Welcome to the first edition of Hairstyles in History, the portion of our blog where we look at hair from bygone eras, speculate about these historical hairdressers and generally discuss hair and grooming from days gone by. There are many wonderful resources covering costume and hair history by period or era – Hairstyles in History is aimed at exploring smaller niches, micro-trends, old photos, regional fashions and anything else unique or interesting.
We’re starting with photos of my grandmother Kate Satterfield and her high school girl friends from the Pana Township High School class of 1926 (and a few other years) in Pana, IL. The photos show a range of 1920’s hairstyles as carried out by young women in a small town – while they had access to beauty parlors, which they may have used for an important event like a senior/graduation photo, it’s a safe bet that some of these were styled at home.
In general, younger women in the 1920’s wore their hair bobbed, it was almost universal. The hair was routinely chin length or shorter and often included bangs and a center or side part. While the silhouette was consistent, the styling of the hair ran the gamut from razor straight bobs to dramatic waves, and everything in between.
It’s important to remember that women in this era did not wash their daily – they generally washed their hair once a week or so and set it into a style. Then they touched it up daily, and often slept with caps or hairnets on or curlers or clips in their hair to preserve the style. Many women had a permanent (I know, we mostly call them “perms” now, but Grandma said “permanent” to her dying day and I like it) in order to give their hair some body and shape – having body or curl in the hair makes it much easier to reshape and manipulate via rollers, clips, combs or pincurls. This was true in the 1920s and it’s still true today.
A caveat – I sadly lack a time machine, so any commentary I make on the styles, choices or methods used by these ladies is completely subjective and based on my best guesses. When relevant, I make suggestions for re-creating these styles in modern times – these are just suggestions, based off of my experiences in hair and wig styling and do not claim to be the only way to go. In some cases, I opt to suggest what I think is the easiest or most effective way to recreate these styles, rather than the most authentic method.
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My grandmother, Kate, has stunningly symmetrical and smooth finger waves. While they are carefully sculpted to frame the face, they soften up considerably as they move towards the back of her head. These waves were almost certainly shaped using fingers, comb and metal duck-billed clips.
The hair would have been given a basic body with either rollers or a permanent wave first, and then the clips would have been used as the hair was combed and pinched into place. Given the smoothness, she almost certainly used a setting lotion on damp hair prior to arranging the waves and putting the clips on. The clips would have been left on until the hair was dry.
Based on other photos of Kate from the era, she seems to have had a basic perm which she generally wore in a very loose bob with the same center part. It seems very reasonable to assume she wanted to do her hair up a little more elaborately for this photo, which is the only studio photo we have of her at this time in her life. Please also note the extremely straight center part – well-defined parts were the norm for the period. Use a rat tail comb for easy part manipulation.