Nothing marks the fashion of a decade like its hairstyles. One can tell almost instantly which era has been caught in a photograph by the hairstyles worn. But there is one style that has managed to stand the test of time. The bob. It is a “classic.”
The bob was created, not so much by a stylist, but by a frenzy of political change. Women worked during WWI to help with the war effort. It was expected that the women would go back to their domestic lives when the war was over. But some women liked working and the sense of self-reliance that came with it, so they kept their jobs and continued to work.
With this new lifestyle, it became desirable to simplify. They needed simpler, less binding clothes. The clothes of the Victorian era had been made to cover the body from chin to toe. The dresses were full and the sleeves were long. The hair was worn long and flowing and then gathered up into a complicated upsweep. It would never “do” for women who were now working for a living. The fashion industry was paying close attention and planning their changes.
As women became more independent, they resented that some things were available to men that were not available to them, especially now that they were earning money just like the men. It seemed only fair that they should be allowed to vote. They needed time to relax in the evenings and started showing up in the speakeasies (dance clubs). Here they would smoke and dance and put lipstick on in public, which before would have been unheard of. The Charleston became a very popular dance and remains popular in swing circles today. With the need for fun clothes for evening and the progression toward independence came the shorter dresses. As the dresses got shorter so did the hair.
Shortly before all this took place, the fashionable way to wear one’s hair was like a Gibson Girl, worn up in big sweeps and pinned. But it is quite possible that the most famous Gibson Girl of them all is responsible for making the bobbed haircut take hold. Dancer Irene Castle, before entering the hospital for an appendectomy, cut her hair to make it easier to deal with. She was blamed for the rash of bobbing that took place across the country. This was such a controversy that couples were breaking up over it. Whether it was the haircut itself or what it represented, the bob was making changes in relationships. Poor Irene Castle took the blame for it. She is quoted as saying, “Ã¢Â?Â¦and I believe I am largely blamed for the homes wrecked and engagements broken because of clipped tresses. I do not wish to take the blame, because in a great number of cases I find the responsibility a serious one and the results a “chamber of horrors.”
These were the women who were pushing and redefining the role that women were to play. The early 1900’s saw the women’s suffrage movement. Women no longer wanted to take a back seat. They wanted to have a say in the way things were done. This attitude played itself out in clothing and fashion and the bob became a symbol of the modern 20th century woman.
But not all women looked great in a sleek bob and as the hairstyle caught on with the fashion-savvy, it was modified to fit the tastes of more women. The finger wave was a popular version of the bob hairstyle. Women would sit under hair dryers with their hair pinned to get waves throughout their bobbed hair. It was curled under at the ends and pinned and this became known as a pincurl.
During the 1930s, with the popularity of Rita Hayworth, long hair enjoyed a short comeback. But the 40s saw women once again in the workplace as the men were away at war and once again the practicality of short hair won over the vanity of long, hard-to-care-for locks.
In the 50s femininity took on a new luster. Women returned home and domestic life took the forefront. While hair remained shorter, it became more fussy. Women curled their hair into sculpted, stay-put works of ultra-feminine art.
Jacqueline Kennedy seemed to be the transitional figure from the 50s bobbed hairstyle to the 60s. She had the blunt cut of the 60s while retaining the femininity of the 50s.
With the hippie scene in the 60s with its very long, straight hair came also the beatniks. Once again the forward thinking, progressive minded women bobbed their hair in solidarity. The Beatles brought London to America and with it the popular sophisticated hairstyles. Vidal Sassoon modified the bob to complement the popular faces of the time. Twiggy, a supermodel, was very thin and had a boyish bobbed haircut. Mary Quant, a model who introduced the mini-skirt and hotpants, had an angular bob cut from Vidal Sassoon.
While the 70s saw Farrah Fawcett with her full, layered locks and Bo Derek with her hair all in corn rows, the bob still managed to make a name for itself. In 1974, Trevor Sorbie created another version of the bob. This one was called the Wedge and was made famous by a beautiful ice skater named Dorothy Hamill. American women watched her twirl and glide across the ice with the wind in her hair and then watched her bow with her hair still perfectly intact. Women everywhere wanted that haircut.
There was a hair explosion in the 80s. Or at least it looked like one. Big hair was the thing to have. Designing Women, a television show about four successful Southern interior designers, portrayed all four women with very full hair with lots of hair product in it. Bananarama, a popular girl band of the 80s exemplified the “big hair” look.
The 90s saw a shortened, layered bob. The layers were blown dry toward the face in a cut reminiscent of the pixie. Although the band, Wilson Phillips, was breaking up in the early 90s, it wasn’t before Chynna Phillips had a big impact on hair fashion with her short layered pixie look.
Women got tired of moussing and spraying and backcombing. The 90s saw hair settling down. Jennifer Aniston started a new hair craze with her angled sides layered to a long, smooth back. Women who didn’t have the straight hair to pull it off started to use straightening rods as skillfully as the women of the 80s used curling irons.
Now it is the 21st century and we are half way through the first decade of it. It seems we should be seeing the creation of a hairstyle that defines us. Perhaps we are. The styles shown on television and in magazines seem to be simple styles. Straight hair twisted and caught up in a clip at the nape with a little side-sweep of bangs falling across the forehead. And of course, the ever resilient bob. We have chopped it, frizzed it, angled it and layered it. We’ve grown it out and cut it back. We have given it bangs and taken them away. But the bob is still here and still going strong. Even the long blond tresses of one of today’s hottest young stars, Jessica Simpson, have been lopped off in favor of a more mature shoulder length bob.
I wonder if Irene Castle would be surprised today to see that the bob is still going strong and that she still gets the credit (or blame) for it?