In 1959 Dallas photographer William Langley had a problem: he needed a long-haired model for a shoot—the woman’s hair needed to blow in the breeze. But no local agency had a model who could do the job. Their hair was all too short.
But then the Dallas Morning-Herald ran a story on Langley’s situation—a story which called long hair “as out of date as a raccoon coat.” So what happened? Regular women with long locks swarmed Langley’s studio, all ready to let their hair down.
LIFE photographer Thomas McAvoy dropped in to Langley’s studio to document the festivities for a story in LIFE’s June 15, 1959 issue titled “Baldy and the Long Hairs.” The headline conveys the general tenor of the coverage.
“Amid the great cascade of handsome hair falling down the backs of 30 attractive young girls, a lone and barren bald spot shone out,” LIFE wrote. “The owner of the bald spot, Dallas Photographer William Langley, was happily surrounding himself with a feminine commodity he had recently despaired of ever finding.”
“Baldy and the Long Hairs” is the kind of light, oddball story that was always part of the editorial mix at LIFE, but Langley’s dilemma actually provides a glancing view of a significant cultural current. In the 1950s female beauty icons had short-to-medium length hair, as befitting a neater and more contained era. Think about Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe, and especially Doris Day, whose “helmted” look was influential, and anything but unruly.
Then everything changed in the 1960s, as hippies let their freak flags fly and societal norms were turned on their heads, so to speak. The term “long hairs” that appeared jokingly in the 1959 LIFE headline would become synonymous with the counterculture of the 1960s. (As for the other slang term in that headline, it would be another twenty years before basketball star Michael Jordan would make “baldies” cool).
In short, Langley’s problem was very much of its day. In 1969 the photographer would have had a much easier time finding a model whose hair was meant to be blowin’ in the wind.