On January 6th, Joan of Arc – arguably the most famous patron saint of France – would have celebrated her 611th birthday. Known for her visions that led her to request Charles VII let her “lead” French forces in order to stop the English and assure his coronation during the Hundred Years’ War (1337 – 1453), and for her famous death (she was burned at the stake for heresy in 1431 at the tender age of nineteen), Joan is also famous for her defiance of gender norms. She spoke her mind (pretty brave for a woman in the middle ages), wore what were traditionally men’s clothes, and cut her hair short in what may have been history’s most famous bobbed haircut.
While some people argue there is no evidence Joan of Arc truly sported this haircut, artists throughout the years have famously depicted her with the short hairdo. In 1911, one of Paris’ most famous hairstylists known as Monsieur Antoine or Antoine de Paris (born in Poland, his real name was Antoni Cierplikowski), gave 40-year old actress Ève Lavallière – who was going to play an 18-year old in a play – the shortened hairdo to make her look younger. Audiences were amazed! Had Antoine discovered the key to everlasting youth? Claiming Joan of Arc as his inspiration, the hairdo began to be called “à la Jeanne d’Arc.”
In 1915, famous dancer Irene Castle – half of the Vernon and Irene Castle duo – cut her hair short as a mere manner of convenience prior to an appendectomy; the hairstyle then began being called the “Castle Bob.” The bob didn’t truly take off until the 1920s, however. In May, 1920, the Saturday Evening Post published F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” a short story about a shy girl who is tricked into getting her hair bobbed and is then quickly shunned by boys and society. (If you haven’t seen the 1976 TV movie by the same name starring Shelley Duvall as Bernice, you’re missing out!) 1920 was still a time when femininity was judged by a number of “criteria” including long hair.
At first, hairstylists resisted requests for the haircut driving many women to barbershops where barbers were more than happy to comply. By 1925, hairdressers had given into the fashionable trend sought by women eager to break societal norms. This one, simple hairstyle drove up profits for the beauty industry! Soon, there were accessories to compliment the bob such as hairbands and the iconic cloche hat. Attitudes of women donning the do – that were just as controversial as the haircut itself – also pushed the limits: they drank, smoked, showed off their knees, and wore makeup … scandalous! Actress Mary Gordon was quoted in a 1927 issue of Pictorial Review as saying, “I consider getting rid of our long hair one of the many little shackles that women have cast aside in their passage to freedom. Whatever helps their emancipation, however small it may seem, is well worth while.” [Victoria Sherrow, Victoria. Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History. Westport, CT, London: Greenwood Press, 2006.]
The bobbed haircut – or some version of it – has transcended well beyond the 1920s into today. The right haircut can sometimes make a career. In 1988, a then “up and coming” model, Linda Evangelista, had her hair cut by stylist Julien d’Ys into what can be described as a “grown-out pixie.” The hairstylist admitted to cutting Evangelista’s hair on a “whim,” and wasn’t sure how he was going to cut it until he actually began snipping. Although nervous about her new look at first, Evangelista’s new look was a hit and, she admitted, her modeling rates “quadrupled.”
Celebrities like Halle Berry, Emma Watson, and Jennifer Lawrence – just to name a few – have all made fashion statements by cutting their hair short. “When you have short hair, there’s just a feeling of here I am. What you see is what you get,” said Halle Berry in the February 11, 2015 issue of Glamour magazine. “And there’s a confidence that comes with wearing short hair and I like the way that makes me feel.” If Joan of Arc did indeed bob her own hair, she then most certainly felt that confidence described by Halle Berry – assertive enough to lead French forces to victory! Perhaps when you look and feel good, anything is possible. Thanks, Joan!
A well dressed woman, even though her purse is painfully empty, can conquer the world! — Louise Brooks
To see more versions of the famous “bob” – like the “Moana” and the “Coconut” – click here.