SNARK WEEK: The Great Bobby Pin Shortage of the 1990s-2010s


Support Frock Flicks with a small donation! During Snark Week and beyond, we’d be grateful for small, one-time contributions via PayPal or monthly pledges via Patreon to offset the costs of running this site. You can even buy our T-shirts and swag. Think of this like supporting public broadcasting, but you get more swearing and no tax deductions!


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.

1986 The Clan of the Cave Bear

This early cave painting shows the difficulties faced by Homo Sapiens in the pre-bobby pin era.

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.”


In this ancient Sumerian tablet, the left-hand woman wields a gold bobby pin, which she intends to use on the right-hand woman’s hair. The right-hand woman is attempting to use a scorpion to groom the goat’s mane, a less than effective option.

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.

"Bobby pins."

“Bobby pins.”

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).

1963 Cleopatra

If Cleopatra hadn’t been able to get her hair out of her eyes, the pyramids would never have existed.

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.”

Persuasion (1971)

The Regency era (1811-20) featured elaborate female hairstyles. This hairstyle is a direct reproduction from Jane Austen’s little-known illustrated work, Brilliance and Bouffants (1799).

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.

1964 Angelique, Marquise des Anges

Angelique, Marquise des Anges (1964) is an example of a film influenced by the 1960s-70s desire for a more “natural” look in hairstyles.

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 Pudding Hairstyle

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.

Queen Margot (1994)

Margot herself wears her hair in some kind of large chignon for her wedding.

1994 Queen Margot

But by the wedding reception scene, her (and most of the other female characters) hair has come down.

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):

1996 Ridicule

Despite being the ingenue, actress Judith Godrèche had to make do with only enough pins to pull back the front of her hair.

By 1998, the shortage had spread to the UK, evidenced by the long, curly wigs worn in Wuthering Heights:

Wuthering Heights (1998)

I think they were hoping that if they threw TONS of hair at us, we wouldn’t notice?

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:

Dangerous Beauty (1998)

The result of bobby pin rationing.

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:

1999 Sleepy Hollow

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:

Cold Mountain (2003)

Not-so-Hidden Coping Techniques

A few films have embraced this lack of hairpins and designed hairstyles (and headwear) around it:

A Knights Tale (2001)

A Knights Tale (2001) just plain panicked.

2008 The Other Boleyn Girl

The Other Boleyn Girl (2008) used French hoods as headbands.

Henry VIII (2003)

Henry VIII (2003) did the same with crowns.

Casanova (2005)

Casanova (2005) decided to embrace their lack of hairpins through “wacky hair” with braided, be-ribboned knotty things (throwing in white eyeshadow for good measure).

Today’s Result

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:

Pride & Prejudice (2005)

Pride & Prejudice (2005) didn’t have enough bobby pins to extend to Kitty (pink dress) or Lydia (far right).

2010 Robin Hood

In Robin Hood (2010), Maid Marion gave all of her hairpins to the poor.

Borgia: Faith and Fear

Borgia: Faith and Fear (2011-14). That bad attempt at a ferronnière can be explained once you know that the Italian government was unable to provide ANY hairpins for this production.

Jessica Brown Findlay, Labyrinth (2012)

Labyrinth (2012) basically decided “fuck it.”

Reign (2013-present)

Reign (2013-present) was specifically approved by government censors on the understanding that it would use zero bobby pins.

Da Vinci's Demons (2013-2015)

Da Vinci’s Demons (2013-2015) just didn’t have enough money to be able to send an intern to pick up their ration of three hairpins.

Peaky Blinders (2015- )

Annabelle Wallis cheated and used too many hairpins when she was on The Tudors, so agents refused to allow her any in Peaky Blinders (2013- ).

2014 A Little Chaos

In A Little Chaos (2015), Helen McCrory got all the hairpins, leaving none for poor Kate Winslet.

New Worlds 2014

New Worlds (2014) decided to take a political stand against rationing.

2015 Poldark

Poldark (2015- ), in which the bobby pins are reserved for Heida Reed… | (C) Mammoth Screen – Photographer: Joss Barratt

2015 Poldark

… when they are available, which isn’t always…

2015 Poldark

… and none are left for Eleanor Tomlinson.

Banished (2015)

The budget on Banished (2015) was so small that in order to receive their allotment of three hairpins, the production had to give up their claim to any combs or brushes.

The Girl King (2015)

And The Girl King (2015) just decided to omit any bobby pins in Queen Kristina’s hair for “artistic purposes.”

And, in fact, the general populace are starting to notice…

Sleepy Hollow (2013- )

This post about the TV series Sleepy Hollow (credit to Previously TV) is making government officials worried.

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.”

The More You Know


Support Frock Flicks!

23 Responses

  1. Maral

    LOL at A Little Chaos. I saw that on TV recently and was ranting at the costumes. WHAT IS GOING ON with Kate Winslet’s bodice silhouette? Did they only have a Victorian corset and decided ‘eh, good enough’? Or is it in her contract not to flatten those bountiful bosoms?

    Somewhat on topic: It always bugs me when people (especially hairstylists!) don’t know the difference between hairpins and bobbypins. U-shaped hairpins are way more useful for keeping buns and braids secure, but most people either don’t know how to use them (jam them straight in with no twist), or just try to jam 1 million bobbypins in and hope for the best. My friend ran afoul of one of the aforementioned ignorant hairstylists when preparing for her wedding; her test updo looked like a hedgehog. Historical costumers know the diff of course, coz we know where the ‘bob’ in ‘bobbypin’ originated… ;)

    (I realize the post is totally silly, this wasn’t meant as a slam on it at all, just a tangential rant)

      • Kendra

        I admit, I very much suck at using hairpins (the U shaped kind) — bobby pins are the only thing I use, so I’m partial!

      • Sonya Heaney

        I find it extraordinary that hairpins are considered some big secret! Reading that other blog post, I’m really surprised.

        As a ballet dancer, I used hairpins every day, and only used bobby pins for securing headdresses. Who knew they were considered vintage and no longer around! Bobby pins are useless things.

      • silveryrow

        I’m so embarrassed and mindblown right now. Hairpins are NOT bobby pins?? Damn. First I was confused about ‘Kirby grips’, since I’m English and I’ve never used that name, because I would say… “hairpins”!! And now… Now I know, I’ve been wrong in so many ways.

        Maybe this is why I cut my hair short four years ago; I couldn’t take the uncertainty. Thank goodness I rolled up on this post before further shaming myself–

        Wait! No, I would say “hair-grips” …Am I still bad?

  2. Veronica

    It has spread to reenactordom. I see so many great gowns with long windswept tresses on grown-a$$ women. If you are over 16, Put. Your. Hair. Up.

  3. The Author

    My parents hated watching Poldark with me. I interpret 18th century for a living and spent half my time screaming “PUT ON A CAP, HUSSY” and “You’re worried about her CLOAK? She’s NAKED. Put on a gown you HOOR.” (Admittedly I cheat on my hair myself, but as the only woman who’d be in the site I work, or within a hundred miles of it, would be Metis I can get away with braids.) I mean, if my hair isn’t at least braided back I can’t even deal. It gets in EVERYTHING. And everything gets in it. My cap is filthy when I wear it from the smoke and the leaves and foraging for kindling. If it weren’t on that crap that’s on IT would be in my hair! The big curly Christine-in-Phantom-of-the-Opera hair would have mice living in it! You don’t even need pins if you’re on the frontier, some ties will do. Fold it up and put it away!

  4. Susan Pola

    Lol. ROTFLI. I supposed Marie Antoinette boycotted the band and used Kirby clips on all their actresses. Let them eat…

    PS do you take credit cards for T-shirt?

  5. lady Hermina De Pagan

    So me being a weird, uptight, reenactor means that I have researched many historical hairstyles and have been known to use hair bodkins, wool thread, and ribbons to create the proper hair looks. Perhaps that hairstyles need to review Youtube for the wonderful series of videos that I use as inspiration.

  6. Bess Chilver

    Love it! Well done Kendra! This is hilarious and so true! ;-)

  7. Woodstockgurl

    You have no idea how many times I say some version of, “Yes, she’s brave and strong and willful and wonderful, but how on earth can she see/fight/ride or COOK ON AN OPEN FIRE with all that hair hanging down??” Good lord, people. Were none of you ever a Girl Scout? Pin that mess back. Safety first.

    • Kendra

      SO TRUE. I always say when the zombie apocalypse comes, the first thing I’m doing is shaving my head.

  8. Ella

    I just watched ‘Cold Mountain’ and there was a scene where Nicole Kidman had a long curl hanging right in the middle of her forehead for, like, ever. She just peered around it as though it was a deformity she had learned to live with. It’s like she didn’t even know she could use her hand to sweep it out of her eye.

    • Kendra

      Luckily I’ve blocked out that memory, but I’m sure I had the exact same reaction when I saw the film.

  9. Anne Foster

    When I had long hair, I could knot my hair into a bun without any pins, which I did regularly to Keep. It. Out. Of. My. Face!

  10. ladylavinia1932

    By 1998, the shortage had spread to the UK, evidenced by the long, curly wigs worn in Wuthering Heights:

    I noticed that in the 1970s version of “POLDARK”, the hairstylist resorted to thick curly wigs for Angharad Rees, Jill Townsend and Judy Geeson. Every time I watch my copy of the 70s series, I get annoyed.

  11. MrsC (Maryanne)

    I love this. And as well as having tousled, messy locks, their hair is always all the colours in stripes that look about as natural as a boob job. ERK.

  12. Adina

    I’m finally getting around to watching Pan Am, and Anabelle Wallis also suffers a lack of hairpins in that series which mysteriously doesn’t extend to the rest of the female cast who either have stylishly short hair or have it pinned up.