The term “bob” was used in the 18th century to describe the requisite wigs worn by men: long bob, short bob, bob major, ’prentice-minor… physical… full-dress… clergyman’s. The term applied only to men since women’s hair was seldom cut.
Hair entrepreneur Antoine de Paris (Antoni Cierplikowski, (1884-1976) ran 67 salons from Europe to Hollywood (see article here). He created the bob, as well as the perm, hair lacquer, blonde streaks and blue tints. He gave Claudette Colbert her famed bangs, the Duchess of Windsor her ‘Italian Madonna’ look, Greta Garbo her long bob, and Mary Martin washed that man right out of his cut in “South Pacific.” Close to 5,000,000 women visited his salons each year, and 10,000 people worked in his various enterprises.
In 1910, French actress Eve Lavalliere, then 45, was cast in a role of an 18 year-old, and Antoine was tasked with her hair. Some say his ‘aha’ moment was a young girl with short hair and bangs; some claim it was Joan of Arc. In any case, others soon besieged him for rejuvenation, and he created the garçonne for Coco Chanel, Josephine Baker and Edith Piaf. In 1938, a famous American hold-out submitted to Antoine's shears: Eleanor Roosevelt.
As it grew, so to speak, the bob was denounced by press and clergy; US department stores refused to hire “shorn” women; bobs were barred from English courts and banned in Japan. In England, a tract entitled Bobbed Hair: Is it well-pleasing to the Lord? stated, “A new fashion has come into the world that knows not God, and many who do not know him are following it… A bobbed woman is a disgraced woman!
Nonetheless, actress Irene Castle inspired bob-mania in the States, and Pierro Raspanti was called the “high priest of bob-dom” in New York. A woman reportedly walked in one day demanding a bob and said, “Mark my words; ten years from now half of women will wear it.” Soon, a dozen men were bobbing 3500 women a week. “I had to have smelling salts on my table, so many women felt faint when they saw their hair was gone,” said Raspanti.
Bobs were a boon for men’s barbers who could cut rather than dress hair and were given seductive names: The Chesterfield, the Horseshoe, the Orchid, the Moana, the Garçon, the Gigolo, the Carmencita, the Coconut...
In 1925 Julia Hoyt wrote, “It certainly looks as if ‘woman’s crowning glory’ is soon going to be a relic of the past… Those who are against it are invariably the older women, who do not feel they can adopt it, or men… they’ve had ‘a woman’s crowning glory is her hair’ drummed into them ever since they can remember.”
In 1926, Nora Mullane wrote in Good Housekeeping: “Here is freedom and simplicity and a lightness of head… Hats are easy to buy, headaches from hairpins and heavy coils disappear, and hairdressing takes less time – though more thought.”
But, a bob could also be a serious liability: In 1926, a woman filed a petition for the return of her six children under guardianship. When the judge asked the eldest if she wished to return to her mother, she replied, “No. We don’t believe she is a Christian woman. She bobs her hair, and wears jewellery and bright clothes.” The petition was denied.
Hollywood star Mary Pickford was known as “America’s Sweetheart” and wore long, girlish ringlets until she bobbed them in her early 30s. “I wasn’t prepared for the avalanche of criticism that overwhelmed me. You would have thought I had murdered someone,” she said.
Ladies Home Journal asked Lynne Fontanne to speak to the women of America about beauty. She minced no words: “Don’t mind what your husbands say. Let them object as loudly as they please. Short hair not only calls attention to the beautiful shape of the head, it is chic, which is another way of saying it is a symbol of youth.”
Many thought the bob was a passing fad and longer hair would once again rule, and for a time wiglets and falls were a brisk business for eveningwear. But, wrote George E. Darling, “Visit the most far flung hamlets, the greatest cities… and you will find the bob is still supreme. It is not a hairstyle that is preferred by only one class of woman – it is the choice of all.”