A 15th-century teenage war heroine may be an unlikely fashion muse, yet the French martyr Joan of Arc inspired the bob haircut that was trendy throughout the 20th century. Joan first decided to crop her hair and don men’s clothing to hide from danger during a journey to see Charles VII, the dauphin of France, believing she had received divine guidance that would help save France during the Hundred Years’ War against England. At just age 17, she helped lead her country to victory at the Siege of Orléans in 1429, for which she became famous. She is often depicted in knight’s armor with a cropped, pageboy-style hairdo in scenes from the battle.
The French heroine returned to the spotlight when the Catholic Church canonized her as St. Joan of Arc in the early 20th century. Influenced by Joan’s popularity, renowned Paris hairdresser Antoni Cierplikowski cut the first “bob” hairdo in 1909, citing Joan as his inspiration. The cut transformed the idea of cropped hair for women, making it a fashionable look for glamorous Hollywood stars — albeit controversial, especially at first. Long hair had long been seen as a symbol of femininity, and it was considered rebellious and even scandalous to expose the nape of the neck. Famous ballroom dancer Irene Castle was among the first to adopt the look, cropping her tresses in 1915. Actress Louise “Lulu” Brooks further popularized the style in the 1929 silent film Pandora’s Box, which made the “Lulu bob” world famous. Jazz Age “flappers” also adopted the new ’do, emphasizing their break from societal norms. Bobs continued their reign throughout the 20th century, as seen on some of the most influential women of the era, from actresses Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn to First Lady Jackie Kennedy.