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Reflections ......... on Hair!
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
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.
In the 1930s perm clubs were popular and a way of getting a little money or a free perm. The organiser would collect a shilling a week for 30 weeks: a perm cost about 30 shillings. (£1 50 pence) By this time the perm would have grown out and so it was time for another perm. I remember heating curling tongs in the fire or a poker and testing the tongs on a piece of paper. There were two kinds of tongs: a single one for winding the hair into curls and a also a double one which produced waves.
A temporary hair do with tongues at the hairdressers was called a "Marcel" wave and cost one shilling and sixpence. Women could be seen queuing in the market during war time for setting lotion which was like thick green slime. The neck of the jar was wide enough to dip your comb into for easy spreading. It was easier to roll your hair round a piece of stocking top as it was more flexible than ribbon to keep hair off the collar. After being rolled in this way, mine would brush out into what was called a "page boy": the ends rolled under and swoops at the front in true Betty Grable style.
Friday night was Amami night and was a dry powder which was mixed with water. The first liquid shampoo I remember was "Drene Rhoda".
Rhoda, what memories of the 30s and 40s you evoked. I
was just old enough to remember and take an interest in those
sort of things. Loving to draw people, (particularly pretty ladies),
I took an interest in the advertising of such products----many which
took the form of an illustrative strip. "Amami Night" was a catch
phrase, I do remember.
These cartoon strips, (non-funny), were in evidence for
toothpaste too ---- the cure for bad breath and an aid to popularity,
and a little later for underarm deodorants ----- all with happy endings!
Was it Amami wave lotion that was in the wide green jar? I
remember that in our house, as it was needed for giving the finger
waves any kind of permanency. Yes, Drene advertisements were
Those glorious pageboys Rhoda! You were so lucky to have
been able to achieve that style! You had to have had the length
and thickness of hair. At that time, as I drooled over the current
stars of the screen, I was struggling with school uniform, nerdy
spectacles, unco-operative hair that desired above all to return to
its natural straightness, and scads of homework! All this and
the constant air-raids too!
How girls in war work in the factories, or briefly off-duty in
the women's services, managed to become glamour girls for
their forays to town, dance halls and parties, is a miracle of
the time! Betty and Rhoda do tell us more about this!
One regret that I have was that for an all too brief time span
Raymond, (Mr Teasy Weasy), famous for his hairdressing
techniques --- and particularly his "cut", marketed a shampoo in a
tube. It was lovely to use, producing great results and smelt
gloriously of "Hyacinths". It vanished --- and I have never had
better, before or since.
"Pageboy rolls" are in the past, bouffant hairstyles have
come and gone and it is increasingly the turn of the bizarre hairdo
nowadays. Walking the streets this year I have seen clownish
colouring effects, jagged cuts, and even hair that resembles rope!
And it is not confined to the one gender anymore!
I think the thick green goo I mentioned as setting lotion was not a very well known make: should one be able to find the better makes it was a cause for celebration. I remember queues half way round Woolworths when they had some in stock. If we saw a queue you joined in and then asked the ones in front what it was for.
There used to be a man in the market with a stall which sold seconds in silk (before nylons) stockings. They were half coupons and we rummaged around to find a pair with the mend being in the foot or where it would not show.
Another one came from time to time with best quality cami-knickers etc all soaking wet and sooty and smelling of smoke. They were rescued bomb damaged from the fires. They were half coupons and washed up lovely - much better quality than we could have afforded. When at seventeen and a half I was drafted into the N.A.A.F.I., I was put into a W.A.A.F. canteen and we had occasional consignments of really classy make up and hair products. After a few weeks we were allowed to sell the rest to the men for their wives. We were allowed to wear civvies for dances which annoyed the Air Force who still had to wear uniform.
One of Auntie Florrie's married friends was employed on a stall in the "Barracks Market" in central Coventry. She was a very useful source of "seconds" and "fire" stock ---- vests, petticoats, knickers, (varying from camiknickers to bloomers), and stockings. She could be relied upon to see that our family didn't miss out on whatever was going.
"Auntie M--", as I knew her, was a cheerful lady, a bit coarser than other family friends I knew. Auntie put it down to the "market" influence, and acquiring the selling patter etc. I don't think that life was treating her kindly and she was responding to a "needs must" situation. Anyway we children liked this jolly, kind, lady! For her work she was often in a thick coat, a turban around her hair and fingerless mittens on her fingers ---- as it could be extremely cold and draughty on the market stalls.
Rhoda did you paint your legs when stocking were scarce? Was it gravy browning or coffee essence that was used? I know young ladies drew a line down the back of their legs, as in those days stockings had a back seam and a "clock" at the heel. The latter could be rather fancy. Gosh --- it brings back to me the chore of seeing that our stockings were straight and the twisting and turning and contortions involved!!!
Yes, "join the queue and then see what was being sold" was alive and well! Been there, done that! The longest shop queue that I joined took 2½ hours before I was served. Auntie Florrie was with me --- it was at Woolworths, who were selling the first "off-ration" sweets around 1952 or 3! We were allowed 1 pound per person --- and we all thought that it was worth the wait. (I'd spent some of that time sitting on the pavement with my head between my knees as I'd come over faint). Triumphantly we bore our bags of sweets home, to be shared out between the two households!
Yes I did paint my legs with gravy browning and anything else that was going with pencilled seams. It was possible to get ladders mended in stockings for about sixpence per ladder. I think it was Bernard Smiths that did them. A ladder in our stocking could spoil the evening.
We tried to look smart with blouses made from off ration curtain material; skirts could be fashioned from a pair of men's trousers if you were slim. I was only five foot two so could get away with buying just two foot of material. There was a way of folding material into a long triangle and cutting of the point for the waist and rounding off the bottom making a circular skirt. Odd off cuts had to be joined to make a band for the waist and face the side placket. I have bought a remnant in the market on a Saturday and worn it to a dance at night. Which would have been in Banbury Town Hall. We could leave our bikes at Caves which I think was where the ironmongers is now in Bridge Street maybe it is called Jewsons. We had to have our bike lights half covered in Black paint because of the blackout. Ah happy days.