Muriel Wells, Rhoda Woodward and Len!
Recently I was winding up curls happily whilst my mind was engaged with the glorious music of "The Messiah" issuing from my stereo player. I was determined to be successful this time, as a month previously I'd had to abandon the attempt, when curlers slithered out as fast as I put more in! Fortunately, as I was "water-winding", the only damage was a few wasted tissue-papers and some time!. This second attempt was a success, fortunately for my state of mind. Limp hair lowers my spirits and hair with bounce lifts them!
This is my great-great-aunt, Mary Ann CAMPBELL, born in 1839. She epitomises the no nonsense hairstyles of her generation.
I began reflecting on the miracle of the modern perming process --- and in particular the advent of the "Home Perm", which has been my salvation in the many out of the way places that I have lived. What miseries we have been spared, especially in the damp climate of England, when efforts to curl ones locks were speedily reduced to a pathetic draggle!
Sorting through my old photographs recently, I was interested in the ways that my forebears had coped with this!
Of course, though I don't claim descent from her, Godiva of my City of Coventry was fortunately blessed with a wealth of long wavy hair, which covered her nakedness! I have a LUCAS aunt and her cousin similarly blessed, although they didn't use their long tresses for that purpose! Instead, they boasted that they use to be able to sit on their hair!
Back to my Great Grandfather CAMPBELL's sisters. One had a demure central parting, whilst the rest drew their hair back severely from their faces into a bun. No-nonsense styles which coped admirably with everyday hard work --- and not a hint of vanity!
The next generation showed some softening of the styles. Hair was long and tied back with a ribbon when young. It might be plaited overnight to brush out next day, or wound up in rags to produce ringlets. Those with naturally curly or wavy hair were the lucky ones!
Fanny CAMPBELL, aged about 18
Fanny CAMPBELL, aged about 18, my grandmother, with her front hair nicely frizzed in the manner of "Alexandra" and the rest of her hair in a bun. She is wearing her name brooch on her dress, which boasted the fashionable leg o'mutton sleeves --- it was taken in 1896. She later married David LUCAS.
As young women, their hair went up. Alexandra had her front hair in short tight curls --- we know that she and other upper crust ladies achieved this with an added hairpiece, as did Mary of Teck, with her waves. The rest of the female populace struggled with curling tongs, which they heated in the fire or gas ring. How many had singed hair or burnt foreheads from such endeavours?
The next generation was my mother's. Florrie, her sister, had to have her long hair plaited to reduce the curl, as her nose bled when her hair was brushed! My mother didn't have that problem and her hairstyles conformed to those of the schoolchildren of that time.
Doris LUCAS 1920s
This photograph is of Doris LUCAS, taken during the 1920s. Doris is my mother and this is taken before her marriage to Len PARRITT. Her dress is one for a special occasion and has decorative bands on a plain fabric. She wears her hair fashionably short and a necklace that I recall when I was little.
When she grew up the hair revolution was in full spate, and just after the end of the Great War, girls were defiantly facing their parents after having their long hair shorn. Fathers were being inflexible and daughters risked the results of their defiance!
The 1920s issued in the "shingle" and the less extreme "bingle". These styles looked really well on Doris, and I can remember her doing her housework with a dinky curler above each ear. This was brushed out to produce a flattering short style, with the back of the hair being cut and shaped very short.
As the 1930s progressed, the new permanent waving meant more variety in style. Hair was often finger waved. Wave grips appeared, as well as metal curlers. Leaders of fashion and hairstyles at this time were the young Royals, and of course the emerging darlings of the screen.
The first perms had curlers connected by wires that rose overhead, and the curlers heated up. If they were not monitored well you could get burnt! I well remember Joyce and I having neck burns, when we'd had an "end perm" in the mid 1940s. Normally though, Joyce and I battled nightly with metal dinky curlers --- or rather I did, as Joyce frequently whined until I helped her. The results didn't last long in the English climate.
Adults tightly rolled their hair around a ribbon during the war as those in the services were not allowed "hair on the collar", and factory girls needed theirs confined. Before this, there had been accidents when girls, aping their favourite filmstars, got hair caught in the machinery and were in danger of being scalped!
Muriel PARRITT in Paignton, 1947
Then cold perms replaced the earlier type enabling hairstyles to soften and diversify. The "Home Perm" arrived and I had my first in 1947. The odour of ammonia had tears issuing from the eyes of the whole household when one of those early perms was in process! But no longer was I at the mercy of the climate!
Muriel PARRITT in Paignton, 1947 --- shortly after having my first home perm --- and revelling in being able to roam the seaside with curls intact! (That dirndl skirt was the first pretty item of apparel I had owned for oh so long. It was a linen type rayon and the colours were autumnal on a white ground).
There have been fads and fancies over the years with bouffant styles and hair products --- sprays, gels, muds, and whatever, to help tame hair. Shampoos and conditioners have replaced rainwater and green soap, but these have had only a slight passing effect on our family's appearance in their photographs. One major difference, though, is that the elderly ladies in the family now sport short soft curls, instead of hair drawn back into a bun!.
And all due to the permanent wave!
As a mere man all I have to offer is the observation that each evening I see my grand-daughter using some strange electrically heated device with the objective of straightening out any semblance of her natural waves. Her mother regularly gets her beautiful hair shorn to a practical crop whilst my wife's hair bears no resemblance in colour or style to the long hair of which she was once so proud.
Me? I get what is left of mine trimmed quarterly.