A legend is with us no more: Margaret Vinci Heldt, creator of the beehive, has died at age 98.
It might seem like the beehive simply emerged from thin air, a time-slipped warning of the cultural ferment to come. Big updos weren’t new, nor was sculpted hair, but Heldt—the daughter of Sicilian immigrants to Chicago—is credited with the beehive proper. According to her obituary in the Chicago Sun-Times, she was already well-known when she created the famous look, having won the 1954 National Hairdresser of the Year Competition:
Modern Beauty Shop magazine — now Modern Salon — approached Mrs. Heldt and asked her to develop something fresh and exciting. Inspired by the shape of a favorite fez hat with some bumblebee decorations, she developed the beehive. “And just like that,” according to the history museum’s blog, “a style icon was born right here in Chicago.”
Heldt said the inspiration for the hairstyle came from a little black velvet hat, shaped like a small bump and lined inside with red lace. Heldt went downstairs to her family room one night while her family was sleeping. She put on music and started working with hair atop a mannequin head.
And Heldt revisited her process with Modern Salon in 2012:
I thought, ‘What am i going to do that hasn’t been done before?!’ So i went home, took out my mannequin, and started playing. I remembered a little hat I owned, sort of a fez, which was really popular with Jackie O., and I really loved it. I’d always thought, ‘Someday I’m going to invent a hair style that’s going to fit right under that little hat.’ Then, I realized, that’s exactly what I should do for the photo shoot!
The style quickly became the defining look of its era and retains a prominent place in the popular imagination. Even today women wear it in stylized throwback and updated red-carpet versions alike. “I had no idea back then it would still be around,” Heldt told the Chicago Sun-Times in 1991. “This is so much fun.”