The Bob
by Michael Warner
Music Courtesy of Bill Edwards
*

Hairstyles of the 1920s created more controversy in hair fashion than in any other period of American culture.  And one hairstyle, known simply as “the bob,” would be at the center of this great debate.  First introduced during the Great War, the bob haircut would eventually cause a revolution in the way women would wear their hair forevermore. 

It all started in 1915 with the debut of the Castle Bob, named after the celebrated ballroom dancer Irene Castle. While cutting her hair for convenience, little would she know that she would forever be associated with triggering a revolution in 20th-century hair fashion. The Castle Bob would be the first indication of things to come the rage of short hair.

The bob haircut was simply a blunt cut, level with the bottom of the ears all around the head.  It was worn either with bangs or with the hair brushed off of the forehead.  It was a simple look but a drastic departure from the long feminine looks created by Gibson and Marcel.  

The free-spirited youth of the day readily accepted the new look and made it the forerunner of many fads and fashions which eventually led to new curling, perming and coloring methods.  When a woman had her hair cut short, she grew bolder.  Soon she began wearing ‘long beads, short skirts, rolled stockings, and rough on her knees,’ an expression synonymous with the flapper.  The rebellious change in hairstyle was just the beginning of a major change in societal norms and values seen during the 1920s.

On May 1, 1920, the Saturday Evening Post published
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story "Bernice Bobs Her Hair."  This infamous tale depicts a sweet-but-dull young lady who submits to the barber’s shears and is transformed into a smooth-talking vamp by her fickle society-girl cousin.  The heroine would become a role model for many young women. 
See full text 

By 1921, following the lead of fashion designer "Coco" Chanel and actresses Clara Bow and Louise Brooks, young women everywhere took the plunge and began bobbing their hair. 


Clara Bow


Louise Brooks

As the younger generation eagerly embraced this latest fad, women of all ages would soon find themselves having to face a critical decision – to bob, or not to bob.  Many were fearful of taking the plunge only to discover that long hair would quickly be back in vogue.  In fact, professional hair publications predicted an immediate return to long hair.  However, it was difficult to ignore the continued popularity of the bob. 

Tears and smelling salts accompanied the sacrifice as shorn cascades of crowning glories tumbled to the floors of barbershops.  Men raged over the female invasion of the barbershop but at that time, the-cutting-of-hair was still a male-dominated occupation.  In some cities, long lines of women were reported standing outside barbershops while inside, many women patiently sat on floors waiting their turn to be bobbed.  In New York City, reports of up to 2,000 heads per day were being clipped. 

Overseas, it was reported that while King George took no official position to the controversy of bobbed hair, her majesty, Queen Mary, preferred  if ladies with short hair would in some way conceal that fact at court functions or royal ceremonies.  Hair additions, as depicted in this 1920s advertisement, were commonly used to conceal the shingled back.  Many women actually saved their long locks just so they could use them to conceal their new haircut!

Hairdressers were forced into accepting the bob after losing so many clients and profits to the barber.  As hairdressers became more skilled at their craft, other more sophisticated cuts were introduced.  Women eventually wore their hair bobbed in waved or shingled styles.

By 1925, the bobbed hair controversy still raged.  A teacher in Jersey City, New Jersey was actually ordered by her Board of Education to let her hair grow!  The Board claimed that women waste too much time fussing with bobbed locks.  Preachers warned parishioners that “a bobbed woman is a disgraced woman.”  Men divorced their wives over bobbed hair.  One large department store fired all employees wearing bobbed hair.

And to make matters worse, the bold and daring flapper pushed the envelope even further when she subjected herself to the shingle bob causing even more controversy.  In a letter to the editor of a professional hair publication, one parent deplored this newest version of the bob:  “From the rear, it is hard to tell a girl from a boy, since the advent of the shingle bob.”  And, “I’ve raised my girls to be women and my boys to be men, but since the advent of this shingle bob, I have to look twice at my own offspring to tell which is which.”

Shingle Bob

 

The shingle or the "boyish bob" introduced in 1923 featured hair which tapered into a V-shape at the nape of the neck with either waves or spit curls at the sides.

Bobbing-related Articles Published in the 20s

Shingle headaches -   According to a 1925 article published in a New York City paper, "some devotees of the hair-bobbed fashion are complaining of ‘shingle headaches.’ "  The  medical profession believes this is nothing  but a form of neuralgia caused by the sudden removal of hair from the tender nape of the neck, thus exposing it to the blustery winds.  In any event, a new medical term — shingle headache — was coined from the bobbed fad.

Economic Effects of Bobbing (from the Washington Post, 1925):   The bobbed hair fashion has started a new industry, or at least set its wheels to whirling much faster--the beauty industry.  Five years ago, there were 5,000 hairdressing shops in the United States; at the end of 1924 there were 21,000 established shops and several thousand transients.  These figures, be it noted, do not include those barber-shops which do a rushing business with bobbing.  Bobbing has led to the adoption of other aids to personal adornment, and the result is that beauty shops flourish everywhere throughout the land.

In time society would be more forgiving and by 1927, the shingle bob would no longer be a big controversy.  The severity of the style had been tested and women were now experimenting with softer more feminine looks to usher in the 1930s

Did you know?

Bobbed hair prompted the invention of the bobbie pin!

 

Hair Memorabilia from the 1920s

1920s Advertisement and Commonly Used Hair Product


Advertisement for Golden Glint Shampoo from 1925

Package of Golden Glint Rinse from 1920s
1920s advertisement for Colgate's Brillantine.

Advertisement from the Milwaukee Barbers' Supply Company.  Note the Valentino look in the bottom right-hand corner!

To Be Continued with the 1930s...

* Special thanks to Bill Edwards for his composition of
 "Yes Sir, That's My Baby."  Visit Bill at
 'Perfessor' Bill Edwards

 

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