Can a hairstyle impact history? No other hairstyle in modern times has caused more controversy than the bob. When popular ballroom-dancer Irene Castle bobbed her hair in 1914, she started something that wasn’t merely a whim of fashion–she started a social revolution.
According to John E. Andrus, a New York capitalist, “All girl transgressors of the law have bobbed hair.” He wasn’t alone in his opinion of bobbed haired women. Amos T. Acker, Superintendent of the Bedford State Reformatory for Women in New York stated, “… bobbed haired girls have a mental screw loose.”
Andrus and Acker weren’t alone in their condemnation of women with bobbed hair. Women with bobs were immoral. They smoked, drank, and attended petting parties. Their parents disowned them; they were excommunicated in Guadalajara, Mexico; their husbands divorced them, and their employers often fired them.
What was it about the modest little ‘do that set feminine hearts racing and sent men running for cover?
Foremost, women embraced the ease of short hair. Previous hairstyles were intricate confections relying on multitudes of hairpins and other paraphernalia to maintain their shape. The bob became a way for women from all walks of life to thumb their noses at convention; and it was another highly visible step, along with “powder and paint” (commercial cosmetics), towards emancipation.
Men feared that bobbed hair represented a dramatic and fundamental shift in women’s attitudes and roles, and it made them uncomfortable. After all, if women could chop off their “crowning glory” and not look back, what else might they be capable of doing?
The turbulent years from the mid-1910s until the stock market crashed in 1929 provided the ideal climate for political and social change. Any hairstyle that could become editorials, sermons, cartoons, and literature during that time bears investigation. Drawing from a variety of sources we’ll trace the timeline of bobbed hair in the 20th century and affirm its place in the framework of history.
What could a world class tennis player, a murderous housewife, a female evangelist, and a Hollywood star possibly have in common? Bobbed hair!
Besides reflecting upon the broader impact of the bob we’ll examine the lives of several famous, and infamous, women who sported the provocative cropped hairdo–because whether the women behaved well, or bad, at least they looked chic!
Writer, social historian, and true crime expert Joan Renner is the author of The First with the latest: Aggie Underwood, the Los Angeles Herald, and the Sordid Crimes of a City. The book was selected by LA Weekly as one of the top ten true crimes...