The main comment I receive when posting about period hairstyling is that the commenter's hair is so fine, so crawly, difficult to work with, lacking volume. It may seem like women of the past had magically voluminous hair, but hair growing from the scalp hasn't changed at all in the last 100 years. It is how we care for our hair that has, though, and I'm determined to get to the root of how Edwardian women dealt with their locks.
First, a few things to keep in mind:
- Edwardian women washed their hair infrequently (by today's standards)
- Edwardian women brushed their hair lots, with real boar bristle brushes
- Edwardian women put just as much stuff in their hair then as we do today
- Edwardian women did unto their hair things we would never dream of doing today
So where to start with solving the Edwardian hair mysteries?
...with a book called "The Manual on Barbering, Hairdressing, Manicuring, Facial Massage, Electrolysis and Chiropody" by A.B. Moler, published in 1905, and available as a free PDF download here.
And yes, that was electrolysis, 1905 style.
I can't go through the whole book in one blog post, so for today's first look into our shiny old class text, I will give you some of the shampoo, hair dressing, and hair tonic recipes Moler provides.
- Bay Rum - 3 quarts
- Tr. Cantharides - 1/2 ounce
- Carbonated Ammonia - 1/2 ounce
- Sal Tartar - 1 ounce
Wash the hair with clean water after using
Ideal Hair Dressing
- Lanoline - 4 ounces
- Rosewater - 1 ounce
- Lard, prep - 1 ounce
- Oil rose - 10 drops
Moler Hair Tonic
- Bay Rum - 1 quart
- Witch Hazel - 1 quart
- Glycerin - 4 ounces
- Tr. Cantharides - 1 ounce
- Ammonia - 1/2 ounce
- Rose Water - 1 pint
What is Bay Rum?
It ain't liquor. Bay Rum is an aftershave, a lovely smelly underarm deoderant, and also has an astringent quality. It smells good and it cleans the hair, much like astringent facial cleaners remove oils and dirt on your face today.
What is "Tr. Cantharides?"
This stands for "Tincture of Cantharides," a drug made from pulverized blister beetles. The tincture, and other distillations of cantharidin, used to be used to treat dermatological issues, but it is also a poison. Apparently the use of this stuff, in very small doses, caused the scalp to tingle during the shampoo. Too much of it and you'll burn your head.
What is Carbonated Ammonia?
Carbonated Ammonia was a common household supply used in cooking, much like baking soda. It was made by combining ammonia and carbonic acid. Yummy.
What is Sal Tartar?
This is Sodium Tartrate, a binding agent used for things like jelly, margarine, sausage casings (source), and apparently shampoo.
What is Lanoline (or Lanolin)?
Lanolin is a waxy substance that comes out of the wool of sheep when processed. It is, essentially, evaporated sweaty sheep dirt, but makes for a fantastic moisturizer and is still used in lotions and cremes today.
Don't these recipes just sound so appetizing? I know I recoiled the first time I read them, but then think about the effect these ingredients may have had on women's hair.
Anyone fancy trying these recipes out?
Next time I'll talk about brushing the hair (and why it's so important), singeing (say what?), crimping, roughing, and other destructive Edwardian hair practices. :-)