25 August 2007

Hair Today, Gone in the 1920's

A hair revolution went on in the early 1920s. It started with the young, as these things usually do. In defiance of years of custom, young girls began getting their hair cut in a scandalous 'doo called a 'bob'. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote about this phenomenon in 1920 in his short story Bernice Bobs her Hair. It's the story of a girl who brags to her suitors that some day she's going to cut off her hair. When she finally follows through on her threat, her friends and family are shocked, as only 'liberated' women do such a drastic thing. She skips town in disgrace, but before doing so, she sneaks into her disdainful cousin's room and chops off her ponytails, leaving them lie on the front porch.

Bernice didn't know it at the time, but she was just one step ahead of her peers. Soon brave women all across the country were getting their hair chopped off at chin level, much to the shock and dismay of fathers, husbands and boyfriends. Rebellious wives would go to the barbershop for a clip (there were no such things as beauty shops yet), and angry husbands would refuse to speak to their newly shorn spouses. Instead of caving in to manly pressures as so many women of the past were forced to do, the new liberated woman of the Twenties not only kept their hair short, but took it even farther. By the end of the decade, the Eton crop, was all the rage. Women's hair was now about the same length as men's. Eventually, though they may not have liked it, men learned to accept this new trend. By 1927, you'd be hard pressed to find a woman under 40 who'd kept her long hair -- it became a relic of days gone by, much like the corset or high buttoned shoes.

Once the great depression hit, the devil may care attitude of the Roaring Twenties was severely dampened. Hair and skirts both got longer, and the newly liberated women found a new battle -- no longer were they rebelling against the male establishment, they were battling to keep their families fed and happy. A new era had begun.


Carrie Lofty said...

The short haircut was not unknown to fashion in Europe before the '20s. Extreme trends that emerged after the French Revolution among the merveilleuses gave rise to the "Titus" cut, an extremely short and spiky female style that drew inspiration from the Grecian revival of the period. But I cannot imagine women in the US ever trying such a thing at that time!

Anyone remember reading the Little House books where Laura decides she wants bangs (fringe)? And what a big big deal it was for her to go through with it?

Christine Koehler said...

drew inspiration from the Grecian revival of the period

I remember reading about that and always (vaguely) wondered why more regencies didn't deal/mention the shorter hair.

On the Little House note, I never read/watched them, but in Cheaper by the Dozen, there was a small but hugely significant mention of the eldest daughter chopping her hair and both her parents’ apoplectic shock at it. It was always one of my favorite parts, because she stood up to convention (and her parents) and did her first real independent thing. Sure, it was for a boy, but she did it and lived with the consequences.

Michelle Styles said...

When my grandmother cut off her hair, my great grandmother cried and carefully preserved her braids. My grandmother was in her teens and became a flapper.

Short hair comes and goes. As Carrie says -- the Regency was a time of short hair. Also in Restoration and Georgian period, many people had their own hair cut short as it helped to prevent lice. The wigs of course were another story.