Thursday, July 16, 2009

1920s Flapper Fashion: the Bob hairstyle

The ‘Bob’ is the archetypal 1920s women’s hairstyle.

If you want to pull off a classic 1920s look you simply must have a bobbed hairstyle. A short, simple cut, the hair is generally level with the bottoms of the ears or chin, and is worn straight or waved, with or without bangs.

The bob started during WWII when women who took on jobs in factories or driving ambulances cut their hair short for practicality. When famous dancing star Irene Castle lopped her hair in 1915, her huge popularity meant her new short style, which came to be knows as the ‘Castle Bob’, kicked off the bob’s emergence as a true trend of fashion rather than functionality.

Irene Castle sporting her stylish 'Castle Bob'

A first simply a blunt, short haircut, the bob symbolizes ease of maintenance and functional modernism. This was a drastic departure from the long feminine locks of the ‘Gibson Girl’, the feminine ideal of beauty at the turn of the century.
The 'Gibson Girl' look - the long, whimsical hairstyle
that preceded the flapper look, and represented the feminine ideal
of beauty that 'modern' 1920s flappers rebelled against


Younger women in the 1920s rejected the high-maintenance, physically restrictive corseted fashions of the Gibson Girl in favor of the bolder, sleeker and modern styling of what would become known as the ‘flapper’ look, which in turn reflects the zeitgeist of discarding old social conventions and embracing the new modernism.

In 1920 famous writer F. Scott Fitzgerald's published a short story titled "Bernice Bobs Her Hair" in the Saturday Evening Post, and in the early ‘20s famous fashion designer Coco Chanel and actresses Clara Bow and Louise Brooks all cut their hair short. Scores of women followed suit, and the major fashion hairstyle trend for the decade came into being.

Cover of Pictorial Review in 1925

Silent film star Louise Brooks and her famous 'helmet' style bob


A somewhat cheesy video on achieving a Louise Brooks style haircut

As hairdressers became more experienced with the bobbed style, they developed new varieties such as the Shingle Bob and the Eton Crop.

The Shingle Bob dates from 1923 and features a V-shaped wedge cut into the hair at the nape of the neck. The hair is flat and covers the ears.

Actress Gloria Swanson

From around 1926-1928 a more daring and extreme haircut came into vogue: The Eton Crop. This style featured slicked-down and short-all-over haircut that left the entire ear exposed. Brylcreem could be used to make the hair slick and shiny – this was the style worn by famous entertainer Josephine Baker.

Josephine Baker with her 'barely there' hair

While some bobs were worn with straight hair, others were waved. The prominent styles of waving were the Marcel Wave and the Fingerwave, which both have a similar look but use different methods.

The Marcel Wave utilised a hot curling iron (revolutionary at the time!) to create waves in the hair, while fingerwaving uses (you guessed it) the fingers to create S-shaped waves while the hair is still wet, and setting lotion is used to lock the wave in place.


Here's a great little demo of fingerwaving

To learn more about the Marcel Wave, fingerwaving and 1920s haircuts in more detail, visit the fantastic 1920-30.com site - you can also purchase and download inexpensive how-to instruction books for the various hairstyling techniques.

Most good hairdressers will be able to do vintage-style waves in your hair. Bring pictures with you and get a fancy 1920s wave for your next dress-up party!

Want to achieve a 1920s bobbed look without cutting off your long hair? Check out this great video tutorial:


Hairstyle photo references of 1920s silent film stars:
Mary Pickford

Lillian Gish

Gloria Swanson

Marion Davies








8 comments

Victoria said...

I love your site. I am also totally into the old styles especially the 1940's... LOVE THE TIME WHEN WOMEN WERE REALLY WOMEN.

Love that they were all ladies...

and I have a site similiar to yours called, www.beingalady.com if your interested stop by. I will be visiting your site more often.

Beaut said...

I second that,
Your site is ace :)
I adore the 1920s vintage fashion.
The womens clothing amazing, really unique and just so classy

Beaut xxx
Vintage Clothing

semiformal dresses said...

I really enjoyed reading this especially now when I'm so into vintage dresses! Thanks for sharing this information.

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Krazzi said...

I love this site!!! Thanks so much for the video of the Louis Brooks precision cut from that hair stylist.. I don't think it was "cheesy" at all! I cut my own hair to be exactly like hers and I think it's one of the best cuts I've ever had - and carefree! It is a type that almost anyone can wear which is where I will disagree with the hair stylist who mentions that you have to have strong features for this bob. But that's why it was so popular in the 20s is because almost everyone was wearing it! Now this type of bob with the straight cut bangs is called the "Geo-bob." Love it!

be yourself quotes said...

Those pics are mesmerizing. This is why I sometimes wish that I lived in those era...

Sleepwalker said...

Thank you for this excellent collection of photo's and information. I wanted to ask the hairdresser for a shingle bob and the photo's illustrated the style perfectly.

army bases in Florida said...

I am not a huge fan of this kind of haircuts but I recently saw a lady having this kind of haircut :)

Pam said...

Absolutely love your blog! Beautifully done!!

Pam