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Friday, December 30, 2011

Back in the day: Hair curlers

Over the past 60 years, I have endured just about every sort of torture device invented to make women's hair beautiful. Looking back, it's a miracle I have any hair left at all.

I wish I had a dollar for every pincurl my mother wound on my head. The upside to bobby pinned curls was that they weren't terribly uncomfortable to sleep on. The downside was that it took my thick hair forever to dry.

Bobby pins

Pincurls...still being used in the late 1940s/early 1950s

Me, as a pincurl girl

My got my first perm in the early 1950s. My grandmother lived in a small East Texas town of 1,000 people. The beauty salon on the town square was a bit behind in hair care technology and was still using an antiquated perm machine from the 1930s. Without my parents' permission, I was hooked up to a contraption like this...even though I already had Shirley Temple ringlets. The result was horrifying, and my parents were not pleased. There are no photos extant from that period. I think it was a condition of my parents' agreeing to speak to my grandmother ever again.

Permanent wave machine...invented in 1934

From pincurls and bad perms, I graduated to brush rollers. These things were hellish to sleep on! Women suffered in silence for years, until some genius invented small rectangular foam pads to put next to the scalp. The rollers were fastened together with plastic picks, the best of which had a metal rod down the center so they didn't bend.

Brush rollers - southpawtracy

My picks of choice back in the day...still being sold

Brush rollers and hairnet

Foam curlers were invented to give us some relief, I suppose. Even though they were much more pleasant to sleep on, they never worked as well for me as brush rollers.

Foam rollers

The scarf...pre-bouffant satin hair bonnet

Ditto plastic rollers...not as effective as the ones with brushes. Like the foam rollers, they always creased my hair.

Clip-on plastic rollers

Too prone to crease

Smooth plastic curlers were an improvement, but they were still very difficult to sleep on. At this point in hair curler history, the diameter of rollers got completely out of control. And when I couldn't find curlers big enough, I used orange juice cans!

I was all red, all the time.

Plastic rollers and the super-long bobby pin

Finally, in the mid-1960s, I got a decent night's sleep when hot curlers were invented. Aside from the occasional burn, they were a boon to women everywhere.

Clairol Kindness hot curlers
Hot curlers and special clips


  1. @Esa: Ah, what we do for beauty. Unbelievable, really. We were a whole generation suffering from chronic sleep deprivation.

  2. Oh, you poor thing! I have thick, wavy hair, which I got from my dad, but I recall all those torture equipment from watching my mother, who has poker straight hair, which was just not allowed, back in the day. I don't know how anyone could sleep on a brush, which was what those curlers were, weren't they? Plus, as I am typing, I wonder whether this was a form of birth control because women couldn't look attractive trying to become attractive...crazy.

  3. Oh, by the way, love your blog. Don't see much of the modern pieces you feature here in southern Maine, but enjoy the education I get from your posts. I am hoping to begin selling this year, need a career change, badly!

  4. how funny you should post this! this week i've been looking for ways to get that 40's look without rollers and last night I tested pin curls! after a couple hours they worked for me! such a pain to curl each section but totally worth it! now i need to figure out how to get past the perfectly poodle look and i'll be ready for new years!

  5. Oh, the memories... not good memories, mind you! Also the home hair dryers - sitting under that hood for what seemed to be forever, being baked to death. Remember the ones that were like giant shower caps, with a hose attaching it to the base? But really, the dryers were an improvement on trying to sleep on curlers!

  6. This is such a fun post! My grandma still has brush rollers & I remember her doing my hair with them when I was little & stayed the night with her. I've used the foam rollers & velcro rollers with varied success. The hot rollers however are what I used the most. I think my fingertips have been burned so many times that I have no feeling left in them!

  7. @susieQ: When I was very, very young, my hair was thick and curly, but my mom did the pincurls so I'd have tight, perfect corkscrew ringlets. As I got older, straight hair was in fashion, so hair rolling was done on the largest curlers I could it would be stick straight and smooth. Go figure...LOL And, yes, brush rollers were just a nylon brush stuck inside a mesh cylinder with the bristles poking out. Into. Your. Scalp. They were a nightmare, literally.

  8. @Bandita: Next thing you know, you'll be buying finger wave clips too...or rats to make a victory roll. My mom had thick auburn hair, and she was sportin' a gorgeous long pageboy topped by a victory roll in their wedding photos! I bet you look adorable with your 40s curly hair.

  9. @Kristal: Oh, yes...the hours I spent under one of those hair dryers! I was such a glutton for punishment that I sat under the dryer every time I washed my hair AND rolled my hair dry every night, especially when I was working on that perfect flip. :)

  10. @Jessica LeAnne: I know exactly what you mean about burning your fingertips with the hot curlers till you had no feeling left in them...LOL Of course, I still had plenty of feeling left in my forehead and temples and neck for when electric curling irons came out. I remember very well going to work with big burns on those various parts of my body...all for beauty.

  11. This is great! I love the post about your hairstyles too. I have always wanted Samantha Steven's hairdo. =) I have been experimenting with pin curls, but I think I still need to get the right haircut for it to turn out the way I am envisioning it.

  12. @CollectoratorToo: Welcome to the blog! I'm glad you dropped by.

    Having the perfect flip was a real art. One look at some of the high school yearbooks from the 60s will show you that some girls never mastered it...LOL

    I'm surprised at the number of YouTube tutorials there are about creating 40s and 50s hairstyles. I think I'm going to leave the pincurls to you younger gals. I'm spoiled to the ease and speed of drying my hair, hitting it with the flat iron and going!

  13. Oh, yes the bobby pins, the prickly curlers, the hairdryer, and all for a girl who already had curly hair. . .I didn't know it would curl up on its own until I was in college.

  14. Dana, how lovely .... you sure were bonny! Wishing you all the very best for 2012, curls or no curls!

  15. @chairsmith: Why, thank you. I believe that's the first time in my life I've ever been called bonny, which is surprising for a girl whose great-grandfather was named John O'Kelly McGill. :)

  16. @Margaret Almon: Oh, the things we put ourselves through. What were we thinking?

  17. That first photo looks painful!!

  18. @Jenn Ski: Thank goodness I was too young to remember much about getting hooked up to that thing...but I remember every painful poke to my scalp from brush rollers. It was like trying to sleep on cactus! LOL

  19. I remember baking under a torture-hot hair dryer with my head stuffed in there with huge three inch plastic rollers. Since i was a young woman they always put three of four sharp pins to keep the rollers super tight. The rule of the day was to have the roller pulled tight to stretch the wet hair. The tension was intense and as you dried over 90-minutes to 2 crazy hot hours the hair pulled tighter and tighter.. my scalp burned by this beauty is pain torture three times a week. The worst part was older women laughing at you for being fidgety. The thick plastic cape was sauna like hot and of course we wore long skirts and tight open girdles every day. Being a woman was tough back then.

    1. Yes, we had to earn our overblown, stiff hairdos back then, didn't we? LOL

  20. Thanks for sharing this post.i have this hair curlers .i am happy to buy this.

  21. use this hair curlers to look more pretty and make your hairs sexy it gives you a awesome look