It was called a “shag.” Some prefer “hairstyle” but don’t worry. Either way it’s nothing I ever had. This is not about me. Just about what I like.
There having been only three famous women who ever truly rocked it above and beyond the call of duty, I was just going to post some pictures of them. (I’m sure some of the many men who wore it, David Cassidy, Rod Stewart, et al, touched the souls of those of other persuasions, male and female. If so, peace be upon you. As for me, I am what I am and make no apologies.) But, in doing a little research, I found out my favorite haircut had a specific and pretty inspiring history.
To the extent such things can be spiritually copyrighted, it was invented by a Hollywood hairdresser named Paul McGregor for Jane Fonda’s character in 1971’s Klute. I encourage you to read the full story at the link, where, among other things, I learned that Warren Beatty, much to McGregor’s bemusement, claimed he modeled the lead character in Shampoo after him.
That might be another story for another day when I write about movies that defined the seventies. Klute and Shampoo will definitely be on the short list for consideration.
(And whether that was really where the shag began I don’t profess to know. Not my bailiwick. You got other ideas, feel free to share.)
For now, the part that interests me most is Fonda’s own reaction to the cut. Again, you can read the whole thing at the link, but basically, she saw it as a path to freedom, specifically freedom from her super-controlling husband/director Roger Vadim, who liked for her to wear hairstyles he approved.
I’ll buy that.
And, if so, it was not just mine and a lot of other people’s favorite haircut but maybe one of the more important cultural statements in modern history.
The Fonda who was perpetually cowed by men like Vadim could never have become Hanoi Jane. which, in itself, might have been a blessing. However pure her intentions, she did no worthy cause any favors in the role. And the less said about her eighties-era aerobics empire, the better. (Okay, I’ll say this much: those workout videos were as emblematic of Reagan-era ethics as visiting Hanoi was of counterculture ethics half a generation earlier–once unleashed, Jane got around.)
But she also never could have become, for a decade or so, starting with Klute itself, the bravest actress in Hollywood, a place where genuine bravery is always in short supply. She didn’t keep it up, but, while she was in flight, she went places nobody went before, at least not in big Hollywood productions that reached far outside the art-house circuit.
(For how far outside that circuit a Hollywood star can have an impact, I’ll just repeat something my mother told a woman on the phone who was going on about Jane’s political shortcomings right after we had seen 1978’s California Suite: “Well honey that may be true, but I’ll tell you one thing. She’s forty years old and she came out wearing a bikini and there was not one ounce of fat on her.” In our world, you always got credit for being a trouper. Next to that, being a commie didn’t seem so bad.)
For all the best and worst of it, out of Fonda’s own mouth, we can thank the shag.
Which leaves the real question hanging.
Did she who rocked it first rock it best?
Let me first say that, when it comes to haircuts, “shag” has developed a very fluid definition. So fluid it basically includes every shoulder length hairstyle you can think of, including the most famous post-shag hairstyle of ’em all “The Rachel.”
Nothing against the Rachel, but no matter how many millions donned it, it only ever really belonged to one person–and she hated it. Too much trouble. I’ve expressed my admiration for Jennifer Aniston plenty here before, but the Rachel is not a shag, let alone the shag.
The true shag, as befitting its source and inspiration, was both bold and democratic. If I’m giving it the strictest definition, I’m saying if I didn’t see it in the halls of my high school, circa 1974, it ain’t a shag.
Which brings me to Fonda’s competition.
Until recently (meaning this week) I always considered this competition to consist of one woman and one woman only–a woman who was really famous in England in 1974, but was completely unknown in my rural southern high school until she showed up on Happy Days a few years later.
That would be this woman:
..who did not even cause a buzz in my part of the world when she made the cover of Rolling Stone in January, 1975. Believe me, if anybody had seen this, word would have gotten all the way around:
So if nobody liked Jane, nobody had heard of Suzi, and nobody else wore the cut with sufficient flair to inspire imitation, why were so many girls sporting one? Utility maybe, but, in high school, that ain’t enough. In high school, at least for it to spread like that, somebody has to make it cool.
And, until this week, when I was searching around Pinterest on an unrelated topic, I had somehow completely forgotten who made the shag cool in my part of world in 1974. Then I happened across a few key photos that unlocked the memory gate.
Everybody in my high school knew who this woman was. And everybody liked her. Girls especially. Working class girls most especially. There was a reason she was the Country Music Association’s Female Vocalist of the Year for 1974. Country girls were her first major audience. And they didn’t just like her music.
For the record: The girls in my part of the world kept on copying Olivia Newton-John’s hairstyles for the rest of the seventies.
Farrah Fawcett’s soon-to-be legendary do?
Never saw one anywhere but on television.
Now, as to who was the absolute best?
Come on. You think I’m gonna make that pick?
I’m country. Sort of.
I’m a lot of things. Sort of.
I ain’t stupid.
Kudos, though, to Suzi, for pretty much sticking with it, decade after decade.
And for always being a reminder that a thing of joy is beautiful forever.
NEXT UP: MY FAVORITE COMEDY HEIST FLICK