Why the bob is the most powerful haircut of all time

The bob is so much more than a trend – here's why this style is a symbol of women's empowerment through the ages

Three famous wearers of bobs throughout history Diana Ross, Debbie Harry and Diana Princess of Wales
(Image credit: Future/Getty images)

Already being hailed as the biggest hair trend of 2023, the bob haircut is back – although we’re not sure it ever really went away. This hairstyle has been reinvented so many times that there’s a variation to suit every taste, face shape, and moment in time.

Much more than just a chop, the bob hairstyle has also become a symbol of empowerment for women. Bob fashions have, throughout various stages of history, coincided with huge power shifts for women. Flappers in the roaring twenties redefined what it means to be a woman, exploring their new-found freedoms they cut their hair off in liberation. The swinging sixties, a period of social and political change, also saw the bob rise to new heights of popularity.

With long hairstyles being seen as a feminine beauty standard, breaking from this tradition with a short style can still be a celebration of independence today. "The bob has long been established as a symbol of strength and status," says Ricky Walters, owner of Salon64. "You will see many powerful women with a bob." Perhaps that’s why bob is making a big comeback – this classy cut is a universal power move, in a world still full of gender bias. 

Why the bob is the most powerful style of all time

The history of the bob haircut

Irene Castle with a bob haircut

Irene Castle 

(Image credit: Getty images)

There has been evidence to suggest the bob haircut dates back to the national heroine of France, Joan of Arc in the 1400s.  Believing she was sent from God to guide France to victory against the English, she cut her hair short as she transformed from peasant girl to military leader in 'male attire' transcending gender roles. 

Skip to 1909, when the first celebrity hairdresser Antoni Cierplikowski (later known as Monsieur Antoine) can be credited for introducing the first bob known as the shingle cut in his Paris salon. The bob was inspired by Joan of Arc, it covered the ears and was cut shorter in a V-shape at the nape. And with famous clients like Coco Chanel this boyish cut was born. 

Meanwhile, women in the US watched dancer Irene Castle, appearing on Broadway and in silent films of the time. A real trendsetter, she wore short skirts and in 1915 cut off her hair, leading to a revolutionary trend for women. 

Louise Brooks with a bob haircut

Louise Brooks 

(Image credit: Getty images)

Bobbed hair started to really hit the mainstream in the aftermath of World War One. The ‘roaring twenties’ was a period of freedom and modernity, when cities became exciting places to be, and the popularity of jazz music was blamed for encouraging women to go against gender norms.

Known as Flappers, these women abandoned their corsets for short, straight-silhouetted dresses that were easy to dance in, and cut their hair into short, sharp-edged box bob haircuts, often finger-waved. They smoked cigarettes, drank alcohol in public, and were accused of acting ‘just like men’ by the many who disapproved. 

This rebellious period of history is not the only time the bob haircut has been linked to the empowerment of women. In the swinging sixties, in line with the cultural and sexual revolution of the time, the bob came back with a bang. Style icon of the time, Mary Quant, who famously popularised the mini-skirt, had her hair cut into an angular bob by Vidal Sassoon. Known as the five-point cut, it became her signature look and was emulated by many. 

Uma Thurman with a bob haircut in pulp fiction

Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction

(Image credit: Getty images)

Fast forward to the '90s, and the bob became the cut favored by rebellious women once again. Girl power saw Posh Spice, aka Victoria Beckham, with a sharp cut, and cultural icon Uma Thurman’s sleek, fringed bob in Pulp Fiction inspired many a copycat. This was another era when women questioned beauty standards, with androgynous style riding high. Even the traditionally feminine icons of the time, glamazon supermodels Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, and Christy Turlington, all sported bobs. 

Today, a bob haircut is still judged as a bold statement (primarily by outdated beauty standards such as pretty privilege that perceive long hair to be a feminine trait) This has led to powerful women opting for shorter styles. Fans of Succession will remember that savvy sibling Shiv opted for a sleek boyfriend bob style, when she was in line to be the next head of the family company. Meanwhile, off-screen iconic Vogue editor Anna Wintour and ex-German chancellor Angela Merkel are both wearers of power bobs, giving off confidence in a male-dominated world. 

How the bob still empowers women (including me)

Sabine Wiesel

Sabine with her 'breakup bob'

(Image credit: Sabine Wiesel)

Coco Chanel famously said, "A woman that cuts her hair is about to change her life," and the ritual of cutting off your hair has long been associated with hitting the reset button."I’ve been a hair stylist since 1988 and seen reasons such as breakups, changing jobs, and moving to a new house," celebrity hairdresser Michael Douglas tells us. 

Perhaps that’s why the heartbreak haircut is such a popular phenomenon. After a ten-year relationship ended I too had a hair makeover. Once my tears dried, acceptance kicked in: I knew I needed to let go of my past to build a new life. As I sat in the salon chair, I watched my long blonde hair (a style I’d worn all of my life) fall to the floor. Looking back in the mirror was a new, chin-length bob. It was the shortest my hair had ever been and I instantly felt lighter – I was cutting off the dead weight of my past. 

I’m the first to admit it sounds like a cliché but making a drastic change gave me some control in my life, after a turbulent period lacking it. Just like the Flappers of the 1920s, or the liberated women of the 1960s I too felt independent again. I was ready to enter a new chapter of my life. 

I'm far from alone in my breakup bob. There are endless cases of celebrities going for the chop after their own breakups. In 2004, Anne Hathaway embraced the power of the bob after her breakup with Raffaello Follieri, while Jenna Dewan stepped out with a new short bob after announcing her split from husband Channing Tatum.

It's no wonder we're embracing the bob again in 2023 as a symbol of confidence, independence, and femininity. I’m undecided whether I’ll go for the chop again, as I’m in a different place in my life now, but this cut should be recognized for the important role it has played in empowering women of the past, today, and certainly will do again in the future. 

The most iconic bob haircuts of all time

1920s: Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel

(Image credit: Getty images)

French fashion designer, Coco Chanel, cut her hair into a bob before it became the iconic look for Flapper girls of the era. The original trendsetter sits here amongst women of the time, who later liked to add finger waves to the look. Keeping it in this shape throughout her life, her wavy bob has become as iconic as her fashion label.  

1930s: Greta Garbo

Greta Garbo

(Image credit: Getty images)

In this decade, the golden age of Hollywood saw leading ladies like Ginger Rogers and Greta Garbo (pictured in Susan Lenox: Her Fall and Rise) favor the pageboy cut. This was a longer grown-out shoulder-length bob with a side-parting – not unlike today's Italian bob, styled smooth through the lengths and curled under at tips.  

1940s: Veronica Lake

Veronica Lake

(Image credit: Getty images)

Actor and pin-up-girl, Veronica Lake, was famed for her long, flowing S-curls. Long hair was dangerous for women working in factories at the time, so the government approached Lake to change her 'do and help the war effort. She cut it shorter, styled it out of the way in a ‘victory roll’, and so the war trend was born.  

1950s: Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe

(Image credit: Getty images)

Hollywood icon of the era, Marilyn Monroe, has one of the most iconic beauty looks of all time: eyeliner flicks, apple red lipstick, and of course the blonde bombshell’s platinum, curly bob. Her style is as relevant today with the Marilyn bob trending after the release of Netflix’s Blonde.  

1960s: Diana Ross

Diana Ross

(Image credit: Getty images)

Throughout the '60s the bob reigned supreme (especially in Diana Ross' Motown band of the same name) In The Supremes, Ross was never seen without a variation of her statement bob – proving the higher the hair the better.  

1970s: Debbie Harry

Debbie Harry

(Image credit: Getty images)

So iconic is Debbie Harry’s bob, her band Blondie was even named after it. Bleached, shaggy, undone, and framed with a fringe that screams edgy, this chopped bob is the style she’s rocked most of her career and pretty much to this day.  

1980s: Princess Diana

Princess Diana

(Image credit: Getty images)

The Princess of Wales was not just a favorite royal, she was also a fashion icon. Her signature choppy bob went through various adaptations throughout the ’80s, but it was never without lots of volume, layers, and a side-parting that perfectly matched her tiaras.  

1990s: Naomi Campbell

Naomi Campbell

(Image credit: Getty images)

This decade saw the shape turn shorter and more relaxed. The cropped bob was a favorite amongst actresses Drew Barrymore, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Cameron Diaz. But it was also a ’90s supermodel favorite, and nobody wore it better than Naomi Campbell.   

2000s: Victoria Beckham

Victoria Beckham

(Image credit: Getty images)

From her classic Spice Girl bob (so famous it was renamed the ‘pob’ - an amalgamation of posh and bob) to turning fashion designer with a sleek, angled cut, the noughties saw Victoria Beckham sporting a variety of bob haircuts and longer bob 'clavicuts'. She even turned blonde at one point in the decade, and pulled it off in style. 

2010s: Anna Wintour

Anna Wintour

(Image credit: Getty images)

Anna Wintour practically invented the power bob. After the success of The Devil Wears Prada, in which Meryl Streep plays a character inspired by the tough magazine editor, even those who weren’t followers of fashion knew who this iconic face and power bob belonged to on the front row.

2020s: Kim Kardashian

Kim Kardashian

(Image credit: Getty images)

Kim Kardashian changes her hair so often that it’s hard to keep up, but often opts for the power bob as one of her iconic looks. When she spoke on criminal justice reform at The White House address Kardashian wore it sleek and shoulder-length, and here last year she was spotted with a platinum version.  

Sabine Wiesel
Freelance Beauty Editor

Sabine Wiesel is a freelance Beauty Editor who specializes in creating content for women aged 30+. She regularly tests her way through the latest beauty launches and is not afraid to put a trend to the test no matter how obscure. She has been writing about skincare, hair, and makeup for over 14 years, working in-house on women’s lifestyle magazines such as Prima, Good Housekeeping, and Red, as well as freelancing for titles such as The Independent, Evening Standard, of course, woman&home – where she started out as an intern long ago.