For a long time, dating back to at least to the ancient Greeks and Romans, cultures have insisted that women should have longer hair than men.
So when LIFE look up the topic of short hair on women in its July 19, 1954 issue, the magazine moved with caution—likely too much for the modern reader. LIFE’s story acknowledged the trend, even as it took pains to not endorse it.
What is probably the nadir of the short haircut has been reached by shorn young women who are trying out the male butch haircut for hot weather. Although the style can look feminine on young wearers and is convenient for such midsummer pleasures as swimming and driving in open cars, it has dismayed many males. They will be heartened by the word out of Paris that the long glamor girl bob is coming back for fall.
The text, from a story which carried the pejorative headline “Feminine Butch,” betrays the anxiety of a Barbie-and-Ken age. It is also telling that this shoot illustrating a story on women’s hairstyles gave unusual prominence to men. In a couple cases, the models were actually photographed with their husbands.
But seven decades later, even after societal standards have loosened, after beauty icons ranging from Twiggy to Scarlett Johansson have rocked the short look, and after millions of women have deployed the hashtag #shorthairdontcare, a haircut can still provoke an inordinate amount of hand-wringing. This 2022 story agonizes over all the deeper meanings that get attached to short hair, touching on such issues as femininity, age, power, career aspirations and what a haircut says about one’s emotional state.
And it’s worth recognizing that however disdainful the tone of the words in LIFE article, the pictures that accompanied it, taken by Nina Leen, tell a story of their own, especially the shots of model Jackie Dunne and her husband together in a restaurant. Those photos have the quality of a movie still, capturing not just a look but a relationship. “Unlike the majority of men, he has decided he likes it fine,” LIFE wrote of the pictures in which Mr. Dunne stares at his wife’s newly-cropped hair.
Meanwhile, Jackie’s gaze is elsewhere. She is not looking at her husband at all.