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A Century of Beauty in a Single Minute

When I was a kid, I told my mom, with the kind of conviction usually reserved for religious fanatics, that I would never, ever wear high-waisted jeans. I don't think I've owned any jeans that wouldn't cover my belly-button for about a decade now. Beauty isn't absolute, beauty is fashion. And fashion changes, like, all the time.

This video from WatchCut tracks the changes in beauty trends of the last century, as the title suggests, in the handy timeframe of a minute. It's episode one in a series, looking at the classic Western styles of each era. The following clips look at styles everywhere from Egypt to Korea. It's a bit of a time suck once you get going, but hey: they're only a minute each, so no need to feel guilty. It's a crash course in beauty history. What's cool is that it's also a crash course in general history—beauty and politics have always woven pretty closely together.

And these are quite political. You track the usual suspects, bobs in the '20s, beehives in the '60s—apparently the '30s was a big time for hats worldwide. But in the '20s, Ireland splits into Northern Ireland and the Republic. In the '50s, the Korean video splits into South (Republic of Korean) and North (DPRK); Germany splits into East and West (GDR and FRG); and China gets all Communist. Everyone in the '80s goes a bit crazy on the eye makeup and hairspray, except in Iran (post the 1979 revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini enforced the wearing of the hijab on all women).

Guns, hand gestures and political signals pop up everywhere, from the Black Panthers salute of the '70s to the purple thumb of the Arab Spring in the mid '00s. You could dig endlessly into these, exploring echoes of racism and colonialism, or the rise of feminism and the advent of sexual liberation. The way women look is inextricably tied to what we are experiencing in the world around us—whether we're on the catwalk, on the screen or fighting a war.

Weirdly, everyone in 2010 seems to be going for the same natural beach wave. I can't work it out, and then the Brazil video reminds me of another international event: Gisele.

Bonus info: If you're looking for the names of all those iconic famous hair styles (as well as a few on the men's side of things), check out "An Animated History of 20th Century Hairstyles," on The Atlantic.