Ph.D., University of Missouri
Julie Willett’s research and teaching interests are in 20th century U.S. social and cultural history with special emphasis on gender, sexuality, the body, labor, and humor. She published Permanent Waves: The Making of the America Beauty Shop, New York University Press (2000), which explores the centrality of race and labor along with the social and political role of beauty shop culture. She is also the editor of The American Beauty Industry Encyclopedia, Greenwood Press, (2010).
Her articles have appeared in The Journal of Women’s History, Sexuality and Culture, Social Research, Critical Philosophy of Race.
She has two current books-in-progress. One project examines the history of men in childcare and is tentatively entitled “Men Need Not Apply:” Masculinities, Child Care and The Nature of Women’s Work. The other looks at humor, masculinity and anti-feminist icons of the 1970s and is titled Oink! Mixed Consciousness, Humor, and the Making of the Male Chauvinist Pig.
She is a member of Texas Tech Teaching Academy and has received other teaching and research awards including the Texas Tech President’s Book Award, Texas Tech President’s Excellence in Teaching Award, and a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipend.
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.
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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.
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