Actress Debbie Reynolds once warned her daughter, Carrie Fisher, to be careful of roles that required “any weird hairdo.” Fortunately Fisher didn’t heed her mother’s advice, and chose to star as Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan, a badass diplomat-turned-rebel leader who sports one of the most iconic “weird hairdos” in cinematic history.
How did George Lucas come up with Princess Leia’s buns?
Well, like a lot of the rich Star Wars mythology, he pinched them from somewhere else.
PAGING PANCHO VILLA
In 2002, Lucas told TIME Magazine that he was “working very hard to create something different that wasn't fashion, so I went with a kind of Southwestern Pancho Villa woman revolutionary look ... The buns are basically from turn-of-the-century Mexico.”
Which sounds like a well-considered explanation—except that finding examples of Princess Leia-style buns from turn-of-the-century Mexico on the heads of revolutionaries is really hard, as Kitbashed’s Michael Heilemann discovered when he began investigating Lucas’ claims.
Traditional Mexican hairstyles of the time tended more toward large braids piled atop the head, or the poufy Edwardian styles worn by women all over Western culture; Leia’s buns are big and poufy, but they’re not especially Edwardian, nor are they at all braids. “Which if you stop to think about it for a second, makes sense,” writes Heilemann. “When would revolutionaries find the time to put your hair up in two ridiculous buns, which are impossible, even with modern state-of-the-art hair product technology to carry for any length of time, if indeed you manage to tame your hair enough to play along to begin with.”
TWO BUNS, ONE STONE
Another possible inspiration for Leia's buns, one far more ancient than “turn-of-the-century Mexico,” is Spain’s Lady of Elche. The Lady, carved from delicate limestone, is the bust of a supposed Iberian princess (or priestess) some 2,500 years old; in addition to her intricate necklaces, she wears an elaborate headdress that looks a bit like the Millennium Falcon stuck to either side of her head. Did Lucas find his inspiration for both the Falcon and Leia’s hair in one trip to Madrid’s National Archaeological Museum?
SQUASH BLOSSOMS IN BLOOM
A more likely candidate for Lucas’ inspiration might be the young Native America women of the Hopi nation of the southwest United States (near Pancho Villa’s stomping grounds), who wore their hair in what were called “squash blossom whorls.” The whorls, which were achieved by coiling very long pieces of hair around flexible wooden forms, were typically worn by recently pubescent women as a symbol of fertility (though men were also known to wear the buns during religious dances). But even those buns don’t quite look exactly like the cinnamon rolls Princess Leia would later sport, as they seem to stick out too far from the head.
PARKING IN THE COOTIE GARAGE
Fast-forward 20 years, however, and you get something that’s a little bit closer: in those deeply relieved, freewheeling years following World War I, women—young women, particularly—who didn’t elect to lop off their hair still had myriad choices as to how to style it. This included, but was certainly not limited to, the “earphone” style, in which two braids were coiled into buns at either side of the head, usually over the ears, which made them resemble the headphones telegraph and telephone operators wore at the time (hence the name). Less charmingly, they were also sometimes referred to as “cootie garages” on account of the fact that they were supposed to be little shelters for lice. By the middle of the 1920s, the look was all but over (probably with the help of that unfortunate nickname), fully ceding the way to the bob which by then, in all its many incarnations—the Dutch Boy, the daring Eton Crop, Marcel waves—had been embraced by virtually everyone, from young flappers to older women.
BUNS IN SPACE
Though Leia’s style of bun laid fairly dormant over the next 50 or so years, Heilemann points out that it did get a bit of play in the 1955 film The Dam Busters, the remarkable true story of the RAF’s “bouncing bombs” of WWII; in the movie, they were worn on the head of scientist Barnes Wallis’ wife. Lucas, Heilmann claims, undoubtedly would have seen the film, given that it inspired the Star Wars’ Battle of Yavin, one of the first Rebel victories, and the one in which the first Death Star is destroyed. Since then, the hairstyle has largely remained the province of the sci-fi genre, with Heilmann pointing to Queen Fria of Flash Gordon fame as yet another precursor to Leia’s do.
Of course, once Fisher donned the buns in 1977 for Star Wars, it was all over; today it’s nearly impossible to not equate side buns with Princess Leia (Ariana Grande’s flirtation with “space buns,” which all sorts of mistaken headlines tried to relate to Leia’s buns, notwithstanding).
MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOUR HAIRSTYLIST
Star Wars fans will note that the buns, though Leia’s most iconic look, are by no means her only outré hairstyle. Skepchick does an admirable job of not only chronicling Leia’s many hairstyles (which, despite Lucas’ claims, are definitely at least influenced by the times from which they came), but also pointing out just how difficult each one would be to achieve for real, un-Forced hair without a team of hair and make-up wizards—not to mention painful! Fisher famously hated Leia’s doughnut-like hairstyle, which took two hours to style every day.
While Fisher has confirmed that she will appear in J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens, she has also sworn that she won’t be bringing her buns. “The buns are tired now, so no you’re not going to have the futuristic buns,” she told the crowd at this year’s Star Wars Celebration, before teasing that: “We have an alternate thing that I think you'll be into—that is not the metal bikini, I promise."