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Hair Histories – The Eton Crop

Welcome to Hair Histories, where we look into the origins of some of the most enduring styles to see why they’re still influencing fashion today

Time for another flick through the history books! The iconic Eton Crop had a huge influence on gender and fashion in the 1920s. Knowing the story behind the style can help you with your character-building and period referencing. Let’s dive in…

“The Eton Crop hairstyle was named after the boys of the famous English school, who wore their hair longer than the extremely short men’s hair of the time,” explains Fae Hammond, Emmy award-winning hair and make-up designer who has to nail period looks for many film projects. “The Times used the term first. It was a version of the bob haircut but without the softness of the Marcel Wave. The hair was cut to reveal the ears and short all over, and styled with brilliantine to keep the sleek shape, creating a dramatic image which went so well with the radical change in fashion during the 1920s.”

The look is inherently tied to the idea of transgressive feminism and rebellion. “The Eton Crop was part of the sweeping change in fashions that reflected the radicalism of the 1920s and the dawn of the Hollywood era,” agrees Joceline Andrews, academic consultant at the Iver Make-Up Academy, who specialises in hair. “Women embraced androgynous styles, straight-line dresses and the ‘bobbed’ hair cut. The look is associated with the famous flapper girls of the Roaring Twenties – a generation of young, western women who broke with the conservatism of the pre–war period.”

The Eton Crop was the most radical version of this bob, and the masculine look of the cut made it a controversial departure from the feminine convention of long hair. It was an appropriate look for a period of feminist advancement.

The style was worn initially by famous actresses, entertainers and artists such as Josephine Baker and the American actress Leatrice Joy, Fae and Joceline explain, noting the huge influence of cinema in Europe. “Soon many young women were following and choosing this dramatic look, often very much against parents’ wishes – I know my grandmother got into terrible trouble with her father!” Fae adds.

Above: Leatrice Joy, Josephine Baker and The Baker Oil

The Eton Crop was daring, bold and so different from what came before, mirroring the clothes that became more streamlined and masculine in appearance. “The radical change must have been really something; the first time in history that women cut their hair short… it was a brave new world indeed,” Fae notes.

The style also worked under the tightly fitting cloche hat, and by the late ‘20s the movement had fully infiltrated society. “The ease of looking after hair after centuries of huge amounts of long hair must have been so liberating,” she says. “Women were now in the labour market after WW1, so the crop was practical and quick.”

Initially women went to barbers, as there were very few women’s hairdressers, but the popularity of the cut meant a whole new industry was formed by demand for these new styles. “By the mid ‘20s there were thousands of hairdressers opening up all over the Europe and America,” explains Fae. Who knew that this bold cut was basically the catalyst for hair salons as we know them?

“The Eton Crop went out of fashion in the ’30s, when hair became a little softer, but has since re-emerged in different forms, such as the pixie cut worn by Twiggy in the ’60s,” Joceline adds, also pointing also the succession of Hollywood starlets, including crop-loving Michelle Williams, who have gone for a serious chop as well.

Above: Michelle Williams, Emma Watson