Between classic sports cars and go-go boots, there’s a lot of eye candy in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. But Quentin Tarantino’s love letter to the L.A. of his youth also perfectly encapsulates an incredibly polarizing time in American history, when the '50s and its mainstream values started to give way to a youth-led counterculture.
This tension is embodied, in part, by relative old-timer Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), an actor who has built a rugged onscreen image but is made utterly fragile by the threat of the new guard. He sheds tears over his fading relevance, seems unnerved at the sight of hippies, and is scared to retire his trademark pompadour. Meanwhile, Margot Robbie floats through the film as the fearless Sharon Tate, with confidence and ease to spare. Sharon dances like no one’s watching while on Pan Am planes and at the Playboy mansion, picks up hitchhikers, and self-advocates for recognition (and a free movie ticket) at a theater playing her film.
“She wasn’t terrified of being a modern woman at all,” says the film’s hair department head, Janine Thompson. The same can be said of the girls of the Manson Family who run Spahn Ranch and flex their confidence with a dusted-up look that says they want no part of traditional beauty standards. Sure, the film is a buddy movie between Rick and his sidekick, Cliff (Brad Pitt). But it’s also a sharp look at old-school American culture (represented by Rich and his ilk) being made passé by a new wave of thinkers, dreamers, and fighters (as shown by Sharon and the Manson girls). If anything, the film shows the future is female—and much of it is reinforced through beauty looks.
To get in on the hair and makeup secrets behind 1969 Los Angeles’s sun-drenched sea change, Glamour talked with Thompson and the film’s makeup department head, Heba Thorisdottir. Read on to see how characters' hairstyle and makeup choices help enunciate the clash between mainstream American culture that felt stuck in the '50s (embodied by Rick) and a rising counterculture that presents Shaorn and the Manson Family girls as the society’s next influencers.
Sharon Tate’s New-School Beauty
“Sharon was very fashion-forward,” says Thorisdottir. “In 1969, because of her pregnancy and because she had spent a lot of time in England, she was moving toward what we think of as new bohemian.” Sure, her hippie-leaning look is a stark contrast to the buttoned-up Old Hollywood stars, but even more, it’s the new technology it required that shows how progressive the actress really was.
Take her bouncy blowout, which looks perfectly in step with a more modern style. “Jay Sebring [a stylist who is depicted in the film as a friend of Sharon’s] had just started being in the forefront of bringing blow-dryers into the United States," Thompson says. "There were some people using them in some salons, but it was definitely not a household item yet.”
Then there’s her iconic makeup. Any fan of Sharon Tate knows major lashes were her thing. But Thorisdottir didn’t want over-the-top falsies to steal from Sharon's natural vibe. “We wanted to show the real Sharon,” she says. “Sharon’s sister, Deborah Tate, was a resource for us, and so giving and generous in providing information. When Sharon was on her own at home, she wasn’t made up—she was naturally, totally confident in who she was. When she goes out to the Playboy mansion, she has the more iconic look.”
To create Robbie’s signature makeup for the role of Sharon, Thorisdottir had the actress use Talika Lipocils Eyelash Beauty Treatment before and during the shoot to boost her natural lashes, then applied Cherry Red Lashes in Valley of the Dolls to play up her eyes for the party scene. She then took a classic Greta Garbo look makeup artist Ben Nye had tweaked for Tate for the film Valley of the Dolls and softened it to better match the aesthetic of Tarantino’s laid-back L.A. When day-tripping to Westwood in the film, Sharon wears hazy, neutral shadows from the Viseart Eyeshadow SlimPro Palette: 01 Neutral Mattes, with a floating stroke of shadow nestled into the crease. “In the '60s they called it the banana. She loved that look and wore it often—and made it her own.” The look doesn’t just make Sharon's eyes seem more deep set; it personifies Tate’s position in the culture, hovering between glamorous Hollywood star and new-school hippie.
Rick Dalton’s ‘50s Mainstay
Rick’s character firmly represents the waning of mainstream culture and Hollywood’s old guard in the film. He clings to his slick, ‘50s-era pompadour as part of that identity—going so far as to push back when a film director suggests he sport a different style for a role. (Not to mention the ice bath he dunks his face in to try to depuff, which nods to his larger insecurities.)
“We were walking such a fine line because it was specifically about Los Angeles," Thompson says. "L.A. was really different from other parts of the country because even the most coiffed people there were always a little looser, a little lighter, and a little more beach- and pool-driven for hair. Sometimes [the look of coming from the pool] wasn’t real, but people wanted the perception, at least, that their hair was natural and carefree."
To show the difference between Old Hollywood and New Hollywood, mainstream culture and counterculture in the film, Thompson says, it was more about finding the right finish than sticking to the short-versus-long-hair trope. “The men were coming from ’50s short haircuts and using shiny products, like Brylcreem, so we did a lot of wet look on the old-school Hollywood men, using more modern products,” she says.
Cliff Booth’s Zeitgeist-Straddling Style
As a stunt man for Dalton, Brad Pitt’s Cliff also sees his career fading (it’s tied to Dalton’s, after all). But Cliff is a guy who does more than play tough on TV. He drives like Bond, fights like Rambo, and fixes rooftop antennas in a single bound. He seems far more secure than Dalton in who he is. He’s also more prepared to ease into underground values: Cliff is down to wear moccasins and puff on an LSD-dipped cigarette. (Dalton, not so much.) Unlike Dalton’s, Cliff’s hairstyle is less slick, less antiquated (something that lets him slip between the worlds of Old Hollywood and the Manson Family ranch). Cliff isn’t styling his hair before leaving his Airstream in the morning. Instead, he lets it dry while whipping down the 101 in a convertible.
“We made it look like he had just stepped out of the Karmann Ghia every single time we see him," Thompson says. "We would use Leonor Greyl Serum de Soie Sublimateur or Leonor Greyl Eclat Naturel because it didn’t make his hair look wet, but kept it piecey looking. Then we’d put all these flips in his hair to make it look like he had done nothing but drive up and down this dirty freeway. Phyto Phytomist Color Protect Radiance Mist was another big one because we could use it all day and he loved the clean scent. So we put a lot of work into hair looking like it was just styled by nature.”
The Manson Family Girls’ No-Maintenance Rebellion
While natural makeup and a blowout were the perfect combination for Robbie’s laid-back, optimistic Sharon, the twisted hippies of the Manson Family fully embraced a no-maintenance look. "Those Manson girls were 14, 15, and 17 years old. They were children, and they were able to become one of the most terrifying things on the planet," says Thompson. "These girls, all they care about is Charlie. We were using buckets of generic jojoba oil on the Manson Family actors to get greasy hair that looked like it hadn’t been washed."
Once in the makeup trailer, the Manson actors were mucked up with the help of a dirt wash created with oil and actual dirt in the same shades as those found on Spahn Ranch. At the end of the day, Thorisdottir relied on Emma Hardie Moringa Cleansing Balm to cleanse actors' skin. According to Thorisdottir and Thompson, the Manson family members did have a water source in which to bathe while living on SoCal’s Spahn Ranch, but soap—or a thorough scrub-down or shaving of any kind—wasn’t considered much of a priority.
"Our first email out to all the Manson Family members was, ‘Please stop plucking your eyebrows, shaving your legs and your armpits,’” says Thorisdottir.
Adds Thompson: “Many were horrified." But Margaret Qualley (who plays Pussycat) took it like a pro. The glam team confirms the actor's underarm hair was all hers. As Pussycat stretches her arms overhead while trying to seduce Cliff in a car or flips off a cop in a halter top, her armpit hair becomes another weapon to both lure and fight the establishment.
Pussycat’s Easygoing Waves
“In the late ’60s, hippies were walking all over the streets of L.A. because there wasn’t as much political clash like in San Francisco,” says Thompson. “There were hippies everywhere influencing people without them even realizing it.”
When it comes to Pussycat—who hitchhikes and Dumpster-dives her way around greater L.A. with her hair in waves—it’s easy to see how a style like hers became a template for the looks of the '70s (even if styling was the last thing on Pussycat’s mind). As a righteous disruptor, she was consumed with bringing chaos to order, complete with untamed hair.
While Thompson used a curling iron to create definition, she deliberately left a little bit of frizz. “A first reaction when you see frizz is to add moisture and get rid of it. But these girls would never put anything in their hair,” she says.
Her fix? Tapping products that look invisible when you put them in (the same trifecta of products used for Cliff). From there, a hands-off approach was required. “Margaret was forbidden to use brushes the entire time we were filming, and she couldn't use any hair ties in it either—she had to just twist it away and off her neck in 114-degree heat, as if she didn’t have a rubber band,” says Thompson.
The film ends with a glimmer of hope; Sharon and her connections may just be the thing that revives Rick’s career—and not coincidentally, his once shiny hairdo has softened at this point. Although the conflict between old-fashioned and progressive ideas is far from over, it looks as if The Man’s death grip on American culture may be relaxing a wee bit, with more inclusivity and free expression coming on the horizon. Suddenly, Tarantino’s 1969 Los Angeles doesn’t feel all that different from today.
Erika Stalder is a beauty writer in Los Angeles. Follow her on Instagram @erikaxstalder..
Originally Appeared on Glamour