Although dominated by the bob cut — basically, women wearing short hair instead of the traditional long tresses — as you can see in the vintage 1920s hairstyles shown below, there were lots of different ways to style a bob.
Cultivation of beauty a booming business (1924)
From the Herald and Review (Decatur, Illinois) November 30, 1924
Shiny noses and straggly hair have become things of the past as women have come to regard the care of the hair and the skin as the business of being beautiful.
From home remedies used secretly out of the kitchen 25 years ago, then regarded as wicked and a sign of extravagance, the cultivation of beauty has become a business that has increased 100 percent in less than 20 years, and making the most of one’s appearance is no longer considered a vanity and extravagance.
There are at least 25 shops, parlors and homes in Decatur where beauty work is being done on the face or on the hair.
Housewives who have leisure time have taken up marcelling and curling the hair and are serving customers in the home. It is almost impossible to get an appointment at beauty parlors without calling a day or so ahead of time.
This service of making women beautiful is always in demand by the women, and is ever on the increase.
Business women brought change
Twenty-five years ago the only women who sought beauty openly were the actresses and a few women of wealth.
If a woman used flour out of the bin in those days she was considered terrible, for no one’s complexion was suspected of needing any improvement.
Gradually, as women entered the professional and business world they realized the importance of a good appearance. It is the businesswoman who has “made” the beauty business, according to the beauty parlor proprietors.
At first, she only had work done for special occasions, but businesswomen today are the regular customers of the beauty parlors. It is she who has stressed the importance of well-kept hands and nails and has given the bob its permanence.
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Bobs boomed hairdressing
In the last five or six years, women have realized the importance of the care of the hair, and there has been a great demand for marcel waving, water waves, cutting and shampooing of the hair.
Whether or not a woman’s hair is fixed in a becoming and attractive manner means an addition or subtraction of five to 10 years to her age.
Again, it is bobbed hair that has created attention to the hair that will always remain.
Bobbed hair, too, has brought the permanent wave, which is being perfected at lower prices, and the hairdressers prophesy that in two years all women will have permanent waves. It satisfies a desire for curly hair that women with straight hair have always had.
The weather doesn’t affect a permanent wave, and it will stay in the hair from 4 to 6 months depending upon the growth of the hair.
Make hair match costume
Although bobbed hair is here to stay. according to the hairdressers. the correct way to wear it for social affairs in the evening is dressed. It will be worn short for street wear, and dressed with a wig or transformation for evening wear.
The hairdressers say that women will never go to the trouble of letting hair grow out when hairpieces in exact shades and popular prices can be purchased at the stores.
Imported hairpieces, when attached properly, can never be detected. In the East, women are wearing metal or colored wigs so that hair can be changed to match the costume.
At a recent national convention, an authority on hair goods wore a lavender tinted wig with an evening gown, at an evening affair.
Some evening styles show the bob curled high and a transformation wound low on the head, making an attractive coiffure for the young girl.
College girls are already writing for hair that can be pinned on according to the information received from the local shops.
ALSO SEE: Vintage hairstyles: The Pompadour
Straight bob back
The tendency now in the bob styles is toward the straight bob again, for the shingle bob is not as popular as it was.
The hairdressers offer the suggestion that the proper way for women to wear their hair is the most becoming way regardless of the styles.
Many women who wear their hair straight would take off five years and be more attractive with a soft curl.
The most recent thing in curling the hair is called paper curling, which is popular in the West, but has not made its appearance yet in Decatur. It is a method which transforms the hair into tight little curls all over the head.
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See 12 of the most popular 1920s bob hairstyles (1924)
If you must do it, show this to your barber
- Shingle, or Ina Claire bob
- Boyish bob
- Marcel, or water waved shingle
- Horizontal tapered bob
- French side-part bob
- Horizontal clubbed bob
- Flapper bob
- Permanently waved bob
- Girlish bob
- French center part bob
- Dutch cut
- Center part bob
MORE: Pretty vintage hairstyles for women from the 1910s
Five in 1: hairstyle variations by Pauline Starke (1920s)
Pauline Starke’s variation on one simple hair-cut. Try these before your mirror.
Edna Huber, studio hairdresser, conducts these little lessons in bobs.
The Coquette. For that flirtatious feeling. Part it from ear to ear and pompadour the hair straight back. The bangs are curled flat to the forehead.
The Ritzette. Just the thing to go with orchids and limousine. Looks well under an imported hat. Hair parted to the side and swept across one eyebrow. Wear this and write your own check.
The Frizette. Ideal for that Greenwich Village romp. Or that Montmartre mob. A tumble of tiny curls that stray in wild confusion. Popular for Wednesday and Saturday nights.
The Surfette. Ready for a dip into the ocean. Right for any sport. Coiffure sleek and smooth. Parted to the right with hair slicked back over the ears and plastered to the head.
The Demurette. Guaranteed to attract the minister’s son. Neat but not naughty. The kind of hair-dress father approved of. Parted in the center, it is waved over the ears. Wear it to the strawberry festival.
1920s actress Betty Compson with a curly bob haircut
ALSO SEE: Victorian hairstyles: How to make some of the most popular styles of the 1890s
Actress Martha Mansfield and her curled 1920s hairstyle
10 famous vintage movie stars with bobs (1927)
Mae Murray, Leatrice Joy, Marion Davies, Patsy Ruth Miller, Anna Q Nilsson, Bebe Daniels, Claire Windsor, Nita Naldi, Corinne Griffith, Blanche Sweet
Actress Sally Rand with a sleek bob hairstyle edged with rhinestones
Vintage actress Kathleen Ardelle with a center-part hairstyle
MORE: Old-fashioned haircare tips for more beautiful hair, the way they did it 100 years ago
Actress Lucy Cotton in the 1920s
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Vintage actress Beryl Williams with a curly bob haircut
Back just half a century for a new hairstyle for 1921
By Cora Moore, New York’s Fashion Authority
New York (Special by Mail) – There’s a new style of the coquettish “waterfall” of the 1870s.
Miss Vivian Martin, pretty screen star of many a Goldwyn picture, originated it, and already it is being copied by so many of her admirers, that it bids fair to become a standard style for 1921. It is so adaptable to almost any type of face that I asked Miss Martin her method of dressing it.
“First,” she said, “I comb my hair out, but I must tell you my hair is not very even, and is inclined to be crimpy rather than curly. So I make an asset of that.”
Miss Martin is a great believer in making the most of one’s individual characteristics rather than decrying them. For instance, the latest mode of hair-dress has favored the smooth and satiny head.
MORE: See 40 Victorian hairstyles for women from the 1870s & 1880s
Miss Martin’s hair is naturally light and fluffy. Consequently, her first move is to disregard fashion’s edicts.
“I begin,” Miss Martin directs, “by parting it through the center. Then I part it the other way down just in front of my ears, then still again crosswise just above my ears. This makes three sections of hair.
“Next I take the second section and arrange it across the back of my head, allowing it to fall as the picture shows, then I draw the first-named section straight but not too tightly across, pinning at the back and allowing the ends to fall down with the rest,
Finally, I take the last section, which is smallest, and fashion it into little ringlets or coils and pin them securely at the top and back of my head where they form a sort of top-piece for the down-hanging hair — and that is all.
“I am so glad you like it, this new way of hair-dress of mine, because I like it myself!”
High-set Psyche knot is the latest style in hair dressings (1921)
The day of the smoothly-dressed, neatly-netted hair is passed in Paris.
Waves and short curls about the face, and the high-set Psyche knot made of finger puffs, as shown in the illustration, comprise the latest thing in hair dressing, especially for evening wear.
In many instances, a large circular comb is thrust into the hair as a support of the Psyche knot, which is dressed so softly that without other security than ordinary hairpins, it would be in danger of falling.
These “back” combs are of varying degrees of elaborateness and beauty. Many are set with diamonds or other precious stones, while the revival of the cameo is evidenced in its frequent use in their design.
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Before and After! (1924)
It took this girl weeks to decide to bob her hair. Finally, she went to Saveli, the only hairdresser who bobs with a razor instead of shears. Do you think the result justifies the decision?
There are five million, perhaps ten million bobbed heads now, in the United States, but there is no doubt that the number is growing rapidly. And so, having acquired a mass of expert opinion, about all Photoplay can do is to offer the high spots of testimony and let its readers judge for themselves.
What screen and stage stars say
Gloria Swanson — “I might as well confess my secret: I’m a clipto-maniac. Cutting hair amounts to an obsession with me. I’m always trimming my own; I love to cut my baby’s; and I cut Alice Brady’s beautifully.
“I find short hair very convenient for every style of coiffure. I do not always wear it as a bob. With switches of my own hair, I can achieve very easily any effect I want.”
SEE MORE: How to get the kind of expressive, dramatic 1920s eye makeup style popular during the silent movie era
Elsie Ferguson — “These awful straight lines are largely responsible for the bob. They give a boyish effect and, to complete the picture, the hair must be bobbed. Bobbed hair is not becoming to every woman. The head must be a certain shape to wear the bob effectively.
“I am for the bob, because it makes selection and wearing of hats easier; takes less time to dress, and saves hairpins and nets.
“No, I haven’t bobbed mine. Too many of my friends talked against it, but — I may do it yet.”
Lady Diana Manners — “Bobbed hair makes a woman much more comely than a pile of hair. It lends her youth and does not necessarily detract from her dignity. In England, women with bobbed hair are in the majority. In time, ten or twenty years from now, there may be no woman without bobbed hair.”
Bebe Daniels — “My hair is long but I prefer the bobbed. The only reason I don’t bob mine is that I am required to play so many parts calling for long hair, and I do not like wigs.
“I think the bob very becoming to most girls. As for becoming bald because of bobbing, I think that is what they call ‘bunk.’ The hair grows thicker following the scissors.”
Alma Rubens — “Bobbed hair is for comfort, not for looks. It is just vanity which keeps women from cutting their hair. They are afraid they won’t look so pretty. Well, they probably won’t. But what is the difference? There is something else besides looks in the world.
“Whenever I see a woman shilly-shallying about cutting her hair, I long to say: ‘Oh, come off your pedestal, you’re no Venus de Milo, anyway!'”
Madame Simone Le Bargy — “Women seem determined to make themselves as unattractive as possible. It is woman’s prerogative to be chic, dainty, delicate. Bobbed hair and flat shoes are woman’s curse. A woman who respects her womanhood, as well as her appearance, will never distort her visage by these unsightly clipped locks.”
Mae Murray — “There is so much that is interesting to do in the world that a woman who does not try to rid herself of the routine of life seems to me to lack intelligence. Long hair is a nuisance and a bore, and it isn’t worth the trouble. Long hair is either a sign of vanity or the result of an old-fashioned mind.
Francine Larrimore — “Bobbed hair is for young people exclusively. Elderly women with skinny, scrawny necks make bad matters worse by clipping their tresses. Bobbed hair needs a youthful face and youthful contours. Like everything else, however, discretion is the greater part of hairdressing. It 1s like make-up — it may suit you and it may not — but in its use you have to use your brains.”
Mary Astor — “Bobbed hair, never! I see no reason for it. Beautiful long hair is one of woman’s greatest charms. When men begin to wear their hair long, I may consider bobbing mine. It seems to me there is too great a tendency on the part of women to copy masculine styles — knickers, socks, sweaters, cigarettes, bobbed hair. Where shall we stop?”
Nita Naldi — “If you’re a Juno, why try to be a kewpie? I was one of the first to bob my hair — way back in 1916, but I did it because of illness. Now I bob it just above the waist. Some of the girls are very chic with short bobs, but such is not for my type. Be distinctive! If you haven’t individuality you haven’t anything. A fashion 1s justifiable only if it conforms to beauty, and bobbed hair can disfigure just as easily as it can enhance one’s appearance.”
Alice Terry — “My hair is thicker and healthier since I have bobbed it.”
Anna May Wong — “A Chinese woman’s hair is her chief ornament In life. Chinese women never wear hats, but they I put all their ideas of decoration in their hair. As a race, we use hair for head covering instead of hats, so we could not possibly approve of bobbed hair. We think bobbed hair is very dangerous to the femininity and beauty of womankind.”
Betty Blythe — “Naturally a woman hates to part with her hair, but I have felt five years younger since I bobbed mine. In Paris I shopped for hats, but found none for sale for women with long hair. So, to be in the swim of the present vogue is one reason I bobbed my hair. It makes one feel youthful, for the childish, close line of the head is youth itself.”
Marion Davies — No matter what may be said against bobbed hair and the bobbed-hair girl, it is a style that has come to stay; and no amount of silly prejudice is going to drive the girl who has once enjoyed the freedom and comfort of short locks, back to the unsanitary and uncomfortable mode of long hair.”
Anna Q. Nilsson — “I bobbed my hair for my ‘art.’? Now don’t laugh. I had to. I admit I didn’t like it, but now I think that the only thing which prevents all women from doing the same thing is lack of moral courage. It’s funny, but women who can’t arrange their hair are the ones who won’t have it cut. A woman who is a freak is usually the one who fears to make a freak of herself by bobbing.”
Doris Kenyon — “To bob or not to bob depends, I should say, upon one’s desire to appear young, chic, modern. My reason for not bobbing is that to play a serious or semi-dramatic role with bobbed hair is difficult. It makes one appear rather frivolous. But it certainly it’s youthful, comfortable, and gives a neat appearance. If I were sure it would be becoming to me, would I resist? I wonder?
Professor A.A. Roback (Harvard Uni. Pyschologist) — “As a result of intelligence tests made at Radcliffe, Smith, Simmons and other women’s colleges, I believe that the ‘bobbed-hair flapper’ is undependable; dislikes discipline and enforced tasks; lacks patience; doesn’t care to bother with burdensome mental problems; appreciates only that part of a question which directly affects herself.”
Bobbed hair has come to stay (1924)
by Adela Rogers St. Johns
Bobbed hair has come to stay forever and ever. Any and every attempt to stop its establishment as a permanent institution among women has failed completely. This is the unanimous opinion of the screen stars who have done so much to make bobbed hair fashionable.
Two-thirds of the screen stars today have short hair. The Talmadge sisters, Pola Negri, Gloria Swanson, Blanche Sweet, Barbara La Marr, Viola Dana, Colleen Moore, Leatrice Joy, Betty Compson, Nita Naldi, Virginia Valli and practically all the ingenues wear bobbed locks; while Mary Pickford, Priscilla Dean, Florence Vidor, Agnes Ayres, Corinne Griffith and May McAvoy hold the fort for long hair.
But there is no longer any quarrel between the women about bobbed hair. It is simply a question of becomingness.
Bobbing your hair no longer takes on breathless moments of trembling and strange forebodings. ‘Those are things of the past. Today the only debate is over its suitability to your style, and whether or not your husband will let you.”
In Hollywood, women are thoroughly agreed that bobbed hair belongs to women by right, that it will continue for all time, and that it 1s a matter only of personal preference, Just as wearing green or purple or pale pink is.
The much-discussed question of whether women dress to please men or to please themselves comes once more to the front, for most women like themselves and their friends in short hair.
Women are pleased artistically, except in a few cases, by the lovely smooth line of their heads with short hair, and they gain much freedom and comfort.
The greatest advantage of short hair is its supreme comfort. If men had to go around for a few weeks with a great wad of heavy hair pinned by piercing wire hairpins to the base of their brains, or weighing heavily upon the tops of their skulls, they wouldn’t be so quick to condemn women to wear long hair.
The great disadvantage of short hair, it is agreed in Hollywood, is that it takes so much longer to keep it nicely arranged. unless a woman has naturally curly hair or wears it straight.
The belief that short hair cuts down the time of hair-dressing is a great mistake. It may save husbands time in the evening. but a woman spends twice the time having it marcelled and cut that she did in dressing it before.
Nobody knows how long it took men to reach their present close-cropped and smooth-shaven stage. When they sacrificed their flowing curls and waving beards, nobody said they were becoming less masculine.
Long or short hair has nothing to do with femininity. It cannot be confused in any way with mannish dressing. because most bobbed hair is arranged in the most alluring and feminine way possible. Women spend more time and attention on their hair, and it is the most feminine types of women who have their hair bobbed.
There has not been the slightest indication in fashions and styles to go with bobbed hair of anything masculine or mannish. Gradually, in both sexes, comfort, and freedom for more attention to work, thought and play have become the keynote. The old barbarous fashions in clothes are disappearing for men and women.
Bobbed hair symbolizes the progress of woman in the twentieth century toward more freedom, more worth-while achievement, and more time devoted to what is under the skull instead of on top of it.
But it doesn’t mean that woman is less feminine.
The contentious history of bobbed hair in the twenties (1950)
By Jean Van Evera – Woman’s Day, February 1950
The furor has almost been forgotten, but not so long ago, a woman’s haircut was cause for a divorce suit — or even suicide.
In the decade between 1918 and 1928, there were thousands of man-and-woman hours of very deep thinking put in on the subject of Bobbed Hair and womanhood.
Laugh, if you will, especially if you are under thirty years old, but such merriment only shows a complete lack of understanding of a momentous and serious subject.
The first World War was drawing to a close in 1918 when women began to drift into the barbershops where they instructed the men wielding the scissors to “cut it off.”
Mrs Vernon Castle, the fabulous Irene, had “bobbed” her hair in 1916, but American women were a little backward about following her example.
Still, time, as they say, does march on, and here a little and there a little the bars began to sag a little.
The idea hatched slowly but inexorably in feminine minds that they might continue to live lives of virtue and rectitude without that yard of hair to be wound up, plaited, brushed and carried around — the shampooing of which was an all-day undertaking.
Starting with girls
Many of them experimented first on their little daughters. Short locks meant some surcease from eternal braiding of pigtails or nightly “doing up” on rags to make corkscrew curls.
Fathers shook their heads mournfully as they gazed at their Dutch-bobbed feminine progeny, and said they didn’t look like little girls, they were more like boys. Still, they regarded such goings-on as only miniature heresies.
It was when Mother said to herself, “If it’s good enough for Susie, it’s good enough for me,” that they began to sit up, take notice and, having taken it, set off fireworks, with reverberations coming from pulpit, press, courtroom and the business world.
Outrage and court cases over haircuts
Ministers wondered, Sunday after Sunday, what kind of mother, potential or actual, would so shamelessly discard her femininity as to allow her hair to be cut. In Kansas City, Missouri, a clergyman asserted that woman’s long hair was symbolical of the divinely preordained subjection of woman to man.
Over the state line in Kansas City, Kansas, the outraged children of one Mrs Benedict openly censured her as “un-Christian.”
The impact was felt throughout the world. In Manhattan, a Mr Silverman hauled his wife into court for bobbing her hair without so much as a “how about it” to him, and an outraged Mr Iske did the same.
Both gentlemen, however, had their ears pinned back by the judges who told them it was none of their business what their little women did with their hair.
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