History of the quiff hairstyle

history of quiffs

Flamboyant, rebellious and not entirely gender specific, the quiff rolls into history as the rebellious offspring of the pompadour hairstyle. But why do we have a masculine hairstyle that is inspired by a trendy 18th Century French actress, or is this a feminine style that rallies against soft, wispy flowing locks?

I don’t know. You decide. Let’s take a trip in the time machine.

Hmm. Quiff is a strange word for a hairstyle. Where does it come from?


Medieval times?


Buy at Art.com
Portrait of a Bearded Man…
Albrecht Durer

From around 13th-14th Century, almost everyone in Britain (and some of Europe) is wearing a coif. It is a close-fitting cap which covers the top and sides of the head. It is worn indoors but also outdoors underneath a hat. After the 14th Century, it is a cap mostly worn by women and children.


Buy at Art.com
Robin Hood, Douglas Fairbanks

Knights are wearing a new type of head protection also called coif. This is a chain mail covering like a balaclava under the helmet to protect the head and neck. This often left a tuft of hair at the front.

Either way, coifs may have been the inspiration behind using the word quiff for a hairstyle. The word itself is French but can be dated back to an old German word for cap.

In Eastern cultures, ornamental hairstyles are pulled into elaborate styles by women. The Geisha culture in Japan sees women to spend time on decorating their hair into structures that have a sweep of hair pulled up at the top of the forehead.


Buy at Art.com
Portrait of the Courtesan



18th Century


Buy at Art.com
Madame de Pompadour
Francois Boucher

The pompadour is named after Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson Le Normant d’Étioles, or Madame de Pompadour, the mistress of Louis XV. She was born in the French town of Arnac-Pompadour. At first a fashion pioneered by this trendy, influential actress, it soon becomes a sign of wealth and status.


Buy at Art.com
Marie-Antoinette, 1769
Joseph Ducreux

The hair is pulled away from the face and high onto the head at the front and sides. This swirl of whipped cream hair is teased into shape over a wire frame. Eventually, this style becomes more extreme and over-exaggerated.


Buy at Art.com
Pantheon Macaroni, 1773

The macaroni fashion trend is a uniform for well-travelled males who wear a flamboyant, rebellious look to reflect the styles of the various countries they have toured. This look includes a pompadour-like exaggerated hair wig.


19th Century

The extravagant use of wire frames gives way to a more practical, utilitarian way of wearing the pompadour using a postiche. These are pads stuffed with false hair or your own collected hair to create volume underneath the styled hair.


Buy at Art.com
Gibson Girls, 1900
Charles Dana Gibson

Gibson Girl fashion revives the 18th Century pompadour by piling hair away from the face in a swirl piled high on top of the head. It is a more practical style than the original pompadour — no longer just for royalty and aristocrats but for the emerging middle classes too. This style is popular with women right through until World War I, when styles become even more practical out of necessity and preference.


Buy at Art.com
Musa Isle, Florida – Seminole Woman

From the late 19th Century onwards, the growth of photography and travel to previously inaccessible places, increases curiosity for different cultures. East meets West and ancient meets modern, each taking something from the other in a curious mix. A fascination for what is termed the ‘exotic’ enters the Western design world. It becomes fashionably modern to copy styles of tribal identity using dress and hairstyle. Some Native American women, such as the Seminole, wear pompadour-like styles using card and postiche type reinforcements. Several tribes in Africa, Asia and America also saw men wear their long hair away from the face and in a high style at the front.

Hairstyles have also been used to set people apart within their tribe according to the roles within that tribe. For example, men have worn their hair differently if they are about to go to war. When Africans were brought to Europe and America as slaves they were forced to lose the hairstyles which gave them their personal and tribal identity. Their heads were shaved to remove identity and dignity. This also happened with prisoners.


Buy at Art.com
Shoshone Native American




Buy at Art.com
Profile of Man

Although pomade has been around for centuries, it was initially made from animal fats. In 1925, the first pomades using petroleum jelly alongside cheaply available oils are commercially produced. Soon both men and women are creating adventurous new styles with this versatile pomade: slick bobs and short waves for the ladies and slicked back or pompadour styles for men with longer hair.


Buy at Art.com
Josephine Baker

In this post-war decade of rebellion, as women begin to dramatically cut their hair short, so too men are growing their hair longer. People search for decadent, fun, flamboyant styles after the trauma of the war.

In 1928 County Chemicals in Birmingham, UK, produces Brylcreem. Initially used in barber shops only, the hair styling cream is a success and home-styling for men is encouraged.


Buy at Art.com
Brylcreem, UK, 1930





Buy at Art.com
Olivia De Havilland,1942

The pompadour style returns for women once more in the 1940s. Add to that the victory roll doing the job of keeping hair high on top of the head at the front. This is for more practical reasons than ever before: to keep women’s hair out of their eyes when working laborious jobs during World War II. It’s also an inexpensive way to bring glamour to home-styled hairdos.


Buy at Art.com
Now, Voyager, Bette Davis, Paul Henreid





Buy at Art.com
Marlon Brando, c.1950

It’s time for the men to get a slice of the pompadour pie as post-war rebellious young men turn to a hairstyle that is going to rebel against short military cuts and wartime utility. Why not embrace the more extravagent styles from history?

The quiff becomes a modern, manly version of a pompadour style. This becomes very popular in the late 1950s with the rise of rock and roll and teenage rebellion. Elvis, James Dean, Cliff Richard (or Quiff Richard), Eddie Cochrane, Little Richard ensure that the pompadour quiff is the look of fashionable rebellion.


Buy at Art.com
Jailhouse Rock, 1957, Elvis Presley

The ’50s quiff is slicked up and back from the face using pomade and a comb to style. Simple. The hair products market is especially lucrative in the 1950s with many choices of different products such as hairspray and men’s grooming products. There’s a deluge of competitive advertisements to match.


Buy at Art.com
Norman Dodds Mp and Teddy Boys

British Teddy Boys adopt the quiff, a nod to the Edwardian style they adopt in their dress: narrow trousers, long jackets, smart shirts.

Following the war years of the 1940s, it is not surprising that longer hair for men becomes popular in an act of rebellion against the austerity of military styles and the experience of war.




Buy at Art.com
The Beatles

In the 1960s, the Beatles come along and ruin it for men by growing their hair into mop tops with not a whiff of pomade, Brylcreem or macassar oil. The closest thing to the rebellious pompadour is with the ladies’ bouffant, a nest of teased and hairsprayed hair. The quiff is old hat as a youthful, rebellious look is achieved through new playful fashions and hairstyles.


Buy at Art.com
Miss USA 1961 Finalists



Rebellion of the hair continues with anti-fashion followers turning to tribal and ethnic styles to create new fashion tribes. Punks use Mohican styles to show that they are rebelling against the dictates of fashion, consumerism and style status.



Flat tops are a popular version of the 1950s quiff and 1950s styling becomes hugely popular in the late 1980s. The 1950s American style of classic Levis 501 become a must have item along with white t-shirt and leather jacket. It’s all style and no rebellion.


Buy at Art.com
Grace Jones

Alternative styles also look towards rockabilly rebellion roots and ancestral tribal identity.


Buy at Art.com
Brian Setzer, Stray Cats
Kevin Winter



21st Century

Pompadour styles are still popular amongst gangster cultures in Italy, Spain, Latin America and Japan. They let everyone know that you have friends (and hair) in high places.

The quiff has become the staple of retro fashion for men. Extreme modern quiffs are also getting bigger and higher with a vast range of styling products available. The pompadour style is also popular amongst women, either trying to create a vintage-style 1940s look or in modern quiffs with slicked or even shaved sides showing a punk or tribal influence.



Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History edited by Victoria Sherrow (2006), Greenwood Press, USA


2 Comments on “History of the quiff hairstyle

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

V is for Vintage on Facebook




Follow on Bloglovin