They didn’t have the luxury of high tech hair straighteners and rollers, or an endless array of hair products – but I’d bet my dry shampoo Grandma’s hair was in better condition than mine. So how did our grandmothers always look so perfectly coiffed and glamorous?
Grandma Dorothy was a hair dresser, and even though she passed away when I was a little girl, I always remember how shiny and perfectly coiffed her hair was, right up until her 70s.
A flick through the family album shows that beautifully-styled hair was a her life long passion. Grandma Newton was an accomplished hairdresser and ‘Permanent Waving Specialist’ – she had her own hair salon in Nottingham, and continued to practice hairdressing when the family migrated to Australia in the sixties. OH how I WISH I could talk to her today.
It blows my mind that even though there were on rations and had very limited budget, there was no excuse for poorly kept hair – women in the 40s and 50s took their beauty seriously!
How did they do it?
I decided to do a bit of a trawl to find out why… Here are a few of granny’s tricks you can use today…
Hair secret 1: She ate a lot less preservatives and fats
So our grannies probably didn’t have the variety of food that we have now (and they didn’t know what kale was either) but their diets – although a lot more limited than ours are today – would have consisted of a lot less sugar and saturated fats. Although ‘junk food’ did exist in the 40s and 50s, high fructose corn syrup and trans-fats weren’t yet a staple. Talk to any wellness expert and they’ll be the first to tell you that if you’re not looking after your diet, no amount of expensive hair treatments will fix it.
Hair secret 2: She dedicated time to her hair
Leaving the house with a pair of gloves, a hat, and perfect hair and make up was unthinkable for ladies in the 40s and 50s. But it didn’t happen in five minutes – many women had a dedicated beauty routine that they scheduled in as part of their week.
This included getting their hair ‘set’ once a fortnight at the hairdressers, and sleeping in rollers to achieve the perfect look. Even when many went to work in the 40s after the men left for war, perfectly coiffed hair would still peak through under ‘Rosie Riveter’ scarves.
Today, we’ve got so many heat styling products to help us out, but unless you take real care, these can turn your hair into a crispy, frizzy mess. Instead, experiment with rags or wet set rollers for a look that will last much longer, and is soo much better for your hair. My beautiful friend Eszter who is the MASTER at vintage hair styles (she currently works as the hair and make up stylist for Sherbet Bertie Photography) recently did an overnight wet set on me in preparation for a vintage shoot with Bowerbird Vintage. I loved the results and it really did last days!
Hair secret 3: She protected her hair
You’ve probably come across photos of your grandma wearing a silk scarf around her hair, or at the very least a hat. This was because not only did they value porcelain skin, but because they spent so much time and effort on their hair, they wouldn’t DREAM of ruining it in the elements!
Because they shielded their hair from the harsh weather (in particular, the Australian sun) their hair was in better condition. If you’re spending a lot of time in the sun, sea or pool, protect your hair with a hat, a hair sunscreen or a swimming cap. Scarves will help you achieve that vintage look, so try it out!
Hair secret 4: She washed her hair less often.
Most women washed their hair at most once a fortnight, and while that might be unthinkable for some women today, your hair can probably benefit from less washing. It may be uncomfortable at first, but your scalp will soon less oil and keep the scalp’s ph balance in check. Dry shampoo is a great product to keep oil at bay.
Hair secret 5: She didn’t use shampoo
The mid 50s saw shampoos and conditioners hit the market, but prior to that, many used a simple solution of bi-carb soda or soap to clean their hair, followed by a few drops of lemon juice or vinegar, and would wash their hair once a fortnight at the most. Many women are now trying this today as part of the “No-Poo” movement.
Hair secret 6: They conditioned their hair with products you could find in your pantry.
Forget expensive treatments with ingredients you can’t pronounce – conditioning treatments for our grandmothers were usually egg whites massaged into the hair a rinse of beer, leaving hair soft, shiny and healthy. Another popular treatment was olive oil – they would soak their hair and wrap it in a hot towel for half an hour. Experts are still touting this advice for naturally gorgeous hair today, so grandma knew she was onto a good thing.
Hair secret 7: They were thrifty
Many of our grandmothers just didn’t have the disposable income to spend on expensive products – and during the war effort, almost everything was rationed.
While the development of hair styling products such as setting sprays, hair oil and hair cream influenced the way in which hair was styled, they still used inexpensive products like petroleum jelly to smooth fly-aways.
Instead of filling your bathroom cabinet with every kind of styling products available, invest in a few key pieces that are multipurpose such as a hair serum and hair spray.
Hair secret 8: She brushed her hair 100 times before bed
You’ve probably heard your grandmother or your mother spell out this piece of advice, and while it’s controversial advice today, back in the 50s they didn’t wash their hair as often and their hair was generally courser. Brushing it with a boar brush enabled oils from the scalp to travel down the hair shaft, moisturizing the hair from roots to end with natural oils and promoted hair growth.
While it’s not advised that you over brush your hair (this can cause hair breakage), giving your hair a good brush at night will help circulation and the distribution of hair oils.
Hair secret 9: She didn’t use heat tools
Many of our grandmothers did get their hair ‘set’ once a week or fortnight with heating machines at the hair salon, but wouldn’t dream of doing it every day. Many others whose budgets wouldn’t stretch that far made do with other solutions. Victory Rolls are a hairstyle that (surprisingly) didn’t need any heat – just a bit of know-how.
They also embraced their natural hair curl, and would much prefer to set their hair wet in curls, then allow it to dry naturally, or set it in rags.
This would of course take a lot longer, sometimes overnight (which is why you see so many photos of women in curlers and scarves!) but the style would last, and because there was no heat involved, their hair was all the healthier for it.
Try ragging yourself by finding some old material and making a handful of long and thin strips. Take a small section of your hair, twist around the rag until the twist reaches the top of your head, and then tie the ends of the rag together.
Hair secret 10: She didn’t over colour or overprocess her hair
While hair colour was available in the late 1950s, it wasn’t an option for many women as it was so expensive and the colours were very harsh – so most just made the most of their natural colour. We’re very lucky to have so many at home hair colours and salon treatments available to us, but if your hair is a brittle mess, consider laying off the colour and giving your hair a break – after all, grey has never been more in!
Do you think we use too many chemicals and processes on our hair? Please let me know what you think!