How Beehive Hairdos Worked

How high can you go? Actress Kate Beckinsale sports a beehive.
How high can you go? Actress Kate Beckinsale sports a beehive.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

There's an old saying that goes, "The higher the hair, the closer to God." If this saying has any truth to it at all, then women who wear beehive hairdos must be among the holiest women on earth. Indeed, this hairstyle seems like it would need a bit of divine intervention -- how else could a woman get her hair to stand inches taller than her scalp?

As it turns out, all you need is a comb and a lot of hairspray to achieve this stylish do, which was named for its resemblance to the long cylinders in which honeybees go about their business. The hairstyle is alternately known as a B-52, because it also resembles the nose of a B-52 bomber. It's not often that women draw fashion inspiration from a bee's residence or a military plane, but icons as diverse as Audrey Hepburn, Amy Winehouse and Marge Simpson have modeled this tall hairdo. The B-52's, a band known for hits such as "Love Shack" and "Rock Lobster," named itself for the beehives worn by the two females members. On the television show "Mad Men," the character of Joan wears a beehive in a nod to historical accuracy, and though the beehive is often a symbol of retro kitsch today, many women have modernized the style for red carpet events, weddings and proms.

The beehive celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2010. On the next page, we'll recount the history of this famed hairdo -- just don't sit behind a woman with a beehive while you try to read it.

History of the Beehive Hairdo

Hot date in the 1960s? A beehive would do very nicely.
Hot date in the 1960s? A beehive would do very nicely.
Retrofile/Getty Images

In the 1950s, a hairstyle known as the bouffant sent women all over the United States running to drug stores for cans of hairspray. The bouffant is tall and wide, and the ends of the hair flip over or under. With the creation of the beehive, however, women would lose the width and focus solely on how high they could pile their hair.

The beehive was created in 1960 by Chicago stylist Margaret Vinci Heldt. Heldt was asked by the editors of Modern Beauty Salon magazine to create a new hairdo that would spice up the world of beauty. Heldt designed the beehive by thinking about a velvet fez that she owned. The cap had beaded decorations that looked like bees, but more importantly, the tall hat didn't leave Heldt with hat hair after she wore it. Heldt wanted to create a style that maintained its shape, the way the hat maintained her hair. Thanks to that black hat, the beehive was born.

The beehive was an instant success. Women were already in love with the big hair trend, thanks to the bouffant, and the longer-lasting beehive was a timesaver. Women could sleep with their hive in a scarf, smooth away the loose strands in the morning, and be ready to go. Heldt's only advice to her customers was to warn their husbands to keep those hands out of the hair during romantic moments [source: Mannion].

The beehive remains a popular style option today, and it has even survived some bad word of mouth. In the 1960s, a popular urban legend claimed that women with beehives were dying because spiders or other deadly bugs took up residence in the hive. has declared this legend false.

Want your hair to reach for the skies? Find out how to style your own beehive hairdo on the next page.

How to Create a Beehive Hairdo

A stylist teases a model's hair.
A stylist teases a model's hair.
Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

The trick to creating a beehive hairdo is a technique known as backcombing, or teasing. Instead of combing hair from root to tip, backcombing involves combing hair towards the roots, or in the opposite direction of the way it grows. Regular combing smoothes the hair so it lies flat; backcombing or teasing the hair makes it bunch up, which creates a base for an elevated style.

Beehives work best on hair that's at least shoulder-length, and hair should be completely dry -- no residual dampness from a shower. In fact, you may want to wait an entire day after washing hair to create a beehive, as it's a style that doesn't require newly clean hair. Curly hair should be straightened before attempting a beehive, and if you use a straightening iron for this task, be sure that your hair has completely cooled before beginning to tease it. These precautions are necessary because backcombing can be somewhat stressful and damaging to hair, and wet or hot hair will only exacerbate that damage.

To build a beehive, take a small section of hair, about 1.5 inches (3.8 centimeters), and tease it by making short strokes toward the scalp. You can use a fine-toothed comb or a bristle brush for this task, and you may have to experiment with various types of combs and brushes to find the one that works best with your hair. You can backcomb the hair until it reaches whatever height you'd like; there should still be some unteased hair left that will be styled later. Apply hairspray to this small section of hair, and then take up another section of hair and repeat the process. It's important to use the same type of short strokes each time in order to create a uniform height. Once all the sections are teased, take the comb or your hands and gently smooth the top of the hair without crushing the height, and then twist the excess hair that wasn't backcombed into a chignon. The extra hair could also be styled into a ponytail, or curled on top of the head. Then apply hairspray liberally to keep all that hair in place!

As we mentioned, teasing your beehive can mean damaging your locks, so you may want to save this hairstyle for special occasions. A beehive may last a few days if you're careful, but when it's time to change your style, carefully comb and detangle the teased hair.

Want to stay as fashionable in your reading as you do with your hair? Peruse the links on the next page.

Related Articles


  • Abraham, Tamara. "Oh, do beehive! Meet the woman who created a buzz by inventing Sixties hairdo." The Daily Mail. Jan. 10, 2011. (Aug. 8, 2011)
  • Graham, David. "The beehive gets buzz." Toronto Star. Jan. 22, 2011. (Aug. 17, 2011)
  • Harbers, Malena. "The big tease: Holiday hair gets a much-needed boost." Toronto Star. Dec. 2, 2010. (Aug. 17, 2011)
  • Kavanagh, Gail. "The Care and Maintenance of a Beehive." Rewind the Fifties. (Aug. 8, 2011)
  • Mannion, Annemarie. "Beehive style lands Elmhurst woman a place in fashion history." Trib Local Elmhurst. Dec. 30, 2010. (Aug. 8, 2011)
  • Mikkelson, Barbara and David P. "Tressed to Kill." July 8, 2006. (Aug. 8, 2011)
  • Saint Louis, Catherine. "A '60s Bee Updates Its Hive." The New York Times. Aug. 26, 2010. (Aug. 8, 2011)
  • Sewing, Joy. "Big Hair is a Big Hit Again." Houston Chronicle. June 19, 2008. (Aug. 8, 2011)
  • Shelton, Karen Marie. "Backcombed Hairstyling Tips." Hair Boutique. Jan. 30, 2009. (Aug. 8, 2011)
  • Sherrow, Victoria. "Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History." Greenwood Publishing Group. 2006. (Aug. 8, 2011)
  • Solomon, Deborah. "Screen Dreams." The New York Times. July 22, 2007. (Aug. 8, 2011)
  • Wellington, Elizabeth. "Hair with Altitude." The Philadelphia Inquirer. April 21, 2010. (Aug. 8, 2011)