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January 4, 2024

Photoshoot of Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson of The B52’s With Their Beehive Hairdos in 1980

Straddling the line between of New Wave and punk, The B-52’s sound is a striking mix of melodic dance bangers topped with overlapping harmonies and vocal idiosyncrasies. The same terms can be used to describe their style: it’s visually melodic, with several eras overlapping in their hairstyles, silhouettes, and accessories. And of course, it’s quirky.

The big beehive bouffant, a staple hairstyle for the band’s female members in its earlier days, gave the band its name: “B-52’s” was Athens, Georgia slang for the coveted updo—inspired by the name of a US Air Force bomber introduced in the 1950s—and was an eccentric enough term to encompass the band’s essence.

The front women, Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson, managed to hone in on a style that heavily referenced the 1950s and 1960s, combined with elements of futurism: lots of reflective materials, lots of silver, and sky-high hairstyles that resembled satellite towers. Establishing an iconic image early on worked in their favor as the band started to grow and build a fan base in the early 1970s. On stage, they celebrated an exaggerated version of femininity with a touch of drag, and a touch of Science Fiction B-movie. It wasn’t your standard nihilistic punk image, full of rage, but it was still pretty punk.

For Pierson and Wilson, this was an opportunity to experiment with different textures, patterns, and shapes. Wigs were the starting point in the band’s style, and the clothes followed the gaudiness of their hair. They became a hair band before “hair bands” were a thing. One of the standout images of their career is the cover of their debut album, The B-52’s. The band stands smack-dab in the middle of a Crayola-yellow background, with Pierson in a white blouse with mountainous, billowing ruffles, and Wilson wearing a brassy brown helmet of a wig and a Teddy Boy chic getup.

“Those were the thrift store days. Kate and I were being playful on the photo shoot, so we switched wigs,” said Wilson. “She wore the blonde one and I wore the golden-brown helmet hair. In the beginning, we weren’t really polished, but to me, those were some of the best days. We were just starting out and having fun in thrift stores. We were very playful with fashion, kind of on the arty side... We just did what we wanted. There were never any rules.”

Wigs, then and now, are an on-stage staple for the women. Towards the late 1970s, around the time of the band’s inception, women all around Athens were still sporting beehive hairstyles. Early on, the wigs started out as a joke—the band would dress up, crash parties, and guzzle free beer. But then the band’s drummer, Keith Strickland, had a waking dream that solidified The B-52’s as a band and the hairstyle as their lasting image. “He envisioned three women, all playing organs, and they all had bouffants,” said Pierson. “Someone said, ‘Who’s that?’ in his dream, and then someone said, ‘That’s The B-52’s!’”

“It was a trend in the south, those big bouffants, but it was also a way of kind of transforming a negative, militaristic bomber jets image into something beautiful and peaceful,” she continued. “That was really the inspiration when we called ourselves The B-52’s.”

Towards the end of the 1980s, upon the release of their album, Cosmic Thing, Pierson and Wilson decided to update their style so that fans could focus on the music. Whereas some bands remain fixed with a particular look, it was natural for The B-52’s to evolve into something fresh. “I still have a good time,” Wilson said. “People still really appreciate the costumes. It’s kind of nostalgic.”


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