Margaret Vinci Heldt, Creator of the Beehive Hairdo


Margaret Vinci Heldt's original mannequin head. Image credit: The Chicago History Museum

Just like the decade it came to represent, the beehive was revolutionary. The larger-than-life 'do has been adapted by pop divas, movie stars, and cartoon characters, but the originator of the hairstyle was a woman few people would recognize. Margaret Vinci Heldt passed away on June 10 at the age of 98, but not before shaking up the fashion world with her eye for style and her liberal use of hairspray.

Born in 1918 to Sicilian immigrants on Chicago’s West Side, her passion for beauty was evident from a young age. By age seven Heldt knew that hairstyling was her calling. She attended Chicago’s only all-girls vocational school as a teenager, then enrolled in the Columbia College of Hairdressing after snagging a scholarship. Vinci graduated in 1938, and after a little more than a decade of working in salons, she opened up a business of her own.

With the success of her salon, Margaret Vinci Coiffures, she was well on her way to becoming an established figure in the industry. She competed in hairdressing events across Europe and the U.S. and was named America’s National Hairdresser of the Year in 1954. Heldt was also a regular contributor to Modern Beauty Shop magazine, so when the trade publication was looking for a stylist to create a hairstyle to represent the new decade of the 1960s, she was an obvious choice.

Modern Beauty Shop gave her one piece of direction: Come up with something totally different. "Nothing much had happened since the French twist, the page boy, and the flip," Heldt told the Chicago Tribune in 2010. When she finally sat down in front of her mannequin at home, there was nowhere to go but up. The original inspiration behind the conical look was her black velvet fez. She wanted to create a hairdo that would fit snugly inside the hat, but the final product turned out to be more of a statement on its own.

The style’s buzzworthy name was coined at the photo shoot for the magazine. As Heldt was styling the model, she felt something was missing. She says she plucked an embellishment off a black denim hat and tucked it into the model's hair, a last-minute detail the editor thought looked just like a bee. The "beehive" was officially born.

Instructions for styling a beehive. Image credit: Modern Beauty Shop, 1960, via The Chicago History Museum

Her new look first appeared in the pages of Modern Beauty Shop in 1960, and it didn’t take long for it to grow into a phenomenon. Just a year after its debut, Audrey Hepburn was sporting the hairdo as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961). Brigitte Bardot, Jackie Kennedy, and The Ronettes all helped make the style mainstream during the '60s.

More than just a look for celebrities, the beehive was also embraced by average women at home and in the office for its easy upkeep. After coaxing the hair into its sky-high configuration through determined teasing and plenty of hairspray, the look was capable of holding its shape for over a week. Women would often wrap toilet paper or scarves around their heads before bed, then wake up in the morning looking ready to go. Heldt would jokingly tell her clients that she didn’t care where their husbands touched them from the neck down, but above the neck was a different story.

Brigitte Bardot in A Very Private Affair (1962). Image credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Even after the '60s came to a close, the beehive never truly seemed to fade from pop culture. In the '70s new wave band The B-52s reportedly named themselves after a popular nickname for the hairstyle, which came from its resemblance to the nose of a bomber jet. In the '90s Marge Simpson became known for her signature towering blue 'do on The Simpsons. More recently, pop singers Adele and the late Amy Winehouse helped reintroduce the retro look back into the music scene.

After retiring from hair-styling at age 80, Heldt remained an active presence in the beauty world. She was the longest-standing member of the trade organization Cosmetologists Chicago, who created a hairdressing scholarship in her name. On top of her hairdressing legacy, Heldt was known for her vivacious charm and her love of Grey Goose dirty martinis. She reportedly asked for one in the hospital during her final days.

Margaret Vinci Heldt is survived by one son, seven grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren. Her signature 'do can be seen on the mannequin that started it all at the Chicago History Museum as well as on the heads of fabulous individuals across the globe.