Hair-dye for Workmen: 1867, 1889

Grey Hair Restorer, 1881

HAIR-DYE FOR WORKMEN

Drives to Use It in Order to Keep Up in the Race with the Young.

There is now going on a mighty struggle which is almost essentially a question of age. Yet it is one which affects thousands and thousands of men and women who are toilers and bread-winners.

On all sides preference is given by employers to youth over more advanced years. Absalom, in the vigor of his juvenility, is content to receive twenty to thirty per cent less money than his more mature rival. In wholesale warehouses, in public companies, in retail establishments, in the street, on the road and the rail, men and women who are still hale and hearty in mind and body have been set adrift to make room for the younger—and cheaper—generations. They are willing to work for the same wage, but the masters will have none of them.

In their distress they turn to a comforter—not to the work-house, if they can avoid so doing; not to the charitable institution, not the trades union, but to Figaro himself, the peruquier, the hairdresser, the barber. The amount of hair-dye used by artisans and laborers of all sorts is not only enormous, but increases day by day. It is not vanity which impels them to the practice, it is life, for which it is well worth dyeing.

The testimony on the subject is undeniable. A knight of the razor in the north of London testifies that he is doing a tremendous trade in hair-dye with working-men for the reasons given above. “They take it home,” he said, “and get their wives to lay it on. In many cases it is an absolute necessity with female employes. Proprietors of big millinery establishments won’t have women with gray hair on the premises.

“You’ve no idea what misery I’ve been aware of in families from gray hair. I knew a man, a father of six children. All of a sudden, from illness, I think, his hair whitened, and his employer took the earliest opportunity of giving him the sack, and getting a younger man in his place. He couldn’t obtain another situation anywhere, and the more trouble he had the older he looked. At last, when he was at his wit’s end, someone told him to get his hair dyed, and, what’s more, lent him the money to have it done. Well, he’s got another place. It’s less money; but you’d hardly know him again. I’ve seen scores like him. Your young folk may sneer at dye and crack jokes on the subject, but as true as I’m not a Dutchman, it’s been the salvation of many hard-working men and women. A lady dealing in human hair near St. Pancras, when sounded on the subject, admitted the practice, and allowed that she dealt very largely in dye, nearly all vended to those earning their living in large commercial establishments.

The same tale was repeated by one who did a good deal of traffic in this way with ladies of the theatrical persuasion. “Lor’ bless you,” he exclaimed. “without hair-dye some of those women would be nowhere. What would you say, if you was a manager, if a girl with gray locks came to you and wanted an engagement? I expect you’d show her the door pretty quickly. I’m not talking of those vain young females who turn black to gold or red to brown. I mean the chorister of thirty-five to forty, still good looking, but who is beginning to show the powder puff on her head. There isn’t one, there isn’t twenty, there isn’t a hundred, but I’d like to bet there’s a thousand or more in the United Kingdom. Their great-grandmothers had to wear wigs; their descendant are a deal more comfortable with a little harmless coloring matter on their own hair.” And so the story runs ad infinitum. London Telegraph

Thomas County Cat [Colby KS] 13 June 1889: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Dyed hair has often been viewed as the prerogative of the aging roué on the prowl for a dewy heiress, the hussy, the debauchee without a portrait aging in the attic, or the mutton dressed as lamb. It is rather refreshing to see it viewed in a less moralising and colder economic light. Even to-day one may find men and women of a certain age being advised to colour their hair in order to get or retain a position. In an excerpt from an article about the technical aspects of dyeing the hair, a tonsorial professional waxed quite candid on the subject:

I was on the point of censuring the habit of using any sort of hair-dye, when the purport of a certain conversation that took place on a certain day, between me and a certain hair-dresser, came to my memory. He had been shaving me; passing his keen razor with delicate care over and among certain deep furrows which mark my face, disfiguring or embellishing me according to people’s fancy. He had been dressing my ragged mustache, and taking heed lest the grizzly beard, which it is my good pleasure to wear, should be curtailed of its normal proportions, when I found his two gray eyes lingering with a sort of deprecating look upon the many-tinted hues of the said beard, mottled with various-colored hairs, in which white predominates.

“I could make you ten years younger,” said he, at length, “if you would only let me. My charge is only three-and-sixpence.”

“That’s reasonable, anyhow,” quoth I; “pray how would you set about it?” “By dyeing that beard of yours,” was his prompt reply. “Its color is disgraceful”

Now the thought of having ten years of one’s life put back was not to be cast aside. Who would not accept the proffered ten years, if they could be given, even by a barber? It was pretence, after all, only pretence; my operator could only make me look younger, – a boon which I considered no boon, and declined. Improving the occasion, I began to inveigh against the practice of hair-dyeing in general. “People should have their hair as Nature made it,” I told him; “people should rise above all foolish vanity.” Thereupon he came out with strong disclaimers, and cogent arguments. He advanced a certain plea for hair-dyeing, the force of which I had to recognize. He spoke somewhat after this fashion:

“It may be all very well for you, sir, to let your beard stay as it is. I don’t know who you are or what you are. You ain’t no clerk, and you ain’t no shopman, or else you would know better…. But s’pose you was behind a counter a selling of silks, or calicos, or ribbons, how do you think the ladies would like your looks?”

It was a home thrust; I involuntarily took stock of myself in a looking-glass. “Do you think the ladies would have anything to say to you? Not much, I guess. S’pose you was a clerk, a wife and young uns at home, s’pose you wanted a situation where a hactive young man was advertised for. How would you get that situation?”

“O!” exclaimed he, taking advantage of my silence. “I’ve helped many a poor gent as warn’t so young as he once was to pleasant places. Better let me dye it, sir; it will do well.” “No no!” quoth I; “it would do me no good, but you’ve thrown a new light on the matter….”

The poor clerk or shopman may, perhaps, be excused for trying to beget an impression of greater youth by dyeing his hair, whiskers, or mustaches black. His bread may in some sense depend upon it; but were he to bleach his naturally black or brown hair, only to dye it some fancy color, one would then call him, among other names, a poor silly fellow.

Every Saturday 6 April 1867: pp 433-434

Physicians invariably inveighed against the toxic compounds used to colour the tresses. But there was a fate worse than dye-ing among those who darkened their hair:

“I wonder if it really as dangerous as doctors say to dye the hair?”

“Certainly! Only more so. I had an uncle who tried it, and he was married to a widow with six children in less than three months.”

The Jackson [MI] Citizen Patriot 14 August 1897: p. 5

Mrs Daffodil has previously written about coloured hair-powders for a more temporary effect and the fad for silver hair.

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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