Appalachia Appalachia Through My Eyes

Appalachia Through My Eyes – Bobby Pins

My life in appalachia bobby pins

Back in the 80s, when I was doing what teenage girls do, my friends and I wouldn’t have been caught dead sporting bobby pins in our hair like our mothers and grandmothers.

Yet today, I see young girls wearing bobby pins in their hair on a daily basis. Sometimes it’s to help keep ponytails in place-other times it looks like they’re wearing them for pure decoration.

Once I started thinking on the revival of the bobby pin-I remembered the MacGyver like stories about bobby pins saving the day. You know like when a bobby pin kept a 747 from falling out of the air when a mechanical issue suddenly arose.

Wondering about the history of bobby pins, I Googled around and found a story told by the husband of a beautician. He said there was a lady named Bobby who didn’t want to go out to eat with her husband because her hair was a mess. Since the husband had already made reservations-he really wanted to go. He ran out in the garage, fashioned a U shape out of a piece of metal, ran back in the house and said “Here Bobby pin your hair back with this and let’s go eat!” Cute story-but not true.

The June 2002 Issue of the Word Detective had this to say about the history of bobby pins:

Dear Word Detective: Why is a bobby pin called a “bobby” pin? Is it because it “polices” one’s hair? — Jason A. Shifrin, via the internet.

Now that is what I call a darn good question. And whatever happened to bobby pins, anyway? I haven’t seen one in years. Were they done in by hairspray and mousse? Are there warehouses full of bobby pins somewhere, case upon case of them stacked next to mountains of typewriters and home-movie projectors? Do I sound like a hopeless geezer yet? Onward.

Your theory about “bobby pins” (which are small springy folded wire clips) being the “bobbies” (a British term for a police officer) of unruly hair is inspired, but wide of the mark. I’m not certain exactly when the “bobby pin” was invented, but the term itself came into use in the 1930s, at a time when female hair fashions were tending toward shorter styles. Such hairstyles were called “bobbed,” from “to bob,” meaning “to cut short.”

The origin of this sense of “bob” is uncertain, but it seems to be related to the Irish “baban,” meaning “tassel or cluster,” and the first use of this “bob” in a “hair” sense was to describe the cropped or docked tail of a horse. Thus “bobby pins” were so-called because they were designed to keep shorter hairstyles under control. The same sense of “bobby” meaning “short” cropped up a few years later when “bobby socks,” short ankle socks, became popular among young women during the 1940s.

Of course, “Bob” and “Bobby” are also the shortened, familiar forms of the proper name “Robert,” and this brings us back to the British “bobby” pounding a beat. In 1828 Sir Robert Peel, then Home Secretary (and later Prime Minister), reorganized the London police force into a modern law enforcement agency. Officers in the new department were known at first as “peelers,” as their Irish counterparts had been after a similar reorganization when Peel was Secretary for Ireland some years earlier. But for whatever reason, “peeler” was gradually replaced in the public vernacular by “bobby,” and members of the London force are still known as “bobbies” today.

Is there a resurgence of bobby pins in your area? Or maybe its just a southern Appalachia thing.


Appalachia Through My Eyes – A series of photographs from my life in Southern Appalachia.


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  • Reply
    September 11, 2012 at 9:34 pm

    Lots of us use bobby pins here, including my granddaughter. For myself, the way I put my hair up, I prefer either hair pins or chopsticks. But you see lots of people here using bobby pins. It’s funny, I remember in highschool if you did break down and use them you tried to make them not show up….LOL

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    September 11, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    I wonder just how many formerly mean little boys remember using the spring steel “Bobby Pins” to make a flipper which would raise a blister on bare skin and if anyone one else carried a paddlin in school for making and using one of these little torture devices?

  • Reply
    September 9, 2012 at 5:32 pm

    Don’t think I’ll try cleaning my ears with a bobby pin, I have enough trouble hearing as it is. I remember a friend who had very thin, fine hair, trying to put my very thick, coarse hair into a French Twist (or roll)back in the early 60s. She put in only 3 bobby pins, so my hair stayed up for about a minute or two. The bobby socks I wore back in the 50s were not anklet length, but, instead, were thick and extended to hem of mid-calf length very heavy skirt. Even though I was about 122 lbs with a 19 inch waist and 5’6″ tall, I always felt like to big, especially clumsy cow. Still can’t stand to wear mid-calf, bulky skirts.
    I found the comments on this post interesting in part because of the different spellings of “pin.” Some people spelled the word with an “e”. And, yes, I have noticed more girls wearing bobby pins.

  • Reply
    September 9, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    Oh, sometimes I wish I could find a bobby pin- I think I’ve been clean outta them for years. For everyone who said we wouldn’t be caught dead with one showing from the 60’s on- we sure did wear them, and not just for an up-do. (Those were mostly the more open hair pins). With our long hair, it was important to know how to ‘hide’ the bobby pin holding back those growing out bangs, and let the hair fall over it.You know that you did it, girls- for the yearbook picture, now.

  • Reply
    September 9, 2012 at 10:25 am

    When I was a child way back in the early 60’s, I remember Mom and her friends using bobby pins in their bouffant-ish hairstyles.
    70’s hippie hair made bobby pins unnecessary and uncool.
    Then came the 80’s big hair (I did not participate, though many of my friends did)and the bobby pin came back into general use again. Just like Tipper, I recall the pins being used in very artistic ways so that they wouldn’t show.
    Goodbye big hair, goodbye bobby pins.
    And now I am seeing, just as Tipper described, young women wearing bobby pins right out in the open, some of them even have a little ornament on them. So I guess it’s not strictly a southern appalacian thing.

  • Reply
    Harold Ammons
    September 9, 2012 at 12:59 am

    Most bobby pins are spring steel although sometimes a bit soft. They do come in colors besides black and brown. Some are made of stainless steel. It might be a good idea to keep a few in your tool box or tackle box.

  • Reply
    susie swanson
    September 8, 2012 at 7:56 pm

    Yeah.. my grandaughter wears them all the time..I can’t get over seeing the young girls bringing back the tren..My mama would roll all her hair with Bobby Pins and go to bed with them..She used to roll mine with them too..If she didn’t use Bobby Pins she used brown paper sacks cut into strips..You ought to see some of my school pics when I first started school..At least something is making a come back..Great Post and I love the history on it..

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    September 8, 2012 at 5:50 pm

    I certainly would not have been caught with one in my hair and yes I see them everywhere now. Look how fashion changes or should I say loops? Certainly everything I have ever needed to know about bobbypins. Thank you Tipper

  • Reply
    Carri Dawn
    September 8, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    My Grandma (Asheville) would put my hair in pin curls, all over my head! I would sit for hours while she scraped my little head with those Bobby Pins! I have waist length pin curl hair as an adult and I am sure that is because my gramma spent hours on it, it has become permanent 40 years later!!
    Boy I miss those days!!
    Thanks Tipper for always keeping home grown values and memories close at hand!!
    Carri {snohomish Wa}

  • Reply
    September 8, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    Yes, they are being worn here. When I was young (60’s ish) they were used to pin up updos but we tried to keep them out of sight in the hair. Never would have just stuck one in where it could be seen.
    Also used to make pin curls–they would be crisscrossed to hold the curl. Felt awful when they were tight.
    I remember home perms too- the rollers seemed designed to pull hair especially in the sensitive thin areas like around the neck. And to frizz you up like Orphan Annie. I was a victim of this over & over till I was grown.
    In my teens brush rollers were in style & we actually slept in them & some people used big empty juice cans. Or ironed their hair! I was lucky mine was straight during that fad.
    Remember how we opened the bobby pins???

  • Reply
    September 8, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    Have no idea what the young girls are wearing now days. When i was a kid, Mama used to take little strands of my hair and roll it between her fingers back to the scalp then stick a bobby pin in it to hold. When it’d dry,I usually was pulling them out and sometimes biting the soft tip off of them, then she’d get the comb. It was always too tight.I called it frizzed up. Then she’d either stick some in the sides to hold it back or put in a cheap little barrette. Since i was a tomboy, I’d rather had a ponytail or pigtails. Never cared for the curls.

  • Reply
    September 8, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    I hate bobby pins and this is why. When I lived in Michigan I let a homeless girl come live at my house and she was a big fan of bobby pins. I would tell you how many of them I found with my vacuum cleaner but I can’t count that high.

  • Reply
    Sallie Covolo
    September 8, 2012 at 10:18 am

    Hi Tipper, my girls were teens during the 80’s and I do not remember if they used Bobby Pins. I still use them to keep my hair rollers in place when setting my hair. I bought some colored ones the other day that are kind of short and glittery, but I was looking for plain ones..I had to look all over for them. I do not know if the grandkids have them in their hair. I have an eight year old grand girl and I think she might have them attached to bows. Everyone else has long hair. (Of the grand daughters)

  • Reply
    September 8, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    If the Bobby pin manages to get into the washing machine’s drain, it can puncture the drain hose. Guess how I know! Two teenaged girls live at this house. Bobby pins abound!

  • Reply
    Tim Hassell
    September 8, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    I can’t say that I’ve “paid a mind” to bobby pins in the girls’ hair lately, but B. ruth sure brought back a flood of memories of women smoothing their hair with and then re-inserting those little hair combs that so many women wore back then. And hat pins in hats, nobody woman or man would have thought of going bareheaded.

  • Reply
    September 8, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    do you remember chewing those plastic blobs off the ends? it was the main reason you had to keep buying more!

  • Reply
    Canned Quilter
    September 8, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    My 17 year old daughter is again sporting bobby pins so they must be coming back around here as well. Greatest thing ever for picking the locks on the doors when my 2 year old grandson locks me out : )

  • Reply
    B O Schmelon
    September 8, 2012 at 11:46 am

    We used to try to pick locks with bobby pins. They also make good substitutes for paper clips.

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    September 8, 2012 at 10:35 am

    In case anyone is interested…
    Wash hair…comb straight down around…Take fingers and push hair between fingers to raise upward..Place the size hair clip by clampling the clip oh the wet hair that is raised up. Go on to the next finger push and clip decreasing in size or keep even size all the way down..If it gets a little weighty and it will. Pin with hair pins to hold more on head..Remember not to pin where the crease will show where the pin was placed…Let hair thoroughly dry…Will set better if you get under the outer space hair dryer and let dry on hot…LOL Unclip all wave clips and gently comb hair…careful not to pull out waves…Should last a few days…If you put bobby pins in each wave at night to hold shape till morning…
    Those were the days of Bobby pins and wave clips…
    Thanks Tipper, PS…Now a days one could use a gel. mousse or hair spray…!

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    September 8, 2012 at 10:26 am

    and Ed…yes, I found many light grey bobby pins and light blonde or light brown bobby pins in Moms statch…
    I forgot to mention the many size wave clips…
    The crafties are usuing the antique wave metal clips to insert jewels in for “kitchy” hair decor…”Not many use for those thirties hair waves anymore.”
    Guess I could make a bunch of them…from baby size to giant metal ones…They are getting pricy on E-bay too…I saved a few of the different sizes to show my Grandaughters when I see them…LOL
    Thanks Tipper

  • Reply
    September 8, 2012 at 10:11 am

    Funny this should come up today, as I just noticed colored bobby pins – blue! – at the store a couple of days ago. Apparently they are now a fashion statement? Of course I was looking for those simple plastic “sidecomb” things, which used to be everywhere and now seem to be nowhere at all. I can tie my hair back or up, but pieces always escape on the sides and fly into my eyes, so I need some sort of control device. I never thought of switching to bobby pins, because, as you say, when I was growing up they weren’t something I would have ever worn outside the house! Maybe I’d better update my thinking. Besides, never know when I might be called upon to fix an airplane.

  • Reply
    September 8, 2012 at 9:43 am

    My sisters have always had a talent for doing hair. One went on to be a stylist while the other has cut family and coworker’s hair for years. We couldn’t afford hair pens back in the 60s when The Bee Hive Bubble and other styles were popular. Mom always had plenty bobby pens that served the purpose. I have worked with hundreds of young girls that co-op in Louisville. The job requires physical labor and lots of safety training. The hair is almost a safety issue when they are new employees and trying to look good. Within a week, you can bet nearly all of them will be sporting bobby pens, no makeup and wearing clothes that can be thrown away. I still wear bobby pens to hold loose hair when I am wearing an up-do. The blonde/gold ones I recently bought at a discount store cost $4.79!

  • Reply
    dolores barton
    September 8, 2012 at 9:18 am

    This is a very interesting post; I had never thought of the use of bobby pins being non-existent. You are right; we don’t seem to use them like we did years ago. However, I have a secret stash that I came upon about two years ago. I had forgotten I had them and I was looking for a clip to pull my hair back while working pulling weeds. I still have that small secret stash and use them as needed. I will tell no one where they are hidden.

  • Reply
    Janet Smart
    September 8, 2012 at 9:18 am

    I haven’t really noticed if kids are wearing them around here or not. But, when I was young, people pin curled their hair with bobby pins and of course, when you wore pony tails, you sometimes needed to use them to hold back those short strands of hair. They are also good for getting the pits out of cherries.

  • Reply
    Ferman Buff
    September 8, 2012 at 9:15 am

    Just wondering! Does Stephen Ammons label his bobby pins so he doesn’t use his earwax removal kit to get his walnut goodies. I used to love Black Walnut Cake 🙁

  • Reply
    September 8, 2012 at 8:59 am

    i never see young people so don’t know if they are coming back or not. i used them to roll my hair in those horrid curlers in the 50’s and 60’s and mother put bobby permanents in my hair when i was 3 to high school.

  • Reply
    Ferman Buff
    September 8, 2012 at 8:34 am

    By definition girls can’t be geezers!

  • Reply
    Patty Hall
    September 8, 2012 at 8:19 am

    Yes, I see it most every day. Back in the day, my mom used them to hold her rollers in place or to make pin curls. Would not think of wearing them out in public. They also made good ear cleaners. I remember a lady in church who would pull one out of her hair, scratch her ear and put it back. Funny how things come back around.

  • Reply
    Uncle Al
    September 8, 2012 at 7:57 am

    Never thought much about it, but now that you bring them up, I do see the girls (all ages) at church wearing them all the time. I’ve heard them called both bobby pin and hair pin. I also well remember the young girls of my day wearing bobby socks. Interesting post.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    September 8, 2012 at 7:37 am

    I am quite familiar with bobby pins but never knew or even thought about how they got their name. I do inventory control in the HBC/GM section of a wholesale distribution center. When people ask me what I do there, I tell them I count bobby pins.
    As far as I know there hasn’t been a noticeable upward trend in their sale. I think they have always been a staple item. “Just in case” you might need to save a 747 or clean out your ears or something.
    Bobby pins only come in black and brown, unless some creative genius has made them for blondes and redheads recently.
    You would be surprised at how many haircare products are on the market these days.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    September 8, 2012 at 7:30 am

    Nowadays, one can see “decorated” bobby pins for sale, and some of the girls (and grown-ups, too) are wearing these hair decorations. Remember when we “set” our hair at home by rolling pin curls and securing them (until our hair dried) with bobby pins? That was the main way I used bobby pins growing up–not “in public” but at home to make my hair curly and presentable! One of my little great grnddaughters, who will be 3 in October, loves hair bows, and is seldom seen without one–like she’s not properly “dressed” without it. Cute! And her bow, to match each outfit, is attached by a bobby pin that oftentimes has to be rearranges.

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    September 8, 2012 at 7:12 am

    Correction…I went back and I put her hair bobbed was in the late twenties…Her shop she had was in the thirties…
    You should see the floor hair dryer..looks like a space transference machine…LOL
    Thanks Tipper

  • Reply
    Kimberly Burnette
    September 8, 2012 at 7:12 am

    I see young girls wearing them here in Roanoke, VA too. I wouldn’t have been caught dead with one in my hair when I was a teen . . . or even now!

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    September 8, 2012 at 7:07 am

    This is so scary…just as I was reading the other morning to Nickabob about the light bill…up popped your question about light bills….
    Then just as I was thinking about another sale at Moms, I was working and found many Bobby Pens…
    The old ones…eventhough you can still buy them today…
    Let us go back one more generation, to my Grandmothers era and further back…there are crossovers too…
    My Grandmother in her later years wore her hair woound up and penned in a bun..with hair pens.
    These were longer thin metal u-shaped open pens…In the late fourties they started putting a tip of something on the ends as they did on bobby pens to help keep from scratcing the head as you placed them in the hair…Now one step back were those long hair pens made of bakelite, catlin and other early material…My Grandmother had a bevy of those old hair combs, pens, mostly tortise shell color…and a few black ones…As well, as hat pins to hold down the hat…Can you imagine with all those combs, hat pins and holders, hair pens, etc. etc. The dresser needed its own trays and gadget separators…LOL Now it is filled with barrets, gels, mousse, hair spray etc. etc…I wonder if we would be better off to just pen our hair like olden times or just plain old bob it off like Mom did in the thirties…so short and straight down although least we wouldn’t be spraying and gelling the enviorment…
    Mom was a beautian with her own salon in the twenties…
    Thanks Tipper, You would not believe she stored her shop equipment when she closed in forty…and I am still going through some of it…My, have rollers (ouch)changed…LOL

  • Reply
    Stephen Ammons
    September 8, 2012 at 4:26 am

    Another example of using the word bob could need to include the bobcat named because of it’s tail. I hope the bobby pins are making a comeback,not that I would need one because I am a man and bald as a bowling ball but they did make excellent tools for removing the last little bit of goody out of a walnut and removing other things. Have a great day 🙂

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