It was 1962 and 18-year-old Dusty Wharton had her hair teased into a classic flip for the Miss Louisiana Tech University pageant in Ruston.
She didn’t win.
That was then. Now Dusty Wharton Manson has a crown.
That teased-up, backcombed helmet of hair she curled just above her button-down collar at the dawn of the groovy generation has earned Manson the title of “Mrs. Vintage Hairspray.”
Manson was one of nine women who sent in their photos for the contest Baton Rouge Little Theater held in conjunction with its run of “Hairspray,” a celebration of 1960s Baltimore centered on “The Corny Collins Show,” where plus-sized Tracy Turnblad manages to integrate the dance show and find true love. And, of course, without mussing a hair on her head.
At each performance, audience members were asked to vote for their favorite flip, twist, bob, beehive or wave of big hair. The competition was, well, stiff.
Manson came out on top, followed by Bernadette LeBlanc and Patricia Wall, who both piled their hair into beehive dos Marge Simpson would envy.
All three women agreed that whatever the style, it took copious amounts of hairspray to make them work. So the title fits.
“You couldn’t move that sucker with a forklift,” said a laughing Manson about her style, which she — and all the other girls at Louisiana Tech — wore for about a year.
“I could show you a picture of our sorority — 30 or 40 girls — and we’re all in the same hair,” she said.
“I want to know how we undid it,” added Manson. “We probably stood up in the corner to sleep.”
Just a few years later, the flip remained, but gone was the pouf. By 1965, recalled Marcia Gregg, whose husband sent in her photo for the contest, the flip was much tamed, but that perfect curl remained.
She was 19 and getting it just right took a lot of effort.
“That was the days before electric curlers and blow dryers,” said the 64-year-old Gregg. “It was an all-day process, so you had to plan ahead if you had a date. You’d wash it in the morning and roll it on brush rollers. We used a setting gel called Dippity-Do, and then you’d let it dry all day long.”
Gregg said the girls tortured themselves every night, sleeping on the stiff brush rollers held in place with sharp picks, for the sake of their fabulous flips.
“And if you look at the LSU yearbook, we all have the same style,” she said.
But those flips had nothing on the beehive when it came to maintenance.
Second-place finisher LeBlanc, who sent in a 1968 photo with her hair towering high, said keeping her do intact required a lot of effort.
“I’d have to go twice a week to the beauty shop to have it totally redone, because it was so high you couldn’t sleep without messing it up,” said LeBlanc, who was 21 at the time.
“I only kept it for three or four months. Then it got kind of ridiculous,” said the 63-year-old LeBlanc. “But at the time, we thought it looked good.”
Wall, whose mid-’60s beehive got her third-place honors, said she got her hair done once a week at a shop on Greenwell Street.
“I was in my late 20s,” she recalled. “I don’t even remember how she (the hairstylist) did it exactly. She would roll it on brush rollers and then I’d sit under the dryer for about an hour. Then she’d spray the devil out of it.”
Wall, now 70, said she kept the style for quite a few years, finally losing it so she could dangle a line in the water.
“My late husband liked to go fishing, and you cannot have a hairstyle like that on the river. So I cut it and went short.”
Joy Smith’s mid-’60s’ model of the beehive involved a lot of teasing by hairdresser Dale Robinson.
“Then you’d wrap, pat and spray,” said Smith, who sent in a photo of when she modeled at the Baton Rouge Symphony Ball in 1965.
“You’d wrap a silk scarf around it at night, and it would last a week,” she said.
But, for her, the style was really a more “special occasion” kind of do.
“It’s not something I wore every day,” she said.
For Sue Dillon Hilliard, however, big hair kind of came and went. As in, she only had to remove the poufy curls attached to one side of her fabulous do for it to go.
“I created that style,” said Hilliard, whose picture from about 1966 was taken just before she started Dee-Jay’s Beauty College on Government Street. “The hairpiece was on a comb to slip it in. I always loved working with hairpieces.”
With her heavily lined dark, smoky eyes and the curls and angles of her haircut, the then-23-year-old’s look could easily be copied by today’s pop music divas, like Adele, who thrive on that cat-eyed ’60s’ vibe.
“It was a high-fashion look,” said Hilliard, who went on to have a long career as a hairstylist.
“That was probably the most unusual style I ever had,” she said, adding, “but I was always cutting my own hair. After that I had a pixie cut.”
That could just be the inspiration for BRLT to do a Twiggy show.