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Hair Histories – The Marcel Wave

Welcome to Hair Histories, where we look into the origins of some of the most enduring styles to see why they’re still influencing fashion today

For our first foray into the history books, we welcome the principal of the Iver Make-Up Academy, Liz Tagg-Wooster, to teach us all about the origins of the iconic Marcel wave. A BAFTA and Emmy nominated make-up and hair artist with more than 30 years’ experience working in the film and television industry, Liz and her team run intense courses for the film industry – where every reference needs to be on point for historical accuracy.

“The Marcel wave was conceived by Francois Marcel Grateau in France during the 1870s. He started out with a small salon in Montemarte, where his clients were the poorer classes. As he developed the waving method that would later become the Marcel wave, using heated curling irons, he struggled to find customers to practice on.

He was forced to offer free hairdressing initially in order to refine the process and practice. Once others saw the beautifully waved hairstyles of his early models, he started to experience an increase in custom and was able to start charging for his service.

Marcel’s big break came when he styled the hair of popular actress Jane Hading with his waving technique, generating enormous publicity which he promptly capitalised on. His first patent for a ‘curling iron’ was granted in 1905.

Originally the irons had to be heated in the fire, but hair easily got burnt – until 1924 when electric irons were invented and the temperature could be regulated. Nowadays we have even better ceramic tongs of all different sizes to be able to create these historical looks.”

Tamsin Barbosa, hair and make-up artist to Emily Blunt on Mary Poppins Returns, has one key rule when creating Marcel waves: “You must be able to see clearly the crest and trough of each wave and a clear S-shape formed. It is important to remember that the waves need to stay the same size throughout the hair style.”