Beehive Hairdo: 51 Years, Still Fashionable

PHOTO Beehive HairdoPlayElmhurst News
WATCH Get Great Hair in the Heat

The beehive hairdo: elegant, timeless and even scandalous.

For 51 years, the swept back, sky-high coif has adorned the heads of some of Hollywood's most glamorous stars: Brigitte Bardot, Audrey Hepburn and Angelina Jolie.

Lady Gaga, Sarah Palin and even Marge Simpson have their own versions.

Swirled around the crown like a beehive and lacquered into an immobile mass with teasing and hairspray, the 'do can be worn for days on end without shampooing.

Now, Margaret Vinci Heldt, who invented the beehive in 1960, is being honored by Chicago Cosmetology, one of the nation's biggest fashion trade groups, for her enduring contribution to the world of hair styling.

A scholarship will be presented in her name at America's Beauty Show in March.

The retired 92-year-old ran a salon in the heart of the Loop in Chicago's posh Michigan Avenue in the 1950s, '60s and '70s. She catered to the wives of doctors and lawyers, the entire political Daley family, as well as opera stars; and even actress Judy Garland.

Heldt came up with the beehive when Modern Beauty Salon magazine asked her to create an innovative look, something "different" for the new decade.

"They called and said, 'You know, Margaret, nothing exciting is happening. They are still doing the French twist, the page boy and flip and the bouffant have been going on for such a long time now. We are giving you a challenge.'"

The inspiration for the hairdo was a little hat she loved that had two bee-like beads. It will soon be part of a collection at the Chicago History Museum.

"It was velvet and real cute, black, like a fez," Heldt said. "Every time I put it on I loved it. But when I took it off, it lost the form. I thought some day, I am going to a hairstyle that fits under the thing and when I take it off, it will still be there. That's where the beehive came to life."

Experimenting with her mannequin, Heldt first put the hair in rollers, then combed it out and back-combed it, swirling the hair in a circle on the top of crown; all with lots of hairspray.

"It wasn't done with extra long hair, but with a long bob with enough hair to build on the top," she said. "As I tested it, it got higher and higher."

Once the hair was smoothed around, she would spray it again. The coif was so stable that it could go unwashed for days. It became a favorite with clients because it held its shape between hair appointments.

Beehive Could Stand for Days

One urban legend held that a teenager left her beehive aloft so long that an insect nested in her tresses and eventually burrowed into her brain.

"Not true," Heldt said, laughing. "But you could go a good a week to 10 days."

"It would stay so good, that I would tell this joke: 'Ladies, I don't care what your husband does from the neck down, but I don't want him to touch you from the neck up.'

"I think it's something that is romantic and lends to personality," Heldt added. "You can do it with bangs or long. For the bride with the veil, it looks so nice. And the prom girls, they like to be formal."

The beehive has recently seen a resurgence in the popularity of the television show "Mad Men," which is set in the '60s. Secretary Joan Holloway, played by Christina Hendricks, has given the hairdo new lift.

Heldt was a master stylist of her day, winning prizes and "every trophy there was" for her work.

"I tried to make every one of my clients stars," she said. "I was happy to serve."

Heldt's salon was "one of the real lighthouses of the beauty industry," said Paul Dykstra, CEO of Cosmetologists Chicago, which has dedicated the scholarship in her name.

The Margaret Vinci Heldt Scholarship will be given to a young, promising stylist for advanced study.

"Basically, she is a legacy," Dykstra said of Heldt, who has been a member of the trade group for 70 years. "Margaret is the grand dame of our association.

"She has the respect of all the members, as well as the all the industries around the country," he said. "She is also incredibly giving, always interested in mentoring young stylists and always willing to take the time to give what she knew. She just loves hair."

Heldt still lives independently in a senior community, where she exudes the same enthusiasm about style as she did when she was hairdressing. She kicks up her heels at a happy hour every Friday night and enjoys vodka martinis.

"I get two of them," she said.

"I pretend I am going to Shangri-La, you know, where everyone stays young and falls in love," she said. "I leave my eyeglasses and my cane at home, and I go and dance. I go to Shangri-La and feel young for an hour."