Springtime is prom season. Any young lady who is asked to a prom certainly wants to look her best. That got me to thinking about the various methods that we ladies have used over the years to put our best face forward.
For me, it began very early. I was most likely in kindergarten or first grade when I accompanied my mom to the hairdresser. I don’t remember the name of the beauty shop but I do recall that it was located in Derby on the corner of Main and Olivia Streets, directly across from the Derby Savings Bank.
I am among the thousands of women with pin-straight hair who love to have their hair in curls (at least until recently). As you ladies know, the best way to have curly hair is to have a permanent. In the early 1950s a salon perm was a long, drawn-out affair. Once the hair was prepped it was rolled onto rods and a solution applied. Then came The Machine. The Machine was comprised of a circular top from which hung electrical wires that were connected to the rods in our hair. When turned on, the heat generated by The Machine would travel through the electrical wires and to the rods. In short, a woman’s hair was ‘shocked’ into a curl. The beautician needed to be very careful with the timing because if The Machine wasn’t turned off or set to a cool setting within the allotted time then the hair would frizz and in some cases even burn. Thankfully, my head only suffered this indignity once. I was a scrawny six year old kid and I remember trying to hold my head up because the attachments and rods were extremely heavy.
After that initial experience, mom decided to give me permanents at home. We became regular users of Toni Home Permanents. These modern wonders provided all the tools a lady would need to give herself curls! The only thing missing was another person to assist. Mom and I took turns when it was time to give ourselves curls, especially when it came time to pour the water over our heads! When the process was complete we would have lots of curls. But the smell! The chemical smell was not masked in any way and would linger for a week or more. Sometimes I think that our money would have been better spent on going to the hairdresser.
As we became more modernized, new hair-curling devices came along. Brush rollers were popular for a long time and I spent all of the 1960s and most of the 1970s sleeping with these rollers in my hair. Over time they created little grooves in my scalp from the pressure exerted during the night. When we needed to get a quick set for a major event (like a special date) we would hurry the process along with our portable hair dryer. My personal one came with a huge cap that fit over the entire head set that had been set with rollers. The cap had a string that I could pull for a snug fit. A hose was attached to the back of the cap and was connected to the heater which, when turned on, would blow air across the rollers to set the hair. There were two settings, ‘hot’ and ‘warm’, and depending on how much time you had you could speed up the process. The hair dryer was a bit noisy so one couldn’t really watch television or listen to the radio while they sat. The only option for passing the time was reading a magazine. Just like a beauty salon!
From those brush rollers, we moved on to hot rollers, curling irons, and numerous other methods of achieving those lovely, elusive curls. Now that I’m older I have learned to embrace the straight hair of my ancestors. In fact, I’ve just about recreated my grandmother Nellie’s hairstyle – short and straight – although I do use a bit of mousse and hairspray to hold it in place.