Desi Pinup How to: 1950s

While the golden era of the Indian film industry started around the latter part of the 1940’s, its popularity began to peak only in the beginning of the 1950’s. The cinema of this time is marked with a distinct voice of country just free from clutches of a 200 year foreign rule. Spirits were running high and there was a taste of revolution in the air.

These were the glory years when some of the landmark films in the history were made and gained national and international fame. Examples include Raj Kapoor’s Awaara (1951), Shree 420 (1955), Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa (1957), Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959), Mehboob Khan’s Mother India (1957), which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, K. Asif’s Mughal-e-Azam (1960), Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zameen (1953) and Devdas (1955). Some key Actresses from this era included Madhubala, Meena Kumari, Vyjanthamala and Nargis Dutt. Much like their western counterparts, the silver screen sirens were influential when it came to fashion, particularly hairstyling. Here are some of the trademark hair looks of Desi beauty queens of the 1950s.

The Wave

While women in the west were quick to adopt shorter styles and perm sets during the 50s, Bollywood actresses kept their long hair, seldom cutting it any shorter than shoulder length. The natural wave of hair was embraced and often exaggerated through wet setting. My grandmother used to achieve this wave by tightly plaiting her hair in four to six sections around a middle part before bed. When the plaits were taken out the next day they would produce a beautiful wave in her naturally dark hair. The appearance of the waves were enhanced with a jasmine and almond oil hair tonic.


Sometimes short forehead skimming bangs were added to frame the face. There were very few instances of actresses embracing full Bettie Page styled bangs common in America and the UK.

Spit curls

Little spit curls were also common. These were held in place using a water soluble powdered glue called Saresh (commonly used to bind books, similar in texture to crafting gum). The curls would be coated in the gum and shaped/stuck to the forehead. Multicolored styling gels became common place in the mid 50s.

Braided Buns

Wrapping a plait into a bun was another common hairstyle in the 50s. The back would often be decorated with fresh flower garlands and clips featuring roses and jasmine.

Side Plait

Long side plaits with curls framing the face and hair covering the ears was another common traditional look made popular in the 50s by actresses such as Madhubala

Centre Dupatta placement

Dupatta placement in the 50s was modest but stylish. Chiffon and net fabric were draped daintily at the centre of the head and wrapped across the shoulders.

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