During the 1920s women began to see more opportunities in their lives. During the Great War they had taken the place of men in factories and fields, giving them a taste for jobs outside the expected domestic service. They had also started to rebel against the moral restrictions that society pushed upon them, and one of the biggest moves was getting their hair cut short. During Victorian and Edwardian times the belief was that a ladies hair was her “crowning glory”. Only little girls had bobbed hair, short hair on women was not the done thing. It was not seen as respectable, and hair would have only been cut short for reasons such as illness, lice or punishment, or if you were an arty bourgeois type!
This short and sharp style was literally a blunt cut, level with the ears and usually worn with a fringe. There were many variations of shape, one of the most notable being the Shingle Bob. Introduced in 1923 the shingle was a boyish bob which tapered into a V-shape at the nape of the neck with either waves or spit curls at the sides.
Traditionally the cutting of hair had been a male dominated occupation, and women started to flock to the barber, waiting in long lines for this latest look. According to some reports there were 2,000 ladies per day being bobbed in New York! By 1925 a new industry had emerged – the beauty industry. Hairdressing shops in the USA had increased from 5,000 just five years previous to over 21,000 at the end of 1924.
Despite their popularity this new style was initially met with resistance. Women working with the public, such as teachers, department store workers and office girls were fired for their new ‘do’. Some schools banned the bob, and preachers were said to have even sermonised against the style. Newspapers declared it to be an incentive to crime, and men divorced their wives. It was also claimed that cutting ones hair short led to all sorts of nasty side effects like a moustache, baldness or life eternal as a spinster.
By 1927 the shock of the bob had worn off, and a new softness and femininity appeared in the form of fingerwaves. The technique involves pinching the hair between the fingers and combing in alternating directions to form undulating waves. This was traditionally done on wet hair, with soap, homemade gels or a shop bought product for hold. Kiss curls were often strategically placed to further soften the hardness of the bob, and were visible below the brim of the fashionable cloche hat. Fingerwaving is a technique still taught in beauty colleges to this day, and is a difficult one to master. Many modern day stylists recreate the look using curling tongs. It is a faster method, and one that gives a softer, more modern look if authentic fingerwaves are not flattering for a client. It is a look that has endured the test of time, most commonly seen on brides, high fashion catwalk and red carpet events.
A certain androgynous look had accompanied the 20s, and by the time the 30s arrived a new femininity was longed for. Waves continued and, as seen towards the end of the 20s, were formed close to the head and often contrasted with soft fluffy curls around the bottom half of the hair, formed by pin curls. The waves were worn on the top part of the head with a deep side or middle parting, and were created with Marcel irons. These were heavy tongs with rounded surfaces that were used by a trained operator who knew how to make a deep, natural looking wave, and not a round curl. The tongs were heated over a gas burner and 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. I’ve heard many a tale from ladies who remembered the smell of burnt hair when visiting their Grandmothers! Eventually electric irons became available where the temperature was adjustable, which really were early versions of today’s curling tongs.
Marcel irons are still widely used by today’s hairdressers. Many are gold plated or ceramic, which remove most of the problems associated with their precursors. But, use them wrongly, and that smell of burning hair will be in the air!
By 1930 the perm was a well established method of curling the hair. The majority of middle class women had their hair set once a week, and permed maybe every three months. It was a process that became accessible to more women the more it was developed. One method was to wrap the hair around a curler and attach it to a heated cover which in turn was attached to a wire and chandelier type contraption. It looks like something from a horror film!
The age and influence of the film star had begun in the 20s, and there were many who had their hair permed. However the era was also marred by the Great Depression, and while Hollywood offered some escapism, with such glamorous stars as Ginger Rogers, Fay Wray and Greta Garbo, even some of their hairstylists weren’t immune. It is said that screen siren Jean Harlow’s stylist resorted to achieving her famous blonde bombshell locks using not only peroxide and ammonia, but Clorox bleach and Lux laundry soap! In this time of austerity women became proficient at creating their own hairstyles at home. It became a skill which was to be passed down from generation to generation, and gave women the ability to feel feminine and beautiful during an economic period where luxuries were unaffordable for most.
Section off top and alternate the direction of each row. For smaller waves create more rows. The rest of the hair is set in small pin curls.
Remove clips and loosen curls with fingers. Start to shape the front waves with a comb and your fingers.
Push the waves in place to create ridges and secure with sectioning clips.
Create as many ridges as you desire. Hairspray lightly.
Sharper ridges can be achieved using wave clips. You can find these online. Hairspray the heck out of it!
Style the rest of the hair into soft fluffy curls, remove all clips, add a fabulous hair accessory and you’re good to go!