Blistering a Head: Secrets of a Hair-dresser: 1893

The four Russian Grand Duchesses had their heads shaved in 1917 during a bout with measles.

The four Russian Grand Duchesses had their heads shaved in 1917 during a bout with measles.

HER CHIEF GLORY

Fair Woman’s Art Shown in Arranging Her Hair

How to Trim, Dress and Preserve the Glossy Locks.

Uses of a Blistered Scalp.

A French Hair Dresser Discloses Some of the Secrets of Her Art—

Ideals of the Artists—Wonders Accomplished by Continuous Scientific Treatment—Tricks of a Trade of Which Little is Known—Puffs and Rolls Once More Coming Into Vogue.

“But I assure madam, it will not hurt; just five little moments, and madam will not know that her head has been touched with the iron. Blistered? That ugly word! Madam thinks it is the torture, but I swear to madam she will not cry out. Pouf! I screamed myself with the fright after I was ill with the fever, and they brought the iron. But when they showed to me my poor hairs all thin and weak, I said: ‘Oui, oui, scald me, blister me, take away the skin! It is better to die than not to have the long curls any more.’  And so, as madam may believe, they burned the head and I laughed at the hurt. Madam may see that I have my poor little curls, so poor, so dark beside madam’s hair of yellow. But it will die and force madam to wear a wig, the hideous wig of an old woman. Horrible! Will madame let me save this for her? In my France the fisher girl wears a little cap to hide her hair. Her hair is sacre, holy I think you call it, and besides the men, those foolish men, they run after the girls and whisper silly words if by accident they see the great braids. And when the luck in the boat is bad, and the pere and frere cannot buy new kerchiefs or sabots for the fisher girls at home, the little fools cut off their hair for the wretched francs one sends from Paris. Then what available the kerchiefs or the sabots after it is whispered all about ‘Jeanne has no more hair.’ The girls point at Jeanne the fingers and the men laugh, and because the glory is gone say rude things. Ah! Well, Jeanne, who cannot think to know that the men love women for hair and bright eyes, and not for kerchief or sabots, Jeanne has been well punished.”

A Pleasant Interior.

And the deft little French woman with the masses of cloudy hair touches madam’s nerves with balmy words, her hands stroke madam’s tresses—the few wisps that have survived tongs, alkali washes, modish cuts and hereditary baldness—with practiced ease.

The apartments are handsomely furnished, homelike rooms. Fires burn in the grates, the latest magazines are strew about the tables, and well dressed women, whose carriages are known on Fifth Avenue, bend over them awaiting their turn in the skylit, severely practical chamber through whose curtains the little French woman may be seen at her art. She is truly an artful person. White-capped maids, in reality hairdressers too who are employed to aid the madam in her business, pass back and forth through the rooms; subtle penetrating odors of violet, heliotrope and rose subdue pomades and tonics and washes used for scalp massage, while the Parisienne’s running voice and cooing lies quite dispel the irritation with which New York women of thirty years enter these apartments to ward off the two swift approaches to age.

For it is here that

Scientific Treatment of the Hair

Has been know not only to tighten dropping tresses and awaken life in comatose bulbs, but to coax the fiber from the heads long bald—men’s heads, at that which have shown for years in the orchestra circle bald as a billiard ball.

But the French woman’s remarks about the boys, young and old, who sneak to her rooms during hours reserved for them, would make, as Kipling says, “another story.”

Their wives come earlier in the day, and in due season are ushered into the operating room, where the coiffure is pulled to pieces, and various little curls, which peep so alluringly from the Psyche knot or the stately chignon, are ruthlessly picked out from the scanty locks which madame praises.

“Not long,” she murmurs, with disparaging eyes glancing over the switches and front pieces of the demolished structure, “in a few more weeks madame will find a new growth like the fuzz on a baby’s head. It is no miracle, oh, no! The good saints intend all the ladies should have hair, but the scalp gets tired, but I rub it and am a doctor, so that the hair must grow!”

Then the doctor seizes a magnifying glass and examines every inch of the head, after which she massages it for several minutes. Next she rubs a lotion into the pores and an ointment down the strands of hair. These she carefully dries, almost hair by hair; other preparations makes it glossy or fluffy, as the operator sees fit, and much brushing and stroking and singeing of split ends evolve the treatment for that day into a masterly coiffure.

It is only in serious cases that the madam insists upon

Blistering a Head.

It is not good policy, because it is certainly painful and extraordinary care must be taken for many weeks. Yet there is no other way to remove the thick cuticle from a “marble bald spot,” and reach the living bulb beneath. Madam swears by the virtues of her process and vows that the madam in the long chair will see the results before long. And sometimes madam does.

If she does not, if the hair vesicles are utterly defunct and the laborious life of a rich society woman has sapped vitality until it cannot respond to the skillful touch of the “masseur of the scalp,” there is another finely appointed suite of apartments not a block distant where she may betake herself. “Hairdressing Parlors” is the legend on the card, but on the first floor one sees only the wigs, the artificial curls, the elaborate coiffure, all ready to be pinned upon the head, which are the vivacious French woman’s abomination. The prize hair of a “large, newly imported stock” is here—poor little Jeanne’s, whose cropped head is bowed now disconsolately beneath the jibes of her companions. The glorious masses of it sell for a sum that would delight her peasant heart with kerchief and sabots for many a day. The preparation of the raw material is so careful that a woman may almost be pardoned for covering her scraggy growth with soft, clinging, silky curls or naturally waved gold or braids of brown, or puffs of auburn; as mode dictates the color and the style.

Upstairs, where one’s own locks are lightened with scientific applications of peroxide or changed into a dusky bronze with “mezzolina,” there is much discussion, as to

The Coming Manner of Coiffure.

“We cannot say positively,” announced a maiden whose head was a good advertisement for her establishment, “for we haven’t had any direct word from the other side. But we are pretty certain that the hair will be worn very broad and low down on the side of the head in puffs and rolls.”

“Rats,” groaned a voice. “Yes, rats,” was the reply. “And the bang will be pointed in a  long curl with side pompadour. Perhaps it will be parted through the middle for another year, with a tiny bang. Too bad the chignon is taking the place of the three Empire puffs, one high at the point of the head and the other two lying against it. The regular French twist will come again, too, and the hair will not be crinkled with irons, as it is now, either. More and more will be used; with the rolls and puffs a great many switches will be needed. The new style will be very exclusive, indeed, because everybody cannot afford to follow it.”

So we are going back to the ancient wads of horsehair, which made our grandmothers’ heads look like padded cushions.

Well, why not? Having just escaped shipwreck on the crinoline reef, we are prepared to graze the other enormities of fifty years ago. And, moreover, we will all rush into the purchase or manufacture of “rats” and pin them to our heads regardless of their shapes. Round faces and short faces, long faces and square faces, hatchet faces and tubby faces, will turn towards the new coiffure; as to the becomingness of the style, that will not matter much at first. The sense of the eternal fitness of the things is always lost with the appearance of a novel mode. All women cast themselves into a single mode and come out with the power of individual expression gone.

Ideals of the Artists

Hair, dress, manner are subdued to the proper relation with other women’s hair and dress and manner. A few days ago a group of women were standing before an exhibition of “ideal heads’ by famous artists. The spectators wore flying capes to their ears, tiny hats and coiffures, each and every one of them was crimped heavily from the nape of the neck to a tightly pointed coil at the top of the crown.

The heads of the ideal women were, after all, painted, one could see, from humble models—German peasant girls with ripe youthful faces, set in a mist of loose flaxen hair, which fell in uneven, airy masses on their necks, or was gathered into a massive braid from beneath a gay shawl twisted about their heads. One face was that of a young girl whose light brown waving hair was coiled into a ‘prentice coiffure on her head. It was her first effort to become a woman, perhaps; at any rate, there was a story in the simple twists of soft tresses.

Another portrait was that of a Magdalen, whose bare arms and clasped hands gleamed through straight wild masses of neglected hair.

Her face was calm and sad. There was abandonment only in the subtle suggestions of utter forgetfulness of her sinful beauty.

Besides here was a gypsy girl, whose black locks were tightly curled and shaken down over one cheek and a broad white brow. Beneath her headdress the straight hair au naturel betrayed itself.

An arrant little coquette, this Romany maid! Artists and women in the unartificial walks of life have alone preserved the secrets of beauty.

Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 19 March 1893: p. 22

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: As one can see from the photograph at the head of the post, the Imperial Russian Grand Duchesses’ heads were shaved during a bout of measles. This was done for coolness in fever and for hygienic purposes, because germs were believed to be spread by the hair. It was also a popular belief that shaving the head, as this cooing French hairdresser threatens, would allow hair thinned by disease or heredity to grow back thick and luxuriant. Blistering the scalp was a recognized treatment for alopecia and was also done with chemical agents such as the caustic croton oil or carbolic acid.  In the 1890s, every woman wanted to look like the stately females drawn by Charles Dana Gibson, with their whipped meringue pompadours. One could not be fashionable without a fine head of hair. And if one was not fashionable, one might as well be dead—hence the ladies’ submission to cures that sound to Mrs Daffodil like the tortures of the Inquisition.

Hair has always inspired controversy. You’ll find a post on chignon horrors here. And chignon satire here.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

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One thought on “Blistering a Head: Secrets of a Hair-dresser: 1893

  1. Pingback: A School for Hairdressing: 1890 | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

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