The Bob

The Bob
by Michael Warner
Music Courtesy of Bill Edwards

airstyles 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


t 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

¾ the rage of short hair.

he 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.  

he 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.

n 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

y 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

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. 

ears 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. 

verseas, 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!

airdressers 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.

y 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

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

hingle 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.

conomic 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.

n 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

id you know?
obbed hair prompted the invention of
the bobbie pin!


Hair Memorabilia from
the 1920s

1920s Advertisement and Commonly
Used Hair Product

for Golden Glint Shampoo from

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

To Be Continued with the

Special thanks to Bill Edwards for his composition of
“Yes Sir, That’s My Baby.”  Visit Bill at

Bill Edwards

Comments are closed. Protection Status