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.
Each image is clickable to a larger version. While you are welcome to use these images, and we hope you will, please include a link to the blog or photo credit when possible.
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.
This unknown lady has beautifully and meticulously arranged Marcel waves. If you examine an enlarged version of the image, you can really see the scalloped indentations made by the hot iron. This style was probably achieved by using a Marcel iron on dry hair. You can mimic the results by using a small barreled curling iron and crimping sections of hair rather than rolling their hair up. The “S” shape waves get their distinctive pattern from alternating which side of the curling iron is up or down when crimping in the wave. Once the set of waves was fully crimped, she would have carefully arranged them around her face.
These waves can also be made using pin curls, but in many cases there are slight comb marks visible in the waves as the hair needs to be combed through into the wave shape.
It’s hard to tell what is happening on the back of her head – the hair seems to rise up above the crown of her head. It could be a bun if her hair is not bobbed but it’s unlikely given the date and overall style of the hair. It could also be that she chose to continue the Marcel waves all around her head and that rise of hair is the top of a wave.
This is my favorite style of the group. This is either Frances Weaver or Frances Beyers – she seems to have been a fan of Zelda Fitzgerald’s trademark hairstyle. This is one of a few examples of very asymmetrical 1920’s hair. Frances probably had a perm for overall body and then used rollers or pin curls to give her hair lots of curl, which she would have then brushed out to get all of that wonderful fullness. The rollers or pincurls were most likely concentrated on the ends of the hair as the style called for very little volume at the roots. She would have set her hair while it was damp and saturated with a setting lotion.
Once the basic shape was established, she seems to have used toothed metal wave clips to create the distinctive line of peaks that run along the top of the style. Depending on her styling methods, she might also have set the wave clips into her hair and then set her hair into the rollers or pin curls for the
These clips are still sold at beauty supply stores – they are about 2-3″ long, narrow, and have teeth inside. They have many uses, but can be used to pinch into hair and make peaks like these, or they can be used to shape hair into Marcel waves with peaks. You can often tell when wave clips are used to form Marcel type waves because you can see slight marks from the teeth in the wave – the Marcel waves on the unknown lady in photo two do not seem to have the teeth marks, which is why I suspect they were created using a hot iron.
This is the quintessential 1920’s bob. The bangs are cut bluntly, they blend neatly into the sides of the hair and the front edge has just a little forward kick to it from the slight wedge shape of the cut. We have four photos of this lady from different point in the 1920’s and her hair looks exactly the same in each of them. While she certainly did some combing and arranging of her hair, the cut does most of the work in establishing this hairstyle.
My aunt Verna has a lovely curly bob in this photo to the left. She probably set her hair in pincurls since there’s some wave but the ends have a little curl. She could have used rollers, but given that her curls are more of an accent than a profusion, I tend to think it more likely pincurls (I’d speculate as to whether she simply took advantage of having natural curl in her hair, but Aunt Verna had pretty straight hair and you can also see just a hint of artificial bend in the curls at the ends.
The bangs have a bit of wave to them and a neat bit of turn-under at the ends, which she probably did with a small curling iron or pin curls – my money would be on pin curls. It’s good to make note of how the bangs meet the center part on her crown and form a sort of triangular part – it’s very common in banged bobs with center parts to see that line. She also has a spectacular pair of thin, delicate 1920’s eyebrows, which I’m sure she shaped carefully with tweezers and then enhanced with pencil.
Marcella has a very simple bob, with bangs. There’s a gentle flyaway quality to her hair that makes me think she has naturally wavy or curly hair that she combs out rather than a style set with rollers or a perm. Her bob is really nicely cut so that the shape of the bob is weighted at the cheek and then tapers down to frame the face. A good choice for her face shape and also for her hair texture.
The lady on the right who might be Dorothy Payne has a great wedged bob with a beautiful, soft wave framing the face. You can really see that the face-framing S wave only encompasses the front 3 inches or so of her hair and the back of her hair is left to its more natural straightness. There’s a bit of comb mark through the front waves – that and the relative softness of them makes me think she used pin curls to shape them.
She seems to have a little hint of bangs but it’s hard to tell if the lock of hair is deliberately out of the wave or if it migrated on its own. I would further speculate that she used the duck bill clips to help establish that wave once it came out of pincurls. They were and are a handy styling tool for holding hair in place while you arrange the whole style.
This is a difficult hair style to fully break down – her hair is very dark and much of the detail is difficult to see. You can see that she has a gentle but distinctive wave through the body of her hair, but it’s a comparatively flat and shallow wave – there’s not as much of the scalloping or careful positioning we see in some of these other photos. I would be tempted to say that Elizabeth opted for a simpler hairstyle but the presence of that delightful spit curl on her forehead begs otherwise. From other photos of her in my grandmother’s album, she seems to have kept to this basic shape an style, and kept that spit curl!
Vema Fink has a simple bob and her side swept bangs are curled under gently. Her bob doesn’t seem to be cut with much of a wedge shape to it, as it hangs fairly straight – the ends turn under slightly but not with the characteristic fullness we tend to see in the wedged bob. She probably turned it under with a curling iron or by using duck bill clips. That is probably also how she shaped her side-swept bangs – they have a gentle roll to them, but no marks from a roller, clip or pin. Very likely, she combed them out, rolled them up and then clipped them in place.
Martha has bob with a slight wedge to the back and has turned the ends under using either a curling iron or clips. Given that her hair is just a little bit wavy but not in a controlled way, I think she probably had naturally wavy hair which she combed out into a side part, and then turned under at the ends. The bangs have a bit of a wave in them, as well as just a bit of lift off the forehead, so I think they were probably done with a curling iron. You can really see the lift on the right side of the picture (Martha’s left side).
Our last lady, Annie Bertin has a soft bob that looks messier than I think it actually was. You can see a nice, very soft wave through the left side (Annie’s right) and I think that same gentle wave is on the other side as well, but the light reflects off of it in a way that makes the silhouette much less clear. The waves are so wide and gentle that I think she has a permanent wave that she simply smooths into place, and touches up with a curling iron or metal duck bill clips.
These are my grandmother and her friends and their hair. I hope they are of interest. Feel free to post questions in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them or address any comments. I’ve included the ladies’ names when possible on the off chance a descendant of theirs might stumble upon this blog.
UPDATE 7/1/2013 – I’ve learned the corrected names of some of these ladies, as well as their married names, by finding them in old Pana Township High School Panoramas. I’ve corrected spelling and added married names when possible. If anyone has further information on any of them, or a correction or question, feel free to post in the comments or email me. If you’re a descendant of any of these ladies and you’d like a copy of the photos, or any of the other photos I’ve found in my grandmother’s things, just let me know.
The next Hairstyles in History blog will be Edwardian hair and will be a multi-part series, which will include a few family photos from a different side of the family!
If you have old family photos and you think your ancestors hair is interesting and informative, feel free to share them with us! We’re always looking for more wonderful photos, and it’s so much nicer when we know something about the subjects! To share a photo, simply email firstname.lastname@example.org and include the name and date if possible – and any other facts about the subject. If we feature them in a blog or on our facebook page, we’ll credit you and your ancestor.
UPDATE- The Custom Wig Co now has its own Pinterest account! In addition to pins about interesting hair, wigs and accessories, we’ve also created a Pictorial Glossary where we can pin tools, details, tutorials and other information that we haven’t included in the blog. We’ve updated it to include examples of some of the clips and tools mentioned in this blog, as well as other clips and pins from the 1920’s and 1930’s that we found interesting!
Our pinterest account is http://pinterest.com/customwigco/