Among the few notable things about this year’s Golden Globes was that so many women dispensed with long curling-ironed hair or chignons or whatever other frippery and just chopped it. Saoirse Ronan had a lob, or “long bob,” styled by Ben Skervin. Claire Foy: mini-bob. Maya Rudolph: sharp medium-long bob. Lobs, too, for Lucy Boynton (‘Bohemian Rhapsody’) and Irina Shayk, a model.
This major bob moment comes exactly 100 years after an avalanche of women — 20,000 per week, according to the Women’s Improvement League — scandalised the world by cutting off their waist-long, painstakingly coiffed dos.
They chose instead an ear-grazing crop cut that until then had been worn only by wilful, freethinking renegades — Bolsheviks, the Bloomsbury set, up-and-coming Coco Chanel, Greenwich Village radicals, fashion-forward ballroom dancer Irene Castle, who catapulted the bob into the American mainstream.
The bob, while now a classic, has never quite lost its unladylike insouciance. Even today, “switching to a bob is a little bit like giving the finger,” said Yves Durif, New York hairstylist.
As if on cue at the start of 2019, this cheeky haircut has resumed its role as a take-no-prisoners rebuke to those long tresses, cascading below the shoulders, that have dominated the opening decades of the 21st century.
Ahn Co Tran, a hairstylist with a salon in Beverly Hills, California, said he cuts “oh my God, ever so many bobs.” They’re not a deluge (yet), but more and more are happening in the larger cities.
“We’re seeing a turning away from hairdressing and a resurgence of hair,” said Peter Gray, a stylist in New York.
This despite what may be an ingrained American partiality to long hair, versus what Michel Obadia, a Moroccan-born veteran hairstylist in New York, called “a European preference for short hair generally and the bob in particular.”
“American women want to be beautiful,” Obadia said. “European woman want to be stylish.” In fact, according to Wendy Iles, a stylist in Paris whose clients have included Marion Cotillard and Lea Sedoux, “the bob defines Frenchwomen’s hairstyles.”
“It’s quite a statement to have a bob,” Skervin said. “You’re either drawn to the bob or you’re intimidated by it. But you own it.”
The style is defined by its blunt edge, often angled longer in front, reaching somewhere between the earlobe and the collarbone. A versatile cut, it runs the gamut from the rigidly geometric Vidal Sassoon-esque structured 60s bob to the contemporary textured bob, the asymmetrical bob and what Tran called “the dishevelled, undone, unkempt, whimsical French bob.”
And then there’s the “hedge-like topiary bob, much of which is cut freehand,” as engineered by Skervin for Tessa Thompson’s November 2018 Essence cover. Not to overlook the Isabella-Rossellini-in-the-90s bob, “blunt, but worn messy,” said George Norwood, a stylist in London.
And definitely not to overlook “the most inspiring bob of all,” according to Durif: “the quintessential sleek, cheek-grazing bob” belonging to screen actress Louise Brooks, who “wore the look to perfection” in her 1929 film, ‘Prix de Beaute.’
“There’s a bob for everyone,” Durif said. And it suits all ages. “You see an older woman walk into a room wearing a short, chopped, graphic bob — already she’s won your confidence,” Iles said.
“For children, the bob gives character,” Durif said. “On grown women, it’s sexy.”
“My bob is romantic, edgy, artistic and so magical it could be fetishised,” said Isabella Lalonde, a media trainee at Christian Dior. “It’s a constant symbol of who I am, and it looks good even if I haven’t washed my hair in a few days.”
For those attracted to the bob’s bluntness but lacking the nerve to go jaw-length short, as well as for the multitudes who insist on keeping at least a rudimentary ponytail (even a stump), there’s a shoulder-length variant, popular for several seasons now.
Emma Stone, Jennifer Lawrence, Mila Kunis, Megan Fox, Kim Kardashian and models Alexa Chung and Emily Ratajkowski have all been seen with lobs.
Making a course correction, the latest bob permutation is the mini-bob, so ultra short that Tran called it “the ear bob.” Already it has been spotted on the aptly named Emily Blunt (just call her Mary Loppins), models Hailey Bieber and Taylor LaShae, and thousands of civilians on Instagram. (Just keep in mind that this bob needs trimming every six to eight weeks, at most.)
Nick Arrojo, a hairstylist, has lately been cutting a number of mini-bobs at his salons in Manhattan and Brooklyn. “A shorter bob puts an emphasis on the face, on the individual. It changes the way you appear,” Arrojo said. “2019 looks very much like the day of the short bob.”
“Colour plays a major role in how a bob looks,” Skervin said. He is one of many stylists who welcome bold special effects on this hairdo: graduated colour, for instance, and a technique known as slicing, which involves lightening full slices of hair rather than using the standard weaving technique in highlighting.
“With multiple colours sliced in, you get more dimension, more contouring,” said Marie Sigismondi of Pierre Michel Salon, who has been tinting a lot of bobs in recent months.