Twentieth-century hair-oines: constructing femininity in literature, 1850s-1920s.
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Women's hair at the turn of the twentieth century (1850s-1920s) can be read as a visual indicator of changing understandings of femininity during this time. As women began to explore the promise of greater female power and freedom associated with the triumph of suffrage in 1920, they cropped their once burdensome piles of hair in favor of the light and easy "bob." Rich in symbolic significance for the individual women of the time, this event sent social messages about this new generation of women. These messages received strong replies, both positive and negative, which brought issues of femininity to the forefront of cultural discourse. The hair imagery of various authors of the time, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edith Wharton, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, communicated messages – via a fashion language – concerning the tension between individuality and social conformity. When read as a symbolic expression of femininity, hair provides significant clues in understanding the effects of individual and social forces on the construction of femininity and the fashioning of the female body in literature.