The bob has disappeared from the countryside but is now making a comeback as a fashion trend: to be worn in summer or winter, in the sun or the rain, it is now a cult accessory that cannot be ignored. With all kinds of prints and luxurious materials such as cotton or wool, the bob has reinvented itself. Here is a look at the history of this once purely functional headwear.
A bob is a small, round, soft hat with a cap that is fitted to the head and a small, full brim that usually slopes downwards. The brim can also be worn folded upwards: at the front, at the back, or all around.
It can be made from any kind of fabric, from canvas to vinyl. It is very popular because of its practicality and functionality. It provides protection from the sun as well as from the rain while maintaining good visibility. The hat also folds easily for storage. It is no surprise that this hat is used by glider pilots, or even by fishermen.
The bob has the advantage of being a unisex hat and is suitable for all generations, young or old, everyone wears it or has worn it.
The hat in the form of an upside-down bucket, named a ‘bucket hat’ in the US, was not originally designed for aesthetic purposes.
It was around the 1900s that the bob started to be worn. The bob was then a purely ergonomic piece of clothing used by Irish fishermen and farmers as protection against rain. It has wide edges that protect the face from splashes of water and sunlight. It was originally made of felt or tweed because the lanolin contained in the unwashed wool gave the hat a naturally water-repellent effect.
We also find at the end of the 19th / beginning of the 20th century, photos of fishermen from Brittany, France, in the region near Quimper, wearing these rain hats, as shown in the postcards below.
From the period between the two world wars, these fishing hats spread internationally for outdoor activities due to their practicality.
The Bob and the Army
During the Second World War, but also the Vietnam War, a standardized version of the hat in khaki cotton was given to the American army. The soldiers wearing this hat were nicknamed the Roberts, hence the diminutive Bob in French.
The U.S. Army also introduced the “Boonie Hat” during the Vietnam War, worn by both American and Republic of Vietnam Army soldiers.
Very similar to the bob, the Boonie differs from the bob by a flatter cap and a stiffer edge. It was embellished with ties under the chin and loops around its crown. These loops were designed to contain foliage used as camouflage.
Variations of the hat, in denim and navy blue twill, were issued by the US Navy, with extended edges and nicknamed “Daisy Mae.” Another very famous model also in white, with a shorter cap and a longer brim to be worn up, was the Dixie cup hat.
Arrival in Popular Culture
It is in the 60s that fashion, like many pieces from the military wardrobe, reappropriates the bob and makes it available in versions more aesthetic than practical. The bob is decorated with colors and prints. It is then worn by the new generation, especially members of the Mod subculture. The Mod (for modernist) movement was born in England, London, at the end of the 1950s. Mods, who are generally young urbanites, are characterized by a festive and hedonistic lifestyle, a passion for their particular and sought-after clothing style, and their music and dance tastes. They were inspired by the looks of their favorite bands: The Who, The Small Faces, The Kinks, etc.
In the 1970s, military clothing was worn by young people as a sign of protest and ridicule against military conflicts. These clothes came from the military surpluses that were common at that time. A new unisex style has appeared. The bob is therefore a permanent sight on the streets.
As countries began to demilitarize in the second half of the 20th century, military clothing, such as the bob, became a major source of inspiration for fashion designers.
During the 80s and 90s, the bob is at its peak under the influence of the hip-hop movement and US rappers who make it an identifying accessory, from Big Bank Hank of the Sugarhill Gang to Jay-Z, through the members of Run DMC. The bob is also present on the runways, as on the spring/summer 1994 Chanel show, where Karl Lagerfeld features a chic version of the bob in colorful tweed.
In France, unfortunately, the hat is quickly associated with the “bob Cochonou” of the Tour de France. At the end of the 2000s, perceived as a corny promotional accessory for sporting events, the bob is mocked, stigmatized, and gradually becomes the epitome of bad taste.
The Bob Today
Today the bob is a must-have fashion accessory. It remains that timeless hat that speaks to everyone who grew up in the 90s. It is still widely produced and used by armed forces around the world.
The hat has gained popularity in recent years with the resurgence of 90’s/Y2K clothing trends. The nostalgia of those years brings back accessories that we thought were forgotten forever. At the same time, the bob continues to have a strong presence in rap and streetwear culture. This hat is equally suited to be worn on the runway and the street. It was not until the very end of the 2010s that designers like Dior, Prada, or Jacquemus made the bob an object of desire again. In tweed, velvet, or cotton twill, the bob has reinvented itself. From the sportswear style to the modern-day bourgeois look, the bob is adaptable and can be worn in any situation.
The latest comeback of the bob is part of a current craze for 90’s/Y2K fashion.