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We’ll have a longer review of the newest feature film version of Little Women (2019) soon, but in the meantime, I’ve got something I need to get off my chest: THE HAIR. Specifically, THE BANGS. Even more specifically: LAURA DERN’S 1980S MOM HAIR. WHAAAAAAATTTT THE FUUUUUUCKKKKK?
Little Women is based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott. This version was directed by Greta Gerwig and stars Saorsie Ronan as Jo, Emma Watson as Meg, Laura Dern as Marmee, and Meryl Streep as Aunt March. There were some things I liked about the film (I was okay with the flashback/flash forward, although the people I saw it with, who weren’t Little Women buffs, found it confusing; I also found the ending interesting, although not quite as revolutionary as reviewers seem to think) and things that bugged me (the sad lack of hats/bonnets). But y’all know me — nothing bugged me more than THE HAIR.
In general, you’d expect me to be bugged by the beachy waves and stray tendrils waving in the breeze. And I was:
But the bangs, people. THE BANGS. I’ve ranted about them before, and I’m going to rant about them again.
Sure, the filmmakers went with the time-honored and totally-tired technique of giving actress Florence Pugh as Amy chunky, straight-across bangs to make her look “young” when she’s playing younger Amy:
Okay, so short “bangs” or “fringe” as a part of women’s hairstyles WAS fashionable in the LATE 1860s. Maybe Amy is psychic and anticipates the fashion trends of five years out? Yes yes she’s “young,” although a review of the fabulous collection of real average people (in this case Canadians) in the Notman Photographic Archive at the McCord Museum shows absolutely zip in terms of young girls wearing any kind of bangs:
But, you know, I found this example of a girl from 1868 (three years AFTER the Civil War, but whatever) with Amy-style bangs. So I don’t like it, but I’m allowing it.
What REALLY got on my nerves was Emma Watson as Meg with her side part and side-swept bangs:
But what ABSOLUTELY KILLED ME was Laura Dern as Marmee with her side part and waved bangs. First, Laura Dern was no Marmee (when she said “Just call me Mother, or Marmee. Everyone does!” I threw up in my mouth a little). Secondly, THIS IS SUCH A MODERN MOM HAIRSTYLE I CAN’T EVEN IN WHAT WORLD IS THIS 1860S OH MY GOD I MAY NEED TO BITE SOMETHING HARD
UNLESS MARMEE JUST CUT HER HAIR FOR CHARITY THERE WOULD BE NO REASON FOR HER TO HAVE SHORT LAYERED SIDE-PARTED PIECES. Can you imagine JUST HOW ANNOYING it would be to try to style that Laura Dern hair into something like this?
And, fun times, all of this was ON PURPOSE, naturally. Hair department head Fríða Aradóttir (Water for Elephants, Iron-Jawed Angels, Dirty Dancing) has been quoted in a number of publications as saying:
“[Director] Greta [Gerwig], early on in our conversations, suggested that this family and these girls and women were possibly the original hippies. The hair was always meant to be a little less structured than you see in a lot of period movies. I find that more relatable than coiffures, which are so distinct and untouchable” (The Hair and Makeup in Little Women).
I could accept this interpretation — the March family as hippies — except for the fact that there are ACTUAL EXAMPLES OF HIPPY EQUIVALENTS FROM THE 19TH CENTURY THAT YOU COULD HAVE USED FOR INSPIRATION, and their hair looks NOTHING LIKE 1980S MOM HAIR:
So to Fríða Aradóttir, Greta Gerwig, and anyone else involved in the choices behind Emma Watson and Laura Dern’s hair in Little Women, I say:
Need to bitch about the new Little Women? The comments (and we) are here for you!
Loved the story, hated the hair and costumes for the most part. I think I spotted evidence of zippers at the fancy party Meg goes to. I wish that people would realize that when you don’t stick believably within the period, you don’t just evade looking dated—you just look dated to the wrong period in a few years. Of course there’s a benefit from so many movies creating a terribly inaccurate impression, but still. It’s rather like when there’s a hymn or setting at church and it’s obvious to me what the popular tv show was at the time of writing.
I can’t bring myself to pay to watch this in the theater cause i know i will just be so angry at the hair!
The hair, it bangeth on.
I was already quite unenthusiastic about this film, and having now seen that wedding photo, I think I’ve seen everything I need in order to definitely pass. It’s not even nicely styled loose hair, it’s more “oh I forgot I have hair”. Cringe.
PS: Missie Mary Frothingham is the most glorious of names. If I ever need to change my name, I know what the new one is going to be :D
The minute I heard “We made Professor Friedrich Bhaer into a French pretty boy” I was out.
BUT HE WAS SO DREAMY
I was totally okay with Jo ending up with that version of Professor Bhaer.
I cannot handle pretty boys. Zero respect for them. (What instead? I spent an hour and forty minutes watching fiftysomething Mads Mikkelsen do survival stuff in the Arctic with almost no dialogue and one other character who actually has no dialogue and I found it entertaining.)
Yes I come back a year later for pure snark purposes.
More like “I spent lots of time on my hair to make it look like I forgot I have hair.”
It was a good movie,the costumes and hair not so much.The costumes had a lot of inaccuracies,but atleast the inaccuracies made them…quirky in a stupid way than just boring mid century fashion.The second route would have been worse for me.The hair though,nothing explains the vision of the stylist.Not accurate in the least bit,nor very pretty even in a modern sense.Leave aside prettiness,it is neither too make-upy styled nor too messy to convey “middle class”ness.
Still,I liked the storyline.The feminism was strong but not in an irritating way like many faux feminist productions.The acting was superb,with the exception of the Emma Watson as Meg.She added nothing to the movie,and failed to convey her elegance.
I read little women when I was very young,and the book feels less like a period piece to me and more of a coming of age novel for kids.Maybe that’s why I overlooked the atrocious hair and questionable costumes.But I don’t understand,for all its strong script and brilliant acting and a very fresh feel,WHAT WAS THE ACADEMY THINKING WHEN THEY NOMINATED THIS FOR THE BEST COSTUME DESIGN?
Well put. As for costume design nomination, my guess is that it’s focused more from an artistic and construction point of view than accuracy. At any rate, wasn’t MQoS nominated last year? Those were so obviously ridiculous, but probably a lot of work to actually make, so the designer gets credited for that and they disregard the history. shrug
Re ‘original hippies’:
Bronson Alcott, Louisa May’s dad, was one of the original Transcendentalists with Emerson, Thoreau et al. So… it’s not actually that far off of a notion; the Alcott family actually formed a (short-lived) commune with some other like-minded folks for some time. I have no doubt some of these intriguing notions rubbed off on Louisa May. That said, yeah, I don’t really see any reason to think they would’ve been as distinctively different from their contemporaries as this film depicts.
Well, with ONE guy, they decided to start their vegan farming operation in Massachusetts in November with no one who had any grasp of farming, and it quickly reached a point, both because they were sick and starving and because of some very uncomfortable aspects of Charles Lane’s beliefs, particularly about marriage, Mrs. Alcott put her foot down, said she wasn’t living in an open marriage or keeping her daughters under Lane’s control (never mind starving) and Bronson could stay or go but she was packing up and leaving. They were pretty filthy conditions and reading between the lines Lane had some disturbing sexual ideas and Bronson was WAY too enthralled by him. (Bronson had a nasty habit of putting his “principles”, some of which were good, some of which were off the wall wackadoodle, ahead of things like the basic subsistence-level welfare of his family.)
If they were really going to accurate depict the Alcotts rather than the Marches, they’d be poor, living at times off the largess of the very wealthy Ralph Waldo Emerson (not only did he command more speaking fees than the rest of the Concord authors combined, when his first wife, who came from wealth, died, he sued her family over her money and won), Lizzie would be a miserable person who did not die in saintly, graceful way, Lousia would be chronically ill (probably mercury poisoning from the medicines used when she got critical ill nursing in a Civil War hospital) and working at some pretty miserable servant jobs, Bronson would be constantly broke, May would have artistic ambitions but a mediocre ability at the very best (she got absolutely savaged by critics when she illustrated an edition of Little Women,) and pretty much everyone dies suffering.
Excerpted from the “Tour I Would Give The Day I No Longer Cared If They Fired Me” for the Concord Museum and if it sounds like 99% of the Concord Authors make me roll my eyes so hard you can hear them, you’re right. The only one who seemed like he’d be halfway decent to know is Dark Romantic Nathaniel Hawthorne because you can practically hear HIM rolling his eyes at what was going on around him at times, too. Also anyone who wrote “Rappaccini’s Daughter” is okay in my book.
You forgot Bronson’s ban on root vegetables, using manure for fertilizer, wool, etc… I’m not surprised the Fruitlands collapsed.
Bronson disgusts me. Louisa had MAJOR Daddy issues, unsurprisingly. Mr. March is such an elusive figure in the books because thinking to hard about Daddy and how his ideals had missed up their lives upset Louisa too much to write. She’d have been a happier, healthier woman if she’d been able to admit to herself that though she loved and admired her father she was also deeply angry with him for all the garbage he’d put his family through.
I agree with all the above comments. I get upset just thinking about Bronson Alcott and what he put his wife and girls through. Still, their 19th-century version of hippy-dippydom does not excuse the side parts and Meg’s godawful “elegant” party dress.
Oh goodness, me too. When I was young I was sad that Louisa did not get married and died without children, but as an adult I read about her family, I thought Hell to the F— no, I wouldn’t ever get married either!
Some biographers say Louisa was in love with Thoreau. Mercifully he wasn’t interested in her. Can you imagine what a miserable husband he’d have made?
wow. Thanks everyone for the fascinating hidden history! they left this out when my primary school class visited the Alcott house museum. :-)
Suggested reading: “Louisa on the Front Lines: Louisa May Alcott in the Civil War.” Lots of good info on the Alcotts. Bronson never made any real money on his lectures until Louisa became famous and he rode in on her petticoats.
I think the reason I like the 1994 version is that it seemed true to the story. The girls didn’t wear hoop skirts. Mainly because their mom didn’t believe in corsets, so why on Earth would she have her daughters wearing hoops (or could they even afford them/have the materials to make their own)? When I saw those in the trailer, I knew this was going to be horrible. The hair alone (which only Amy and Jo could get away with being down) was enough for me to scream.
I´m usually very upset about the lack of corsets, but then, I remember how Meg wore her first corset in the Mofat´s party, and that US was at war. There was any kind of rationing, as it was during WWi and WWII? That way I could accept the lack of propper underwear (althought surely they could be wearing any kind of stays?)
Their mother didn’t believe in corsets? That would be like not wearing bras in the 20th century.
Judging by the commercials the hair is bad and the modern ‘woke’ feminism worse. Little Women is feminist but it’s a 19th c. kind of feminism radical for the day but so not by modern standards.
I like stories about historical women dealing with the limitations placed on them by their society but achieving agency and control of their lives none the less.
I was concerned about it being too modern, too, but it was a much lighter and more nuanced touch on those issues than I had expected. 100% agree with your point about dealing with the limitations that existed.
‘To bang or not to bang? Whether it is noblier to side part ….’
I’m trying hard not to gnash my teeth and scream at the director. I don’t care how ‘up to date’ and feminists this was suppose to be. Poor shoddy research and design makes me cringe and I want to throw things, which is my reaction to PFG novels.
The hair conveys sort of bad interpretation of women of loose virtues.
They cast should have gone to Victorian Boot Camp.
So. Much. Yes. I could kinda sorta squint my eyes and whistle past all the other issues you mentioned, but Marmee looking like Stacy’s Mom with a minivan? Oh HELLZ no.
Shouldn’t Marmee be wearing caps?
Like every other reader I was disappointed that Laurie and Jo didn’t get together, but as I got older I realized that Jo was absolutely right. She and Laurie are the best of friends but their backgrounds are quite different as are their ideas of a desirable life. Laurie isn’t self aware enough to realize he has expectations Jo cannot and will not meet but she is.
Gerwig and her team took a lot of inspiration from the photography of Julia Margaret Cameron, who was a contemporary of Alcott, as well as from the Pre-Raphaelite movement. In regard to Amy’s bangs, they did in fact, exist in the 1860s. See Charles Dodgson’s 1860 photograph of Alice Liddell, who sports bangs much like Amy has in the film.
The problem is, that picture was supposed to be alegorical, right? There are other pictures of Julia Margaret Cameron in “normal” attire, and she had her hair pulled up and covered by a hat/bonnet. Nearly all the pictures I managed to saw of her were from her study, and (in my opinion) they were as realistic as the depiction of Afrodite been born from the sea.
It would be the same as looking at that meat dress lady Gaga wore at the MTV Video Music Awards, and saying, hey, that was the fashion in 2010!
yes the hair is horrible, but I absolutely need to point out somethin’, guys: EMMA WATSON IS WEARING A CORSET!
Or at least what looks to be a very boned bodice. OMG THE PATRIARCHY GOT HER, HOW DID SHE SURVIVE?!!?
haha, I clocked that too! she’s also like 30 now… I felt like when I hit that I suddenly realized how silly my need to Make Statements was. Maybe she has too? Although she still has given us “self-partnered” as nonsense. I mean, I get she’s probably hounded about her relationship status, but “self-partnered” a) makes no sense as a word or concept; and b) seems to me like the answer of someone who still deep down feels like she has to justify not being with someone.
Well, she was not the main star in this film, and cannot bend the dressing department around her wishes.
On 2 separate recent occasions, the friends who had seen this movie were raving about it. I have not, so this is a little like dissing a recipe before I have tried it, however, the clips I have heard feature modern dialogue, feminist concepts, and accents. This lack of verisimilitude ticks me off as much as bad hair and costume. After your post here, I am feeling more reluctant than ever to see it.
Yep. Saw it last weekend, liked a lot of things about it, but OMG THE HAIR. They would have COMBED THEIR HAIR, people. And pinned it up so that it STAYED up.
I loved the movie, I laughed, I cried, I’ve been to see it twice already. I think it was well done writing and plot and acting wise. I’ll definitely buy it and put it on when I’m sewing.
I did not love the terrible choices made in costuming and hair. Whyyyyy?! Meg’s hair down at her wedding gave me a brain spasm. The only way I could semi survive it was that the movie followed its own internal logic, even if it was wacky, like, “flashbacks = all girls with hair down, current time period = hair up”. It was aiming so hard at relatable that it just didn’t even make an attempted nod to period styles.
Exactly my reaction. I loved the film, saw it twice! All the “woke” feminist lines that weren’t directly from the book were from other works by Alcott. Amy’s speech to Laurie about marriage being an economic proposition and women not even having rights to their own children rang true to me, as a big fan of Anne Bronte’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall.
Jo’s flyaway hair, while not period appropriate, fits the internal logic of the film. But Meg’s wedding, and especially the awful pink dress?!?!!?! WTH?
Remember, the majority of Oscar voters are middle-aged men who know nothing about historical styles. Hence the costume nomination. I support any nominations (Saoirse, and especially Florence!!), EXCEPT costuming.
Well put both of you. The nominations for Oscars are come only from costume members of the academy. My guess is they see a lot of hard work to do anything historical and that’s why historical dramas often get nominated. But then it has to be voted on by everyone to get the win. Maybe sometimes the middle aged male vote works for us… I can’t imagine any of them were entranced by MQoS last year.
What about the scene in which Jo and Meg went to the theater with braids????? And no bonnet, of course
I had a serious problem with the hair as well, particularly Marmee’s hair, which I agree was way too contemporary for the period. Meg’s wedding bugged me as well, she would probably have been wearing her best dress, not a wedding gown, and her hair most definitely would be up.
In the book, Meg sews her own wedding gown (it’s not described, but other Victorian wedding traditions like orange blossoms, silk, and lace are mentioned as things that Meg rejects). But her hair definitely should have been up! I loved the movie for what it was, but could not engage with the hair or costumes at all.
There’s also a line about the sisters braiding Meg’s hair up for her wedding :(
And that she wears lily of the valley flowers, as they’re John Brooks’ favourites.
Yeah, the wedding was like, what? Very on point for the 70s does Old West vibe some of the awards shows had last year though? One tidbit I remember from visiting the Alcott house as a kid was that the sister who corresponded to Meg married in a silver dress, as she was nearly at 30 and thought herself a bit too old for some of the more youthful trends.
Wow, silver is a beautiful color, specially for a dress that can be used as evening dress
Furthermore…I really dislike movies that style and costume their characters in a completely different fashion from their source material. Jo is not a blond (nor was LMA); both the real woman and her avatar had beautiful chestnut, dark hair.
Aunt March is not a single woman; she is a widow who treasures her wedding jewels.
In the book, the two dresses that Meg wears to “Vanity Fair” are the shabby white tarlaton and the borrowed blue silk. (That pink dress is a real mess and looks ridiculous on Watson, who is a grown woman; Meg was barely 16 at that point in the book).
At Meg’s wedding, her sisters wear “suits of silvery grey”.
None of the sisters look as I would picture them: Meg should be a “beauty”, which by the standards of the day would mean big eyes, a straight nose, a rosebud mouth and a soft jaw and chin. Emma Watson is too angular and tomboyish looking by far. Amy is a “real snow maiden” and should be very fair. Beth becomes very ill with a failing heart…she should frail.
The one thing that looked accurate to me were the prints on the fabrics, which did seem period appropriate.
There! Was that enough snark for everyone? I feel better now…
Yeah, the movie was pleasant enough but the best, the only Jo was Katharine Hepburn. I agree, the hairstyles were All Wrong.
I really enjoyed the film, but I agree that Susan Sarandon was a far stronger Marmee than Dern–Dern says she feels angry all the time, but I only BELIEVE it when Sarandon (and Watson from the PBS miniseries) says it. It’s striking how much the photo of Jan Morris in your article looks like Winona Ryder in the 90s version. Off to read the Frock Flicks posts on the earlier version now!
Sarandon was a great Marmee. Women around me in the theatre were weeping when she spoke so passionately about learning from mistakes; I think we all missed our own mothers at that moment. A pity about Ryder: far too petite and pretty for as rambunctious a presence as Jo–but Gabriel Byrne! If you’re going to make Professor Bhaer cute, make him Gabriel-Byrne-cute.
Emily Watson in the miniseries was my favorite Marmee. So good.
Dern didn’t have the right Marmee vibe to me.
Admittedly, I am like, “Emily Watson should play all the things! All of them!” I would watch her as Hamlet. She’s just one of those actresses who is completely believable in everything she does and has such an interesting, intelligent presence.
Can we please have an adaptation of Hospital Sketches or other Alcott book? Pretty please?
no, apparently we can only do That One Title From What Was That Woman Author Again approximately 1,000,000 times. (I feel you.)
I loved this adaptation but agree the hair was atrocious. I know why they went with it, though — because it was literally the only way to show the difference between past and present via the flashbacks. (Re: hair always down and messy vs. always up-ish.) There’s really no excuse for the bangs though. :P
“…the hair was always meant to be a little less structured than you see in a lot of period movies.” Um, has she seen other period movies? This didn’t look like an artistic choice; this looked like the same bad I’ve seen a gazillion times.
I mean, if someone wants to give Little Women the Marie Antoinette treatment, I’m there. But this ain’t it.
“if someone wants to give Little Women the Marie Antoinette treatment, I’m there”
The candy colored ball gowns. Horrid!
I loved the knitwear, and kind of accepted Jo’s hair being the way it was (text says that it was impossible to keep under control with anything less than 19 hairpins). But oh. I have been wearing a center part all week in Snark Week solidarity.
I have hair the same length and I use less than 10 to put my hair up. I also have naturally wavy hair–almost the ubiquitous beachy wave.
💯👏🏻👊🏻 this is exactly how I feel about wonky clothing and hairstyles, FFS there’s actual photos out there, this is not hard.
My first and most important complain is Jo´s hair color. It has so important for her character to be brunette! Specially when she was desperate to sell her “one true beauty” and it wasn´t enough because her hair was not fashionable! That moment was so sad.
If they so not have enough integrity to get simple things like hair and costume accurate, then I do not trust their integrity regarding other aspects of the portrayal of the novel.
That’s a very good point! Is there a correlation between historical accuracy and costume accuracy? The reviews her strongly inly YES!
That’s ‘the reviews here strongly imply YES’
Every generation has a version of little women. This version is for millennial women who like beachy waves and Instagram style. It’s obvious the author and everyone in this comments section are not the target audience of the film’s aesthetic choices??
Appreciate the time and effort the director put into developing the characters and their relationships with each other! Then go watch the 1994 version to calm yourself down 😂
“Every generation has a version of little women…” Very likely true. Even so, I think the beachy waves, etc., a miscalculation on the director’s/designers’ part. Forgive the anecdotalism, but my millennial daughter and her arty high school friends adored the 1995 “Pride and Prejudice,” their favorite series for binge watching. They weren’t at all put off by accurate styles; it was the characters and the story that mattered. (And Mr. Firth.)
Honestly, Emma Watson always seems to wear or have to hair styled whatever way she wants regardless of what the movie actually calls for. Case in point – Beauty and the Beast and her atrocious dresses (all three of them…)
Florence Pugh is great! Did you review her first movie «the young lady»? I remember beautiful handmade embroidery and a cashmere shawl in that one..
Well, bangs aside, I have a MAJOR issue with the fact that American director Greta Gerwig couldn’t see fit to cast a single young American actress in her retelling of a classic American novel. Shameful.
Judging you, Little Women!
God, that pink dress. She was supposed to have borrowed a dress from a fashionable young lady, not a prostitute!
To be honest,mid century fashion wasn’t boring,but Hollywood doesn’t do any research and just rents butter churney stuff which gets tiring.I mentioned both these routes that are much overtrodden,but again Piero Tosi created such stunning pieces in his career that would outshine the beauty of even extant garments.I didn’t want to seen boring mid century fashion,but clothes that made sense from a character point of view.Simplicity,poverty and good fashion sense can be intersectional,which the movie failed to grasp(it had no idea of ageing fabrics)and the nomination itself was a blunder(clearly they wanted to just give away an award to cover up for the blunder of denying well deserved nominations to Gerwig).They even failed to fit the bodices over corsets,which in themselves were not so disastrous as the lazy awarding.
I finally saw “Little Women” on HULU. Frankly, I thought it was a mess. Unlike the writer of this article, I didn’t even like the nonlinear narrative style that Greta Gerwig used for this film. All she did was sent the plot spiraling all over the damn place. I’ve seen other productions using a nonlinear narrative – including two versions of “Jane Eyre”. They were nothing like this film. In fact, they were better handled than in this film.
As for the costumes and hairstyles . . . ugh! The less said, the better.
Geeh! When i knew this thing Won the Academy award for best costume design i remembered this post immediatly wanna JUstice Done do you think it deserved????