A Hairy History

For most of American history women had long hair. Period. Through the centuries it was worn in different styles of buns and curls, up-dos and braids, but a respectable woman always had long hair underneath.

The epitome of long hair was the Seven Sutherland Sisters - who wouldn't want their gorgeous hair? A singing group that was said to be mediocre, each of the seven sisters had long dark hair that reached the floor. Their manager-father soon realized that it was their hair and not their voices that attracted the crowds, and he capitalized on it. They started their show with each sister's hair tied up with a ribbon. After a few songs they turned their backs to the audience and simultaneously pulled out their hair ribbons so that a cascade of dark hair fell to the floor. They credited their locks to the secret hair tonic their mother made for them, and ended up making more money selling their own brand of hair tonics than they ever could from singing alone.

The Seven Sutherland Sisters, 1911 *

Irene & Vernon Castle, 1914 **

Early in the 20th century some women cut their hair short, but it was primarily actresses and prostitutes - not respectable women! However, the aversion to short hair changed during World War I (1914 - 1918). Irene Castle and her husband Vernon Castle were a famous American dance couple who appeared on Broadway and in early silent films. They popularized the foxtrot, ragtime and jazz on stage and opened dance schools, giving social dancing a new respectability. Irene became an icon of fashion and style, and in 1915 appeared with her hair cut into a short bob. The straight cut level with the lobes of the ears soon became known as the Castle Bob.

By 1920 short hair was all the rage among the young, and cutting your hair into a short bob was seen as a sign of modernity and independence. In F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story "Bernice Bobs Her Hair" (1920), Bernice goes from being dull and boring to becoming popular with the boys just by talking about bobbing her hair. The older generations still felt that short hair was a passing fad. Many hairdressers, trained to dress long hair, refused to accept the new styles so young women shocked society even more by going to men's barber shops to get their hair bobbed. (It turns out barbers, used to cutting short styles on men, were great at cutting bobs!)

Short hair was here to stay, and while today it is acceptable to wear hair long or short, when we think of the 1920s, we think of short hair.

One of the advantages of short hair is that it is so easy to wear a hat! Hats and bonnets in the 19th century had to be designed with room to stash buns and braids, but the new hats of the 1920s were sleek and close fitting - a style that is only possible when the hair is short.

The cloche, a tight-fitted cap, was popular worn low over the face so the eyes were just peeking out - very sexy! Turbans were also popular, adding an exotic and mysterious flair to the new short hairstyles.

Fortunately, 1920s style hats are easy styles to knit! And the knitted versions look great whether you have long hair or short hair. Check out our new Abalone Shell Hat and Nautilus Shell Hat turban style patterns (for a limited time both patterns are free with the purchase of the yarn!), or our Modern Cloche pattern or the Simple Crocheted Cloche with Flower pattern - then put some ragtime on the Victrola, grab your mint julep - and get knitting!

Happy Knitting . . . . Scout

Doris Kenyon in turban, 1920s ***

Abalone Shell Hat

* One of many, many, many publicity photos of the Seven Sutherland Sisters promoting their hair (and their hair tonics!).

** A page from Irene & Vernon Castle's book Modern Dancing, published in 1914. The title is "The Tango of Today" and they are demonstrating a hands-free tango. Irene's hair is bobbed and in a turban style hat.

*** A silent film star who later performed in movies and even TV, Doris Kenyon's career spanned from 1915 to 1962.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 0 comments