A bobby pin is basically a smaller version of a hairpin. In the United Kingdom, a bobby pin is called a Kirby Grip, or sometimes just a hair grip.

They're usually made out of thin metal or wire bent into a sort of U shape, except with the two sides closer together, and with one of the sides partly crimped. Most of them are less than 3 inches long. Some are not much more than 1 inch long.

Bobby pins hold better than hairpins in short hair, or in the smaller strands of hair used to make some of the more complicated styles. When you're giving someone a haircut or a trim you can use them to keep parts of the hair out of your way. Bobby pins used to get used a lot more than they do now, back when lots of women would actually try to sleep all night with curlers in their hair. There's still many uses for them, though. Supposedly you can even pick locks with them, but I never tried that one myself.

Be careful about using old bobby pins or really cheap ones. They're supposed to have a special coating to keep them from damaging the hair. If the coating is low quality or worn off from a lot of use, they can have rough spots that hair can get caught in and break.

Okay, I know the description up there is not the best. So I tried to make a little illustration to show what they look like just in case you haven't seen one.

 _________________     _     _     _     _     _     _  
/                 \   / \   / \   / \   / \   / \   / \   O 
\                  \_/   \_/   \_/   \_/   \_/   \_/   \_/    

This is still not really right. The two parts of the wire should touch where it's crimped, or be a lot closer to the straight piece than I could get it. But the main shape is pretty close.

While I was working on this I got curious about where bobby pins came from. So I started searching on the Web, mostly through Google. What a wild goose chase! Pretty much everyone agrees the name of them comes from the bobbed hairstyles that were popular in the 1920s, but that's about the only thing they agree about.

Bobby pins were invented in 1920. No, 1923. No, 1926! Wait, no, we don't really know when they were invented, but they were first brought to the US in 1916. Here's some more of what I "learned":

  • The bobby pin was invented in New Zealand.
    (http://www.goway.com/downunder/newzealand/nz_trivia.html and
  • It was invented in Omaha, Nebraska.
    (http://www.visitomaha.com/press_room/press_room_facts.asp and
  • One guy says his grandfather had a patent on it in Japan.
  • Someone named Jim Gaylord invented it.
    (http://www.loti.com/gaylord.html and
  • It was created by someone named Luis Marcus.

So I guess it's true what they say about not believing everything you read on the Web.

(Thanks to shimmer for telling me these are called something else in the UK.)

A Beginner's Guide To Using Bobby Pins

Despite their deceptively simple construction, bobby pins can be difficult to use and rarely come with instructions. Hair is very hard to work with, and no one ever reviews bobby pins -- meaning that beginners are lucky if they even have the right pin to work with, never mind know what to do with it. Here is a very brief introductory guide.


Theoretically, bobby pins are primarily used for keeping short hair and bangs in place. In order to do this, you will need to find the right pins. Bobby pins generally come in two lengths: (more or less) two inches long and (more or less) two and a half inches long. The extra half inch makes a difference. If you want functionality, you probably want the bigger pins. Although if you really want functionality, hair clips are even better.

Generally, keeping a bob in place is a comparatively easy task. Take two or three pins (per side) and pin back the hair as desired. Use a mirror, at least until you are used to the procedure. Remember that you are creating a laid-back and breezy hairstyle, and don't be too picky.

Pro tips:

  • The smooth side goes up. The bumpy side goes down.

  • If you are using a decorative bobby pin, plan on backing it up with two or three standard, boring pins. The most attractive placement probably won't be the most functional.

  • It is perfectly acceptable to open the pin to get more hair in. This will limit the number of times you can use the pin, but they are cheap.

  • Crossing two pins in an X is often quite effective. Crossing four clips in a 'death star' is very effective, but should be avoided.

  • If you have fine, smooth, or particularly sneaky hair, you may find that coating your bobby pins with hair spray makes them more effective (place the pins on a sheet of paper towel, spray, and let dry).

Braids and Twists

There are many different hairdos that can be shaped with bobby pins; I have very little knowledge or interest in anything more complicated than keeping your hair out of your face. However, one frequent use of bobby pins is anchoring braids and twists of hair, which is quite simple to do.

To keep a twist of hair in place, including a twist that will be the basis of a braid, start by twisting the lock of hair away from your face; rotate it enough to make a well-defined twist. Insert the pin halfway, making sure the pin is clasping a good chunk of the twist. Flip the pin over and push in and downwards, making sure you pick up hair from the scalp. Push it all the way in. It should be tight enough that you feel the tension, but not tight enough to pull your hair or pinch. This video give a good visual tutorial of the process.

Pro tips:

  • If you are trying to keep a bun neat or pin an updo, you do not want to use a bobby pin, you want to use a hair pin.

  • Because you are 'folding' the pin over, a too-long pin may pinch and pull hair. You will most likely want to use the small size of bobby pin. Very short pins are available if you look for them, and may be useful for small braids.

  • If you see ribbons braided into a braid, chances are that the ribbon is threaded through (or tied to) the bulge at end of a bobby pin. Some pins are designed especially for this, with slightly larger bulges and sometimes with reduced or no crimping.



Bobby pins:

She keeps hers



She leaves them next to the sink

stacks them in her car's cupholder;

puts them on our bedside table


In the morning, when she puts them in

it is a struggle:


Jammed in, then out of knots of hair

four or five of them squeezed into her pursed lips

for reserve


In the evening,

if she isn't in a hurry

she lets me take them out

one at a time



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