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Iconic bob hairstyle continues to change – and stir change

  • News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)
  • Published Monday, March 17, 2014, at 12 a.m.

Photos

It’s a simple look with a lingering hint of rebellion.

The bob – that century-old, typically jawline-length haircut – is surging again. You can see it in celebrity circles. Golden-tressed Taylor Swift is a recent convert; Katy Perry followed suit, her version adding classic bangs; singer Brandy posted Instagram images debuting her asymmetrical version for an Oscars-related event. And when the Queen Bey – Beyonce – opened the Grammys recently, her sexy lingerie was paired with a wet-look parted bob that exposed dark roots.

The stars’ different approaches to bob-dom highlight its versatility.

James Akers, owner of Durham, N.C.’s Do or Dye salon, says that’s the reason he’s gotten more requests recently for the cut. “It goes across ages, and it’s pretty easy to take care of,” he says. “And it’s flattering on all face shapes.”

When the bob first appeared in the late 1910s and early 1920s, it challenged the era’s notions of femininity. “To have long hair was to signal your delicacy, your sexuality, and your elegance and refinement – all of the traditional attributes associated with femininity at the time,” said Anya Kurennaya, an adjunct faculty member at Parsons The New School for Design in New York, via email. “Cutting one’s hair meant rejecting that traditional femininity, because it decreased the visible difference between men’s and women’s hairstyles.”

Today, with men with long hair and women with pixie cuts, that thread has been upended to a great extent. And the changes in women’s lives have changed their reasons for adopting short hair. Depending on whom you ask, practicality can trump liberation.

“A young woman’s decision to shear her locks and adopt a rebellious choppy bob makes a different statement than a mother’s decision to part with her long hair to cut down on styling and maintenance times,” says Kurennaya.

Akers says the bobs he’s styling aren’t the prototypical one-length cut with bangs and slight elevation in the back. It’s evolved. Today’s bob includes layering, and angling around the face. If there’s a bang, it’s often sideswept, and there’s often color, he says, a variation that adds depth.

In other words, today’s modified bob reflects today’s more complicated times. And yet, some of those traditional notions the bob fought against linger.

In the early part of the 20th century, women who chose the bob, Kurennaya says, were often considered unfeminine, insubordinate and morally loose.

That sounds silly a century later; in the post-feminist era, there’s arguably been an embrace of the glories of insubordination among many women. Still, last April, when model Karlie Kloss wore a bob in an ad campaign, commenters proclaimed it “Mall of America” and “librarian” hair. Kloss, it seems, was not meeting the feminine ideal. And she was wearing Victoria’s Secret lingerie. The incident illustrates, Kurennaya points out, “the high standards of beauty women are held to, particularly regarding their hair length.”

It seems more than the bob needs to keep evolving.

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