After the end of World War I (1914–18) both men and women were inspired to change their hairstyles. For men the changes were not too drastic, but for women hairstyles were dramatically different. Nevertheless, both men and women prized neatly groomed hairstyles during this period.
Soldiers came back from the war with military cuts, hairstyles trimmed close on top and shaved up past the ears in the back. Men grew their hair out a bit but maintained neat, short hair. It was not the cut but the dressing that distinguished men's hair in the 1920s. Men smeared grease on their hair to create a shiny patent leather look popularized by movie stars. Only older men wore beards, while young men shaved daily, leaving only a pencil-thin mustache, if any facial hair at all.
Women, having experienced independence from men during the war, marked their continued desire for independence with a new hairstyle. Snipping off the long tresses that men so admired, women signaled their desire for liberation from their old roles in society. The bob, or short haircut, became the most popular style of all classes of women. Usually only old women and men did not like bobbed hair. In Fashions in Hair: The First Five Thousand Years Richard Corson quotes an article in a 1926 Good Housekeeping magazine that remarked about "How pleasant they are to look at—the proud, smoothly-coiffed, youthful, brave, bobbed topknots of today, hair brushed and clipped until it outlines charmingly the back of the head! So different they are from the grotesque shapes and sizes we have seen since the twentieth century ushered in the towering pompadour. Here is simplicity and a lightness of head. … Hats are easy to buy, headaches from hairpins and heavy coils disappear, and hairdressing takes less time—though more thought." Bobs were styled in several different ways, teased to look windswept, slicked close to the head, or sculpted into flat waves. Actress Mary Pickford (1893–1979) summed up a good reason women cut their hair, writing, "Of one thing I am sure: [a woman] looks smarter with a bob, and smartness rather than beauty seems to be the goal of every woman these days," according to Corson. In 1926 the most daring and controversial of hairdos, the Eton crop, came into fashion. This was a severe, masculine style with hair slicked back close to the head. Many older, more conservative women and the majority of men disliked the Eton crop as a move against traditional femininity. Haircutting had become such a phenomenon by the end of the decade that in the United States alone the number of barber-shops had increased from eleven thousand to forty thousand.
Both men and women wore hats between 1919 and 1929. For women the cloche hat and bandeau were stylish additions to a bobbed head. For men the fedora and derby hats topped men's neat styles.
Corson, Richard. Fashions in Hair: The First Five Thousand Years. London, England: Peter Owen, 2001.
Trasko, Mary. Daring Do's: A History of Extraordinary Hair. New York: Flammarion, 1994.