How Bobby-soxers Worked

By: Cristen Conger

Frank Sinatra and Bobby-soxers

Fans mob heartthrob crooner Frank Sinatra.
Fans mob heartthrob crooner Frank Sinatra.

The 1940s music that floated through the airwaves and into the minds of teenage bobby-soxers was that of big bands, such as the Glen Miller and Tommy Dorsey Orchestras. It was also the era of the heartthrob male crooners, who often transitioned from the stage to the screen, where fans could see their crushes in action. Bing Crosby, Mickey Rooney and Van Johnson were a few of these leading "croon cats," but they paled in comparison to the king of the crooners, "The Voice" himself: Frank Sinatra [source: Fitzpatrick]. Sinatra started out with the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra, then left to pursue a solo career. By 1943, Sinatra had become the apple of seemingly every bobby-soxer's eye, singing to a swooning crowd of 10,000 at the Hollywood Bowl [source: Kidder and Oppenheim]. Not surprisingly, in 1944 -- the year of his riot-inducing Paramount Theater performances -- the official Bobby Soxers of America organization voted Frankie their "Man of the Year" [source: Woloch].

Predecessors to the hoards of screaming, fainting Beatles fans that would fill concert halls and stadiums a generation later, bobby-soxers became known for swooning over Frank Sinatra and other male celebrities. Swooning was a public display of infatuation that involved girls groaning and dramatically flailing their arms before placing their hands on their foreheads or cheeks and ultimately falling to the ground, overwhelmed. One former bobby-soxer recalled to the Paley Center for Media how she and her friends used to kick off their saddle shoes, play Sinatra records and "practice swooning" [source: Paley Center]. Fan clubs, celebrity magazines and movies fueled bobby-soxers' obsessive crushes -- not to mention record album and concert ticket sales.


Some fretful adults interpreted bobby-soxers' hysteria over Frank Sinatra as a sign of burgeoning sexuality and were concerned at the lusty sentiments young girls expressed for the bowtie-wearing troubadour. Psychologists warned parents about the hypnotic power of Sinatra's voice that apparently compelled one extreme fan to attend 56 straight performances over an eight-day period [source: The Guardian]. Fortunately, Sinatra's married status kept him enough at arm's length that the teenage swooning wasn't seen as a direct threat to his bobby-soxer fans' innocence [source: Paley Center].

As Sinatra's bobby-soxer fan base aged, his immense popularity waned, but didn't disappear. And just as the bobby-soxers established a long-lasting career for one the best-known stars in American popular culture, the trends they followed and items they bought along the way affirmed the collective power of the teenage consumer market.