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Sometimes at Frock Flicks, we get a scoop that’s so good we can’t wait to share it with you, and usually we do, right away. This is different. This information is so secret, so potentially explosive to the space/time continuum, that we have had to bide our time, release hints and offhand comments, in the hopes that our readers will be able to piece together the conspiracy and band together to save the world. You see, powerful forces don’t want us to reveal this looming world crisis, as shadow governments are afraid that it will throw the international economy into chaos and topple regimes. But we have decided it’s time, particularly during Snark Week. Damn the torpedoes, we’re throwing open the doors on one of the millennium’s biggest cover-ups: the Great Bobby Pin Shortage of the 1990s-2010s.
Many of you are too young to remember the days of what were called “updos” or even the application of the term “hairstyle” to something more involved than beachy waves. So let us start with a history lesson:
The History of Bobby Pins
Shortly after humans discovered fire, they realized what had really been holding them back from acquiring mastery over the earth: too much hair in the face. It’s hard to see enough to run away from, let alone kill, a wooly mammoth with ratty hair in your eyes.
And so, or as early Babylonian and Sumerian sources tell us, was invented that sacred object that allowed the creation of agriculture, cities, and modern life as we know it: the “Bobby Pin.”
For those of you who came of age in the 1990s or 2000s, you are probably unfamiliar with this item, so let me describe it. A “bobby pin” (that’s it’s American term, it’s a “kirby grip” if you’re British, and probably lots of other festive terms if you live elsewhere) is a piece of metal that is bent in half. The two ends of the metal hold together tightly. When inserted properly by a trained professional, it allows for human hair (although I suppose it would work on other critters) to be held into unnatural shapes.
This was an invention of such great importance that most scholars agree it is the key item that allowed the building of the great pyramids of Egypt (well, that and interns).
Over time, as human societies grew and prospered via their new-found ability to keep their hair out of their eyes, what had started as a practical technique grew into an ornamental one that denoted wealth and status. “Hairstyles” became complex, changing from decade to decade, year to year, season to season. In particular, women (who had long been told by most major religions to keep their hair long) developed elaborate coiffures consisting of loops, braids, and other arrangements all held together by these famed “bobby pins.”
And thus developed all that we hold to be good and worthy in our modern society.
True, there was a wobble in the late 1960s and 1970s, as “natural” hairstyles became fashionable. However, this did not necessarily impact Hollywood. Bobby pins were still in abundance, and hairstylists could still choose to use as many as they wanted, creating elaborate hairstyles for historical films should they so desire.
However, with the rise of “heroin chic” (typified by the uber-skinny, lank-haired supermodel Kate Moss) in the 1990s, a new, ominous trend developed: suddenly, there were fewer and fewer bobby pins available to film and television hairstylists. The origin was initially ascribed to developments in fashion, but the hints began to emerge as the decade drew to a close: Y2K, the supposedly looming crisis by which all computers would spontaneously combust because they were not programmed to understand 2000+ dates, was actually a complex cover up. Government insiders knew that Y2K actually stood for “You only get 2 bobby pins, oKay?”
The Current Bobby Pin Shortage
We can look at the movies and television shows created in the past 25 years for proof. While clearly some studios and filmmakers have located and used hidden stockpiles of bobby pins, most productions today receive their allotted 3 (the original ration of 2 resulted in riots, so the United Nations passed an emergency measure raising each production’s allotment to 3) bobby pins directly from their national government. And they are expressly forbidden from using any more, for fear of creating a panic: if viewers saw hairstyles that required more than 3 bobby pins on screen, consumer demand for bobby pins would rise, stores would quickly sell out, populations would panic, governments would fall, and the world would descend into chaos.
The Proof Is in the
One of the earliest films to provide definitive proof is Queen Margot (1994), leading some experts to believe that France was the first country to truly begin rationing. Although the female stars were shown in updos during the initial wedding scene, they quickly transitioned to center-parted, hair worn down styles.
More proof of a French origin comes from Ridicule, where the hairstylists ran out of pins to use on the ingenue’s hair (supposedly Fanny Ardant’s contract specified that she be given first shot at all hairpins found on set):
By 1998, the shortage had spread to the UK, evidenced by the long, curly wigs worn in Wuthering Heights:
And those of us who could read the signs knew it had hit Stateside when we saw Dangerous Beauty (1998). In order to get all the wives’ hair up, the courtesans were rationed to three bobby pins each, meaning that only the very front of their hair was able to be put up:
And let us not forget Sleepy Hollow (1999), where Christina Ricci’s pre-pubescent (by 18th-century standards) hairstyle added a whole new layer of darkness to the film:
Some films, like Cold Mountain (2003), overreacted to the shortage. Instead of just using their allotted three bobby pins, they added extra extensions to the actresses’ hair so that no one could accuse them of violating the regulations. Thus, poor Nicole Kidman and Renee Zellweger were forced to do agricultural labor with masses of hair in their faces:
Not-so-Hidden Coping Techniques
A few films have embraced this lack of hairpins and designed hairstyles (and headwear) around it:
However, with a few exceptions of productions that have access to secret hoards of bobby pins, most historical costume films produced these days must do a delicate balancing act. With only three bobby pins rationed for the entire production, they must go to great lengths to use those pins on one actress, shoot her scene, then pull those pins and put them into another actress’s hair. Frequently, scenes with two actresses speaking to each other have to be digitally produced so that both actresses can be seen on screen at the same time.
Don’t believe me? Check it out:
And, in fact, the general populace are starting to notice…
So, the next time you see a historical costume movie actress with her hair down, remember that the balance of world powers depends on all of us keeping our mouths shut! Just repeat after me: “Yes it’s historically accurate. Yes it’s historically accurate.”