Julie Willett

Julie Willett

Associate Professor - 20th Century U.S., Labor, Gender and Sexuality, Race, Affect Studies

Ph.D., University of Missouri

Julie Willett published Permanent Waves: The Making of American Beauty Shop (New York University Press, 2000), which explores the ways in which race and gender shape the work culture and history of hairdressing throughout the twentieth century. Beauty shops became important social spaces for working-class female employment, but also crucial to community development and political activism. Willett has also recently published an article-length study of the popular images and work experiences of manicurists that pays particular attention to race and the role new immigrants have played in transforming the occupation. Currently, she is editing an encyclopedia on the beauty industry (under contract with Greenwood Press). Willett’s latest research is in another area of traditional female employment, the child care industry. This book-length manuscript looks at babysitting in private homes as well as childcare centers and traces changing notions of skill, parenting, and childhood in the latter half of the twentieth century.

Willett has enjoyed teaching at Texas Tech for over ten years. Her surveys in U.S. history trace the social, cultural, and political history of the United States and, like her research interests, focus on race, class, gender as well as histories of work and resistance. Willett teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on the history of women, youth culture, and labor. She also teaches upper-division and graduate courses on the history of sexuality. Many of these courses are cross-listed with the Women’s Studies Program and the Honor’s College. Research components in several of these courses are oral history projects that students complete in conjunction with the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library.

Published Works

Permanent Waves: The Making of the American Beauty Shop

Permanent Waves: The Making of the American Beauty Shop by Dr. Julie Willett

Throughout the twentieth century, beauty shops have been places where women could enjoy the company of other women, exchange information, and share secrets. The female equivalent of barbershops, they have been institutions vital to community formation and social change.

But while the beauty shop created community, it also reflected the racial segregation that has so profoundly shaped American society. Links between style, race, and identity were so intertwined that for much of the beauty shop's history, black and white hairdressing industries were largely separate entities with separate concerns. While African American hair-care workers embraced the chance to be independent from white control, negotiated the meanings of hair straightening, and joined in larger political struggles that challenged Jim Crow, white female hairdressers were embroiled in struggles over self-definition and opposition to their industry's emphasis on male achievement. Yet despite their differences, black and white hairdressers shared common stakes as battles were waged over issues of work, skill, and professionalism unique to women's service work.

Permanent Waves traces the development of the American beauty shop, from its largely separate racial origins, through white recognition of the "ethnic market," to the present day.

Learn more at Amazon.com.

The American Beauty Industry Encyclopedia

The American Beauty Industry Encyclopedia by Dr. Julie Willett

The American Beauty Industry Encyclopedia is the first compilation to focus exclusively on this pervasive business, covering both its diverse origins and global reach. More than 100 entries were chosen specifically to illuminate the most iconic aspects of the industry's past and present, exploring the meaning of beauty practices and products, often while making analytical use of categories such as gender, race, sexuality, and stages of the lifecycle.

Focusing primarily on the late-19th and 20th-century American beauty industry—an era of unprecedented expansion—the encyclopedia covers ancient practices and the latest trends and provides a historical examination of institutions, entrepreneurs, styles, and technological innovations. It covers, for example, the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, as well as how Asian women today are having muscle fiber removed from their calves to create a more "Western" look. Entries also explore how the industry reflects social movements and concerns that are inextricably bound to religion, feminism, the health and safety of consumers and workers, the treatment of animals, and environmental sustainability.

Learn more at Amazon.com.

Contact Information:

Email: j.willett@ttu.edu
Office: 149 Holden Hall