Benton County Pioneer Life

US GenWeb Image
Washington State GenWeb logo of spiderweb and state

Pioneer life in the Benton Co. WA area

About Old-Time Hair Styles/Safety Razor Changed Life

Tri-City Pioneer
Tri-City Herald, Sunday, 8 July 1962

Because of the conditions that existed in the early Tri-City region, hair styles were quite simple for men, women and children. There were no barbershops available. Each family did its own hair cutting. Sometimes the mother would do it, but it was generally done by the father. Every family had its hair cutting comb and scissors. Some pioneers were more adept in this chore than others.

Hair cutting in these early days was called hair shingling. This arose from the fact that if the comb was not properly used, the hair left on the head would appear in a series of ridges like the shingles of a roof.

Many of the pioneers wore beards which they fashioned with the comb and scissors. The presidents of the United States usually set the styles in hair cuts and beards and sideburns. President Martin Van Buren (1837-41) wore sideburns. President William Harrison (1884) wore sideburns. President Chester Arthur (1885) wore sideburns. President Abraham Lincoln (1861-65) wore a beard. President Ulysses Grant (1869-77) wore a beard. President Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-81) wore a beard. President James Garfield (1881) wore a beard. President Harrison (1889-93) wore a beard.

The presidents’ wives and the Queens of Europe dictated the hair styles for the women. The women’s hair styles as a whole were quite becoming. Some of the extra large chignons were ridiculous. The present hair styles of the women are beautiful. The feminine coiffures of today are perhaps the most beautiful of all time. The feminine stylists are to be congratulated. These feminine stylists have not abandoned the ancient tools of their craft or profession. They still use a comb and scissors. But, they have adopted new methods of waving, curling, and coloring the hair.

The ancient barber was quite a man. He not only took care of the hair and beards, but he practiced minor surgery such as applying leeches and bleeding patients. In fact, the surgeons of today can trace a portion of their profession to him. The average male barber of today is perhaps more interested in cutting the hair and whiskers of his customers. He is satisfied in leaving the surgical aspect to the surgeons and doctors.

The invention of the safety razor struck quite a blow to barbers trade. To make up for this loss, the barbers have had to make changes in the methods and manner of their services. They cut down their laundry expense by using paper towels where ever possible. They increased the speed of their hair cutting by using the comb and scissors less and the electric clippers more. The styles of male hair cuts were changed so that most of the cutting could be done speedily by the new electric clippers. The male barber of today has not given customers much glamour or individuality. The small boy wears the same style of a hair cut as his father. A few freak styles have been brought forth by the barbers for which the wearer pays an advanced price. The craniums of todays’males have an universal appearance of being bullet like and void of much individuality or glamour. The male barbers might borrow some of the techniques of the lady barbers and give more individuality to their customers hair styles.

The mens’ furnishing stores of today try to sell a hat to their customers that will improve his appearance and not just a head covering. Maybe the barbers will surprise us all some day and come forth with a haircut that will make an Adonis of us all.

Return to Index of Burton Lum Articles