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What about bob? Iconic hairstyle continues to change – and stir change

By Adrienne Johnson Martin
Correspondent
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/03/12/14/17/LxoCf.Em.138.jpeg|316
    Dan Steinberg - Dan Steinberg/Invision/AP
    2014Beyonce, with her momentary bob at the Grammys in January (she is back to long extensions).
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/03/12/12/36/551KO.Em.138.jpg|316
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    Trendsetters of the bob, from left: Actress Winona Ryder in 1989, actress Grace Kelly in the 1950s, singer Beyonce in 2014,
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/03/10/18/21/1nv9IO.Em.138.jpeg|438
    Evan Agostini - PHOTOS COURTESY ASSOCIATED PRESS AND MIRAMAX FILMS
    Taylor Swift recently cut her long mane into a bob.

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

The bob – that typically jawline-length, century-old haircut – is surging again. You can see it in celebrity circles. Golden-tressed Taylor Swift is a recent convert; Katy Perry followed, 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.

Nikki Prendergast, a stylist at Fresh Salon on Ballantyne Commons Parkway, calls the cut a classic look that has continually garnered requests during her 18 years in the style business. “It’s the clients probably in their 30s and 40s,” she says. “They don’t want their hair too short; they want it long enough so they can still pull it back.”

Challenging notions of femininity

When the bob appeared in the late 1910s, 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. “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. 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.

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.

A softer bob

Prendergast says she sculpts her bobs according to a client’s face, shape, lifestyle and hair density.

She wants to give them something they can style themselves. “When I think of the bob, the first image that pops up is Cleopatra,” she says. “Then I think of Vidal Sassoon and the great looks he created. A lot of those bobs were precision-based; they had sharp lines. You don’t see that as much. They’re softer now. There’s a lot of texture and movement.”

Prendergast’s observation about the softer bob brings us back to an interesting historical point.

In the early 20th century, women who chose the bob, Kurennaya says, were often considered unfeminine, insubordinate and morally loose. That sounds silly now; in the post-feminist era, there’s been an embrace of the glories of insubordination among many women.

The bob keeps evolving.

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