Remember 1980s Hair? We Sure Do—and the Shag Haircut Was Big Business Back Then

Adweek recalls the heyday of gel and mousse

New Jersey's own Bon Jovi set a high bar for high hair. - Credit by Getty Images
Headshot of Robert Klara

There’s been a certain amount of buzz lately over the return of, of all things, the shag haircut—a hairdo that sober minds presumed had been safely buried back in the 1970s. In recent weeks, the beauty press has been heated up over Sarah Hyland’s new shag, Refinery29 proclaimed the Shag as “the one haircut everyone’s asking for this winter,” and #shaghaircut had racked up nearly 30,000 posts on Instagram.

If you’ve been around long enough, though, you know that the ’70s shag was merely a harbinger of the follicular feats that would arrive in the 1980s—the undisputed era of Big Hair.

Well, for better or worse, we have been around long enough: Adweek is celebrating its 40th anniversary in print this year. So now is as good a time as any to wander back through our dog-eared pages and revisit those frosted and frizzy days to see what our editors had to say.

Why, you might ask, would Adweek’s editors have had anything to say about hairstyles? Because in the 1980s, big hair was big business.

The late George Lois, columnist for the Chicago Tribune and a regular Adweek contributor in those days, spotted the trend in a Dec. 5, 1983 piece titled “Hair Comes the Mousse,” which identified a slew of new styling products barreling onto the market (hair didn’t get big without the help of chemicals.) While Aqua Net—longtime favorite of helmet-haired Miami ladies—was a major force in the resurgent hairspray category, the new kid on the block was Alberto Mousse.


“Mousse means ‘foam’ in French,” Lois explained to our readers, adding that parent company Alberto-Culver had earmarked $15 million just to advertise this foam that’s “squirt[ed] into the palm of the hand and massaged through the hair.”

In a short while, few Americans would need to be told how to use that odd expanding foam in a can. By March of 1984, Adweek had identified a slew of them (among them Jheri Redding’s Mousse in four “flavors”) selling briskly in stores. Perhaps the biggest market force driving mousse sales was the fact that both men and women were using the stuff. (After all, as O, The Oprah Magazine contributor Jancee Dunn recalled of the 1980s, “I had big hair, my boyfriends had big hair, we all had big hair.”)

If Big Hair had a single big moment, it was Time magazine’s May 27, 1985 cover featuring Madonna’s face—or, rather, her hair, which took up two-thirds of the page. By this time, MTV kept on heavy rotation videos by so-called “hair metal” bands like Ratt, Twisted Sister and the most flocculent of them all, Bon Jovi.

By the end of 1986, Adweek was back on the Big Hair beat once more, this time with a story on how Dippity-do and Dep, two post-war styling gels often used with curlers, were enjoying a renaissance. “The hippie era undid Dippity-do,” we said, “but the yuppie era is doing it again.”

Alas, the heyday of mousse and gel was brief. With the coming of grunge, Lollapalooza and Marky Mark, high-altitude hair was out. And good luck finding Alberto Mousse these days. Even Amazon says, “We don’t know when or if this item will be back in stock.”


@UpperEastRob robert.klara@adweek.com Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.