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’The bob-shingle regime that rules the feminine world’ : consumerism, women and work in 1920s British Columbia Moore, Magdalena Dorothy Kean


This project is a case study of the hairdressing industry in British Columbia in the 1920s. It argues that gender divisions persisted as consumerism became increasingly important to British Columbians, and that despite British Columbia's sometimes challenging engagement with international consumerism, the province's economy remained remarkably synchronized with international trends. It tells the story of the rapid expansion and feminization of hair services markets and businesses; examines the public and legislative debates about the importance of consumer services such as hairdressing and its customers; and reveals the persistence of gendered divisions in the early transition to a consumer services society. Using British Columbian newspaper reports, American and Canadian women's and union periodicals, city directories, national censuses, and government reports, the project looks first at the increasing pressures in the 1920s from business owners, advertisers, and magazine editors to adopt new, fashionable hairstyles and the sources of ambivalence among women about the new styles. It then turns to hairdressing as a business and source of employment, and after briefly reviewing the history of hairdressing in North America looks at the rapid expansion of hairdressing businesses in British Columbia during the 1920s; the demographic characteristics of hairdressing workers and entrepreneurs; and the feminization of the hair services industry. It also explores the connection between feminist ideals and women's entrepreneurship in the hair services field. Finally, the hairdressers' attempt to gain regulation from the provincial government is examined at the end of the decade, with a particular focus on how consumerism and hairdressing, its workers and customers, are characterized. The legislative and public debates about hairdressing regulation reveal anxiety about consumerism and persistent gender divisions as British Columbia began to shift toward a consumer-oriented society. It concludes that British Columbia, despite its primary resource economic base, remained remarkably in step with international trends, from feminization of services to regulation of those services, of which hairdressing was just a beginning.

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