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Bad Victorian Era Hair Days Blown Away Forever



On June 26, we celebrate National Beautician’s Day, a special time to praise those brave souls who manage to make the most of our crowning glory. If you ask your beautician what is the one tool for which s/he would give her life, the blow dryer will undoubtedly rank high on the list.

Victorians Had Bad Hair Days Too

According to an 1894 issue of The Delineator, an American women’s magazine of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, “A potent factor in any woman‘s appearance is her coiffure. Indeed, no other item of her toilette is really so influential, either to emphasize or to lessen her natural attractiveness…”

“The often-admired ‘crowning glory’ may be rendered almost a disfigurement if disposed unbecomingly, while a tasteful and careful dressing of the tresses, even though they are not very beautiful, will lend a decided charm to a plain face.”

Victorian Ladies Were Often Wet Behind Their Ears

The editors of The Delineator believed that hair should be shampooed once a month, without fail, whether it needed it or not. Dust that lodged on the scalp could be removed between shampoos with a stiff brush.

While the shampooing process was simple enough, the main difficulty was in drying the hair thoroughly. The editors advice was simple.   After the last rinsing, rub the hair as dry as possible with a coarse towel. Step two was where things got tricky.

“The best way to dry the hair in Winter is to spread it in the heat of a grate fire or a coal or gas stove. The heat from a hot-air furnace is not advised, as a register usually discharges too much dust; neither is fanning recommended, because the strong current of air thus produced often causes neuralgia and other affections.”

In Summer the open air and warm sunlight made matters easier, even if the end result was somewhat uncontrollable.

Enter The Knight In Shining Armor

Women were rescued from he terrors of shampoo day when French stylist, Alexandre F. Godefroy, developed the first hair dryer in 1888. It was a large gizmo that consisted of a bonnet attached to the chimney pipe of a gas stove, or any suitable heater.

The device was attached to a chair, not unlike those we still see in beauty shops today although significantly larger and run by a power cord and hand crank. Ladies would sit under the bonnet in his salon. Godefroy designed an escape valve for steam so the client’s head would not cook.

Bad Hair Days Blown Away Forever

Prior to his invention, people were experimenting with vacuum cleaner hoses to dry their hair. Early vacuum cleaners sucked air through the front and blew it out the back. Women would connect the hose to the back end of the vacuum and use the flowing air to dry their hair.

Finally, Hand-Held Hair Dryers

Armenian inventor Gabriel Kazanjian received the first patent for a hand-held hair dryer in 1911. It wasn’t until the 1920’s that thee first devices hit the market.

US Racine Universal Motor Company and Hamilton Beach Company designed and sold the first hand-held hair dryers. The early models weighed about two pounds. (As if hair styling isn’t tricky enough!)

These early models were made of metal, and produced up to 100 watts of heat, so they overheated easily, causing countless reports of burns. There were also many reports of electrocution due to contact with water.

Eventually, plastic housings protected users from burns and the machines become lighter. The annoying cut-off switch in modern devices keeps electrocutions down to about four per year. Never mind the possibilities of electrocution. Wouldn’t you risk anything to avoid a bad hair day?
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