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Authors Note. Description of 1920’s bob.

The bob haircut was simply a blunt cut, level with the bottom of the ears all around the head.  It was worn either with bangs or with the hair brushed off of the forehead.  It was a simple look but a drastic departure from the long feminine looks created by Gibson and Marcel.  

The Twenties

To my delight my mother thought that it was a wonderful idea for me to re-open my father’s old premises and offered to help me with the cost of decorating and fitting out the salon as required. I was very grateful for her help as I had very limited savings and now I could provide attractive premises, which I hoped would bring women flocking for the new fashion.  Of course I told Jim nothing of my plans and continued to work for him as the salon was made ready.  During this period I spent every moment of my spare time looking up any articles or magazines that featured anything about the bob and I quickly realised that besides just the short blunt cut, the hairstyle could feature many waved versions. This would require the hair to be shampooed and dried and then heated tongs, known as Marcel waving irons, would be used to fashion the hair into soft flattering waves which would last until the hair was shampooed again.

    Waved Bobs


Author’s note: The History of Marcel Waving

The Marcel Wave is a stylish wave given to the hair by means of heated curling irons. Named for Francois Marcel, 19th century French hairdresser who invented the process in 1872. It revolutionized the art of hairdressing all over the world and remained in vogue for over fifty years, making a fortune for Mr Marcel. Originally known as the “Undulation Marcel”, the name evolved to the “Marcel Wave”.

The original irons were heavy tongs with rounded internal surfaces that had to be handled by an operator trained in knowing how to make a deep natural looking wave, and not a round curl. The tongs were heated over a rectangular shaped gas burner about six or seven inches long and two inches wide. As you can imagine, with such primitive equipment it was hard to maintain the correct temperature for the iron – too cool and the wave did not set, too hot and the hair got burnt. The hairdresser tested the iron on a piece of paper before using it on a client’s hair. If the paper burnt, the iron was too hot! However by 1924 electric waving irons were available where the temperature of the iron could be regulated. Marcel irons initially came in four sizes – A, B, C and D and were used according to individual preference, but in 1933 an adjustable iron was developed. The iron was used in conjunction with a comb. Today, gold-plated and ceramic Marcel irons are available to hairdressers, which remove most of the risk and problems associated with the early irons.


During the time I had helped in my father’s salon he had shown me how to use the Marcel waving irons which he had used when dressing the elaborate styles of the period and on the wigs and hairpieces that were also fashionable.


Hairstyle Circa 1910



I was very excited by the thought that my new salon would be able to offer far more than any barbershop, as we would be able to style the hair after cutting.  At present it seemed that only barbershops, if accepting women as customers, could cut the new bob but not style it, and the exclusive women’s’ salons did not at present have the expertise to cut a bob and were not encouraging it as they feared losing their traditional trade.

<image008> Traditional hairdressers initially refused to do the cut, so ladies flocked to barbers instead. The salons were eventually forced to give in as they watched their profits disappearing down the drain


Men raged over the female invasion of the barbershop but at that time, the-cutting-of-hair was still a male-dominated occupation.  In some cities, long lines of women were reported standing outside barbershops while inside, many women patiently sat on floors waiting their turn to be bobbed.  In New York City, reports of up to 2,000 heads per day were being clipped. 

The Twenties

Both photographs from the early Twenties

My mother was an expert at Marcel waving and had said she was prepared to help out in the salon when required.  My 17 years old sister at present worked part-time as a shop assistant and was also eager to work in the salon and if I did get busy I knew I would need a helper to shampoo and generally tidy up. Within a week the salon was virtually ready.  I had purchased all the equipment needed and completely redecorated the salon; leaflets had been printed offering all the services, and I had a couple of young boys distribute them. I had told Jim I no longer wanted to work in his salon and it was the evening before I planned to open.  My mother was busy doing a final dust of surfaces already gleaming, whilst my sister was upstairs preparing the evening meal.  I smiled at my mother and said, “Thank you for all the help.  I could never have done it without you.”  I paused and said, “There is just one thing that has to be done before we open tomorrow.”  My mother gave a little sigh and said, “Oh, I thought we had got everything ready. What needs doing?”

I looked at her and said slowly, “You and Louise will be both working in the salon. I need to bob your hair.”  My mother gave a little gasp and said hesitantly, “Oh Sam, I am not sure I am ready to have it cut. Must you do it?”  I nodded and said, “Of course, if we are trying to persuade women to follow the new fashion then it is obvious that you and Louise must show off the style.”  I could understand my mother’s reluctance to have her hair cut short as it really was her crowning glory and greatly admired and envied by most women and my father had cherished her lovely hair, keeping it in perfect condition and always making sure it was immaculately styled which of course showed off his skills.  I well recall as a small boy, watching with fascination as my father worked on her lovely hair, piling it high on her head in a mass of silken curls and ringlets as they prepared to go out in the evening. Now, if she had it bobbed, it would also be much commented on and hopefully encourage more women to sacrifice their long locks in the cause of fashion.

She stared at me for a moment and then said, “You are right. Father always said that my hair was his best advert, I hope it will be the same for you.”  I smiled at her and said, “I know it is a sacrifice for you and he would turn in
his grave if he knew that I was going to cut off your long hair.”   I ushered her over to the chair and swiftly placed the gleaming white cape around her shoulders.  Her dark hair was in a neat twist at the nape of her neck and as I adjusted the cape her fingers were already pulling out the long hairpins that secured it. Her rich dark hair rolled free and tumbled down over the cape in a softly waving cascade and I felt just a little nervous but very excited as I took scissors from my pocket.

She closed her eyes as I brought them up to her splendid hair and I thought I saw a little tear escape as I began clipping off her long hair just below her ear. Great locks rolled down over the cape as I steadily snipped away and it only took less than a minute to remove the long hair she had worn proudly all of her life. I spent a long time now carefully shaping her hair and mother now watched me through the mirror as I worked.  Ten minutes later I stepped back and said, “What do think?”  She gave a little smile and said, “Well it is quite a shock to see myself without long hair and my head feels so light but I think I am going to like it!”  “Good, ” I exclaimed, “I am so pleased, I will just use the irons on it to put a little more shape.”



I heated up the tongs and worked carefully on her hair for ten minutes and then finally feeling very satisfied with the result I took the hand mirror and showed her the finished style I had created from several angles. Mother once again expressed delight with my work and I was relieved that she was pleased with my efforts as I had been quite nervous at doing my own mother’s hair but now I was looking forward very much to using my scissors on Louise.

The Twenties



Mother got up from the chair after I had removed her cape and patted and fingered her hair with a smile, “Oh, it does feel strange but really wonderful!  Right, now it is Louise’s turn.”  She called upstairs and a few moments later my sister entered the salon.  She stopped and brought her hand up to her mouth in surprise as she saw mother’s drastic new appearance. “Oh your hair, your beautiful hair.”  Mother once again raised her hand to her hair and fingered the unfamiliar shortness, and said, “I think it suits me very well.  Do you like it?”  “Oh. I am not sure, you look so different and your long hair was very beautiful.”  “Yes, well it was time for me to have a change and I am sure a lot of women will be cutting their hair short.”  She paused and then said. “Paul and I want you to have your hair bobbed as well.  You will be working in the salon and people will expect to see your hair bobbed.”  Louise’s face had gone white and she said anxiously, “Oh no, I don’t want my hair cut, I love it long.”  Mother said firmly, “It must be cut.  Paul is ready to do it now.  Sit over there.”  She pointed at the chair she had just vacated and Louise, knowing that her mother would have to be obeyed, walked slowly over to the chair.

My excitement was mounting at the thought of using scissors on my sister’s gleaming long hair and because she was so reluctant to part with it, made it even more exciting.  Her eyes were filled with tears as she sat in the chair and she gave me a pleading glance and said, “Oh Paul, must I have my hair cut?”  I began fastening the cape around her and said, “Yes of course. You must show everyone how attractive the new fashion is and hopefully it will encourage more girls to do it as well.”  She realised that she could not save her long hair and tried to control herself as I pumped up the chair and then began removing the pins from her neatly coiled hair.

Louise had dark silken chestnut coloured hair that was waist length.  The texture was fine and silken and she was very proud of its beauty.  Over the years I had often watched with pleasure as her lovely hair being carefully brushed by mother and then plaited or coiled.  Now I was about to remove a great deal of the lovely long hair in the cause of fashion and hopefully the success of my new venture. My fingers thrilled to the touch of the sweet smelling cool silky locks as I unravelled her braided hair and allowed it to spread out over the white cape. The tears were streaming down Louise’s face as she watched me now pick up my scissors and bring them up to her hair.  I had a great feeling of exultation as I carefully and deliberately began cutting into her hair just above her ear.  She kept her head still but her body shook with sobs as she watched the great lengths of her hair coming away from her head.

I worked steadily around her head and felt more excited than I had ever been as the silken locks dropped from the shearing blades and rolled down over the cape to the floor. Once I had cleared away all the long hair, I made a centre parting back from her fore head and then combed forward the crown hair over face.  I then spent a long time shaping this hair into full flat bangs which covered her forehead to her eyebrows. Then I went behind her and tilted her head forward and began cutting the nape hair.  She had a beautifully shaped hairline at the back and I could not resist cutting the hair there very short.  One of the magazines I had studied had featured a style called a ‘shingle’, that was very short, far shorter than I had cut either the first bob or my mother’s hair and working steadily using scissors over comb I created a stylish shape with which I was very pleased.

The Twenties

I could see that my sister had now stopped sobbing and was looking at her reflection with a great deal of interest and mother said, “Oh, Louise, your hair looks sensational!” And I could see from the look on my sister’s face that she too realised how attractive the new hairstyle made her look and her new appearance would create quite a stir.  I had two fine examples now of the new fashion and could hardly contain my excitement at the thought that tomorrow hopefully I would have the opportunity of cutting off a lot more beautiful long hair and creating many more.

To be continued.

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