often seen in that decade. Jack Howard, a colorist at Paul Edmonds says “The lived in hair trend is really hot right now. Modern perming isn’t about getting a tight curl and then growing or blow drying it out, it’s about leaving hair in a more natural state and adding volume.”
As always, Barbra was on the cutting edge of the perm craze and helped to popularize the trend.