The Locked Files: Black Bobs



It’s time for another instalment of The Locked Files, where we profile an iconic hairdo throughout the decades. This time around, I want to look at bobs, but not just any old bobs – black bobs (well I will allow brunette). Black bobs to me have always been something in and of themselves, separate from other bobs. A black bob is a statement, an identity and a trademark. Despite Margot Tennenabum, Mary Portas and Anna Wintour adopting the bob and displaying a chic, no nonsense visual, their lighter hues are not as impactful to me as the darker version of the same cut. As such, I felt that black bobs needed their own very unique Locked File.

I have searched in frustration for the best part of decade to find ‘my cut’. I had liked the idea that there was one perfect cut for each person and wanted to find my match. This cut would be a strong visual metaphor; it would make me look put together even when I was in my pyjamas. It would represent the sum total of my influences and loves. It would travel with me to Paris or New York and sit there on my bonce, perfectly in tune with my life and most importantly my wardrobe. In short, it would be my signature haircut. Well now I have given up on the dream that there is one perfect hair cut out there for me. I have tried dear reader, believe me I have tried. I have been set up with hairdressers by friends, I have scoured hair galleries online, and I have walked in to those unknown first salon appointments with a smile on my face and hope in my heart. However, I am just too darn picky and or fickle to find my perfect hair partner. Don’t get me wrong, it’s magical for the first week or so, but I soon get bored and start looking around for a shorter/longer/glossier or fuller option. My hair life is essentially the polar opposite of my love life, which is much more of the albatross variety.

My most lasting and important hair relationship has however been with the black bob. It is probably down to this picture, which I have already discussed here…

I had this picture on my wall as a teenager and it pretty much encompasses everything I was inspired by and sought to find in the world – uniqueness, an original love and midnight wonder. Also a cute shift dress. I think it resonated with me when I was young because despite not being stereotypically glamourous (by that I mean suntanned with long hair) this couple had found and loved each other and there in the moonlight they stood, protecting and shielding one another from the vast weirdness of the world around them and forming their own magic.


Back to black bobs.

I suppose if we want to get right back to it, we should take Cleopatra as an early advocate of the black bob. However and here let me adopt my history hat, contemporary coinage shows Cleopatra with her hair pulled back in loose bun in a more of a Roman fashion. Carving and statuary do show her wearing traditional ceremonial braided wigs and headpieces, sometimes known as Isis braids, for the very reason that she was in the guise of a goddess and these elaborate trappings are representative of this rather than necessarily being an accurate likeness. Then there is the perennial issue of artists creating her image either without meeting her or many years after her death. The beauty, lack thereof or just sheer ‘who-gives-a-figyness’ of Cleopatra has long been debated and every once in a while new evidence will come to light to argue for or against her hook nose or unique charisma. The benefits of these debates seem to me, well debateable (no one is putting quite so much effort into discovering whether Mark Antony was a looker or not). However, beyond any of this it is fairly certain that Cleopatra didn’t look like this:


Arguably, the most famous black bob is that worn by Louise Brooks. Her interpretation of it served to propel the cut into the popular lexicon as a shorthand for all things ‘vamp’. Little Louise may not have been the first black bob in history and she certainly was not the last but she is without a doubt the best. Sleek, sharp and timeless, her cut also came to be the symbol for all things ‘flapper’ related, to the degree that replica synthetic wigs are an expected addition to any 1920s fancy dress outfit on EBay. ‘Lulu’ remembered having her blunt bangs created by Saveli at the insistence of Barbara Bennett after a lunch of chocolate milkshakes. It tied in with, in her words, a desire to ‘create my dream woman’ which also involved expensive and elegant clothes working in harmony with the cut to create her trademark sultry look.


The short sharp bob of the interwar years became less ubiquitous during the 40s and early 50s as softer, longer styles became popular. However, the late 50’s and early sixties saw a sea change in women’s fashion and with it so the bob came back, albeit in a rounder and more voluminous form. 60s style makers Mary Quant and Vidal Sassoon popularised short, sleek black bobs as they came to be a symbol of fresh, clean modernism. As always dear reader I generally dislike speaking in such broad terms and I could bore you all senseless about the faux uniformity of trends viewed via hindsight, however please forgive me for trying to be reasonabley succinct at the expense of expansive historical detail.

Over the subsequent years black bobs have remained a visual code for all things vampy, naughty and just a touch Lolitaish, harking back to their Brooksian heritage. Designers and stylists alike often pop a black bobbed wig on an otherwise long, ombre-haired lovely in order to transform her into a textbook sex kitten – chic, mysterious and something just a little different. This is perhaps most notable in the aesthetic of Chantal Thomas who has made the black bob not merely her personal style insignia, but whose cat-eyed models rarely appear sporting anything other than a glossy, brow-skimming cut. Chanel, L’école des Femmes, Agent Provocateur, Ellen von Unwerth to name but a few all regularly harness the power of the black bob and that’s before we even get on to films. As this hilarious article succinctly points out, if you want a loathsome home wrecker who is hell-bent on breaking up a lovely marriage – get a gal with a black bob. Same goes for that journalist woman in High Fidelity who is all edgy and tempting to John Cusack’s character. Poor John Cusack. Baaaad, bob lady, No! I said No! Naughty! Get down from there. Go to your basket. Maybe hers was more of a dark red actually – but the point still stands.


Despite this hairdo bigotry rife in popular culture, I still love a black bob. As I said above, I have sported multiple incarnations myself. Most recently last summer I got one with a very short cyber-Bettie Page fringe which when I pinned it up made me look like Judy Garland, I’m still not sure if that was a good or bad thing. I generally prefer my bob fringe-less – controversial I know – is it even really a bob?!!! Who knows! Who cares! I’ve had em’ at all lengths and levels of bluntness (as I said, searching for my perfect match) but I tend to like mine a bit gown out somewhere just below the jaw. Funny story, I used to have quite long hair, sort of bra strap level if not a bit longer. I had talked for ages about cutting my hair short into a bob and T had always responded with that stock non-committal – ‘I like it the way it is’. I have never paid the least bit of mind to what any partners do or don’t like me doing with my style so these comments were hardly going to stop me. Back in 2008 T had been abroad for work for about six months and the day before he came back I got all of my hair hacked off – it wasn’t really planned that way it just sort of happened. Needless to say he loved it – (obvs. I mean bobs are awesome) and now every time I go to the hairdressers he not so subtly asks if I am getting a bob again. I probably will one day but right now, I’m playing around with having long hair (I’ve rediscovered ponytails – who knew!). Nevertheless, here a few shots from my Bob Hall of Fame (read- phone selfies).


Tits, I kinda’ want a bob again now. See! Fickle!