When Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amélie debuted in theaters 20 years ago, we were introduced to a woman named Amélie, who, after discovering a little boy’s old box of toys in her Paris apartment, is inspired to start helping those around her. Amélie’s days are spent appreciating life’s simple delights (sinking her hand into sacks of raw beans, skipping stones, and cracking crème brûlée with a spoon) rather than the more conventional interests of a 23-year-old woman. Her world is made up of bright, rich colors and moments of magic realism, but when you look at Amélie, her haircut—a flippy, chin-length bob with short bangs—is what you first notice.
The character is played by the stunning Audrey Tatou, so it’s not difficult to be instantly captivated by her beauty. Her haircut, however, would become a standout element of the film, ingrained in the memories of fans two decades later. The playful, choppy bob perfectly complemented the character’s quirky nature. (If she had been given a more unassuming hairstyle, it may not have had as much impact.)
More recently, there has been debate about whether or not Amélie was on the autism spectrum, associating it with her sensory hypersensitivity and other characteristics, but when the film came out, they were just considered “quirks.” Regardless, Amélie’s haircut was the perfect representation of her uniqueness.
Now, well all know that a short bob with bangs isn’t exactly a groundbreaking hairstyle. Many people might have even had the haircut as a child. But it’s also not something a lot of people feel they can “pull off.” It’s a hairstyle commonly associated with “chic, French style,” so when you look at it that way, Amélie’s is not too much of a stretch. But hers is different. It's not sleek and polished like Anna Wintour’s iconic bob, nor does it have the same tousled sultriness that model Taylor LaShae’s has. Amélie’s stands out because of the way she styles it (flipped out) and the extremely short bangs.
If you’ve been alive since the ’90s, then super-short baby bangs were something you might remember seeing on punks, goths, and rockabilly women (although in recent years, they have gained the unfortunate label of “TERF bangs”). Celebrity hairstylist Cervando Maldonado, who works with clients such as Miley Cyrus, Kirsten Dunst, and Reese Witherspoon, says he’s been cutting that hairstyle on clients since then. “Amélie’s hair was a classic ’90s, grunge-girl haircut that was more popular among the alternative rock ‘n’ roll crowd,” he says. “It’s a classic haircut that evolved through the years and was something you can do to make your hair look a little edgier without having to change too much.” (It’s important to note that the movie takes place in 1997, just after Princess Diana’s tragic car accident.)
Bobs with bangs hairstyle have a vast history. The author, culture and trends expert, and former celebrity makeup artist Rachel Weingarten says that while most people tend to associate the bob with the American silent-era actress Louise Brooks, it was actually a French actress named Polaire—with her shock of wavy dark hair—who popularized the style first.
“Brooks paved the way for early feminists to bob their hair, but the style fell out of favor again until it was revived in the 1950s and 1960s during the French New Wave film era,” she says, pointing out other films that have used the fringed bob as a fundamental part of a character. “In the film Masculin Féminin, actress Chantal Goya actually uses her bobbed hair as a seduction technique at one point, no doubt a move that inspired Uma Thurman’s character in Pulp Fiction,” explains Weingarten.
According to celebrity hairstylist and beauty expert David Lopez, in the ’60s, the style became even bolder and more original with the fringe being added. “It is the epitome of what we see as ‘chic’ and timeless in Western culture,” he says. “It's a classic, bold, timeless shape that instantly invokes a sort of romanticism. I love the natural waves and how blunt it was cut. Definitely an iconic haircut.”
Weingarten also says that whether they realized it or not, people probably drew a “visual if not visceral connection” between Amélie and Audrey Hepburn, as Hepburn was one of the original pixie-cut film icons who also starred in Paris-set films. “Amélie’s hair is a cross-generational hybrid of all these influences and eras—the innocent sexuality of the 1950s meeting the dangerous glint of the 1960s and beyond, all summed up by a single, messy bob.”
Maldonado says that while he hasn’t ever had a client come in and ask for “the Amélie haircut,” he often uses it as a reference when someone wants a bob with bangs. But many fans of the film have copied her haircut on purpose, and some of them never looked back. Suzy Exposito, a 31-year-old music reporter for the L.A. Times, says she loved Amélie because she was such a whimsical but compassionate character who dedicated her time to making other lonely people feel less so. After coming back from studying abroad in Paris, Exposito decided to cut her hair like Amélie’s, herself. “My whole vibe as a teen was ‘indie-rock manic pixie dream girl,’” says Exposito. “So I went to work as a teacher’s assistant at a summer art program in Paris, got a punk boyfriend, and hacked off my hair.” She admits it was “a bitch” to grow out.
Amélie’s hair also had an impact on Sunday Mancini, a 32-year-old social media manager in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. “When you’re growing into your eventual womanhood, you have to pick a lane for your style based on the broad observations of styles around you,” explains Mancini. “I couldn’t get a tan and didn’t have boobs, so Amélie and her whole vibe of ‘quirky gamine’ really felt like the right lane for me. I can’t even remember the plot of the movie, all I can recall is her running around looking great with that little flip and all that fun fall-in-love-with-me energy.” In college, Mancini says she committed to the Amélie lifestyle and got bangs and the bob, returning to it multiple times through the years. While she says she could never achieve the bottom flip exactly right, she still has her “short little Amélie bangs,” and will never give them up.
“Amélie’s haircut is like a ghost that’s always behind you when you get a bob, inspiring you and cheering you on. It’s effortless and puts you in an immediate class of women that look like they are always about to laugh and solve a mystery,” she says, pointing out that Velma from Scooby-Doo, another bob icon, also comes to mind.
Another Amélie fan, Eidelyn Gonzales, 42, remembers being completely charmed with the movie, even watching it four times in theaters. “I thought Amélie’s hair fit her character so perfectly: independent, mischievous, hopeful,” she says. “It was so effortless but still youthful and edgy. It was everything I wanted to be at the time!” Gonzales’s hair had been long, so cutting her hair like Amélie’s was a big deal. “When I got the hairstyle, I realized that I had been hiding behind my long hair,” Gonzales admits. “It literally felt like a giant weight was lifted when I cut it, and instantly, I changed. [I became] more sure of myself, more willing to put myself out there. The bob put a lot of emphasis on my face, so I couldn’t hide anymore.”
For many like Gonzales, Amélie has been an inspiration and style icon for the past two decades. She admits that if she could only get “one hairstyle for the rest of [her] life,” it would be Amélie's bob. “I can’t deal with long hair anymore,” she says. “The hairstyle has shaped my identity and has become a part of me.”
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