Home » Location » Barbershop » The Twenties (Part 1)

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Author’s Note:  Whilst browsing the internet I came across a number of articles, sketches and pictures about the fascinating period when women first willingly surrendered their long hair to the scissors.  What a wonderful time to have been a barber!  I have written the following story illustrated with some of items I found which I hope will add to the story that follows

 

Hairstyles of the 1920s created more controversy in hair fashion than in any other period of American culture.  And one hairstyle, known simply as ¾ “the bob,” would be at the center of this great debate. The bob haircut would eventually cause a revolution in the way women would wear their hair ¾ forevermore. 

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I glanced up as I heard the door open and was a little surprised to see a young woman coming into the shop.  Of course women did sometimes come into the barbers shop in which I worked, but usually bringing their sons to have their haircuts.  Jim, who was working at the chair nearest the door looked enquiringly at her and she said hesitantly,” I would like to have my hair cut please.”  He looked very surprised and said,  “No Miss this is a men’s barbers shop, we don’t cut women’s hair.”  I had just finished trimming the hair of the young boy in my chair and I said,  “I can do it next. Take a seat over there.”  The young girl smiled at me gratefully and sat on the waiting bench next to a man who was waiting for Jim to finish.  Jim gave me a cross look as I went to the cash desk and took the money from the customer I had finished but I ignored him but returned and ushered the young girl into the large barber’s chair.

I could see that she was looking a little nervous as I picked up the large white cape and enveloped her in it.  Her hair was dark and gleaming and was secured with long pins in a smooth knot at the base of her neck.  She brought her hands up from under the cape and rapidly began pulling the pins from her hair which gradually slipped loose and rolled down over the white cape in soft gentle waves.  I had never cut the hair of a female person before but occasionally I had seen my father trim the ends of a women’s hair when he had been dressing it out.  He had been a wigmaker and stylist of women’s hair with his own successful salon but had tragically died when I was 16 and of course because I was too young and in-experienced at that time to take over running the salon I had ended up working as a barber for the past 3 years.

I felt quite confident about trimming the ends of this lovely head of hair but wondered why this young girl had ventured into a male domain to get it done and surmised that she had probably done it for a dare. She gave her lovely hair a little shake as I adjusted the gown around her neck and then said quite firmly, “I would like you to bob my hair please.”

Now I had seen of course, a number of articles and pictures of the apparent new fashion of a number of daring girls who had cut off their long hair into this new bob style, much to the horror of most men.  The new style had led to many articles and heated discussions but did appear to have the support of quite a number of women but in the small town I worked I had not seen anyone daring enough to follow the fashion. She saw the look of surprise on my face and said, “Can you do for me?”  A wave of excitement suddenly flooded over me at the thought of plunging my sharp scissors into this glorious fall of hair and stripping it from her young head, and I felt confident in my ability to be able to style her hair in a similar fashion to the pictures I had seen, so I replied quickly, “Of course, if that’s what you want.” 

I was aware of the sensation her request had brought to the others in the shop.  The man waiting for his trim was staring in open-mouthed astonishment at the young girl and Jim had left his customer and moved alongside my chair.  He said angrily to me, “You can’t desecrate a young woman’s hair.  It is shameful for a girl to cut her hair short.”  The girl in the chair looked quite angry now and said to him, ” It is my hair and I shall do what I like with it.  If this young man is willing to cut my hair now I want it done.” He turned away angrily whilst his customer in the chair said pleadingly, “Oh Miss, you have such beautiful hair, are you sure you wont be sorry.”  The girl in the chair ignored him and turned round to me and said, “Are you going to do it for me?”  With a pounding heart and a rising excitement I nodded and then pumping up the chair as high as it would go, I reached forward and picked my scissors and comb.

All eyes were on me now as I stepped to one side of her and I carefully positioned her head that was almost level with mine.  She swallowed hard and closed her eyes as she saw me bring the scissors up to her hair just above her jaw and then very carefully I began cutting straight across in a parallel line towards the back of her head.  A groan came from the man in the next chair who had pleaded with her to keep her hair long and an angry snort came from Jim as they watched the long locks of hair dropping away from the sharp shearing blades and roll down the white cape to the floor.  A great feeling of exultation swept over me as I wielded the scissors and just thrilled to the power I had to so change the appearance of the young girl who had surrendered her long hair to me.  The scissors made an exciting deep scrunch as I steadily cut around her head and the long heavy locks began to form a thick carpet under my feet.

There was silence in the small salon apart from the final scrunching snip as I sent the last long lock tumbling to the floor.  I had just had the most exciting experience of my life!  There came a short exhalation of breath from the girl as she opened her eyes and gazed at herself in the mirror. She stared silently for a few seconds and then a great beaming smile lit up her face and her hands came up from under the cape and felt the short ends of her hair.  “Oh, that feels wonderful,” she said.  I too smiled with pleasure and said, “I will just shape it a little more.”  I snipped away at her now short hair for a few more minutes, using the scissors over comb method I normally used in the shop to cut the nape of men’s hair short. A few minutes later I released her from the enveloping cape and was very pleased with the shape I had achieved.  She stood up, looking delighted with the result and stepped through the carpet of her long hair without even a downward glance. She was still fingering her short hair at the back of her head as she walked to the cash desk to pay.

After she had paid and left the salon Jim said, “I run this salon and it is for men only.  That was a shameful thing you did to that foolish young girl and there will be no more of it.”  I argued vehemently, telling him that it obviously was going to be the coming fashion for women and we could charge higher prices and be really busy.  He dismissed my arguments out of hand saying that his customers would not want to see women in the salon and it would be a short lived craze anyway. As we argued I knew I would not be able to change his mind but alrea
dy I knew what I was going to do. The thrill of cutting off that long hair was like a drug and I knew I wanted to do it more and more and also from the publicity it was getting in the press I was convinced that it was not a passing fashion.  

I knew I had little choice but to obey Jim’s orders but if I could open my own little salon specialising in cutting women’s’ hair I felt that not only would I be able to satisfy this new urge I had to cut off long hair but I could turn it into a successful business. I lived with my widowed mother and younger sister above the small salon my father had run whilst he was alive and it was still empty.  It would be perfect! 

As I walked down the street the enormity of what I had done began to sink in.  I would very quickly be penniless if my convictions about the new fashion was wrong but I could not resist the thought of potentially how many girls and women with long hair could well be thinking of having it cut off.  With that exciting thought in my head I returned home to discuss with my mother my proposal, if she agreed, prepare the premises for my great gamble.

To be continued shortly.

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