8 Vintage Hairstyling Products Your Grandmother Probably Swore By
“Natural” beauty has become a lot less time-consuming (and painful) thanks to technology. Women can easily shampoo, dry, and style their hair; those with straight hair can achieve curls in a matter of minutes. That’s not how it used to be—some of us remember when slumber parties were spent setting our hair in rollers or pin curls while simultaneously playing Truth or Dare. If you’re a Baby Boomer or a bit beyond, these products may bring back some not-so-fond memories.
Dippity-do was something of a prehistoric styling gel: It wasn’t as lightweight as the current products, and it didn’t contain today’s trendy ingredients like aloe and wheat protein. The original variety had the consistency of Jell-O and was designed to hold a set longer (when used with hair rollers) or to plaster bangs and fly-away hairs in place. (As a teen, KISS drummer Eric Carr slathered his hair with the stuff nightly and slept with a nylon stocking over his scalp in an effort to tame his natural curls into a Beatle-esque mop top.) Dippity-do could even be used on dry hair to set it in between shampoos—for some reason, beauty advice columns of the 1960s vehemently admonished ladies against washing their hair more than once per week.
2. CRÈME RINSE
Some older folks use the terms “conditioner” and “crème rinse” interchangeably, just like grandma used to do with “ice box” and “refrigerator,” but there is a difference between the two products. Crème rinse is much thinner in consistency because it doesn’t contain the emollients and sunscreens typically found in conditioner. The main purpose of crème rinse is to detangle hair and reduce static electricity. In the 1950s and '60s, crème rinse was one of those luxurious “extras” that was mostly used by older women, not children or teens. That’s why so many of us have painful memories of mom tugging a comb through our tangled wet hair after every shampoo, and muttering “beauty must suffer” whenever we dared to complain.
3. ELECTRIC ROLLERS
Children are little sponges, absorbing an amazing amount of information at a young age. Sometimes that’s a good thing, giving them a definite leg up once their formal schooling begins. Other times it can be an embarrassment for the hapless parent—like when her child sings out in clarion tones, “Curlers in your hair, shame on you!” to a stranger in the checkout line at the supermarket. Even though it was considered gauche to go out in public with rollers in your hair, many busy housewives simply tied a scarf around their head in an attempt to cover their rollers and went about their daily errands hoping that their hair would be dry in time for the evening. In the late 1960s Clairol took a step forward in protecting the American public’s eyes from unsightly head hardware by introducing Kindness, a revolutionary set of electric rollers that gave you a head full of curls in about 20 minutes or so. The rollers took 10 minutes to heat up, and they weren’t as insulated as today’s models are, so tiny foam wedges were provided to place between your scalp and the hot curler (burned fingers were just a hazard of instant, or semi-instant, beauty).
4. BRUSH ROLLERS
We’ve all heard stories about the virginal brides of the 1940s and '50s who, despite the stilted “talk” Mother gave them prior to walking down the aisle, were shocked and/or horrified at what actually occurred on their wedding night. Much less has been recorded from the husband’s point of view: the shocking tableau presented the first time his new wife emerged from the bathroom sans makeup and with her head encased in what looked like barbed wire. Hair dryers were mainly found only in beauty shops, so to get that naturally curly look that would last in between shampoos, women routinely wound their hair in brush rollers before retiring for the night. Finding a comfortable sleeping position while wearing them was something of an art form.
5. ORANGE JUICE CAN ROLLERS
Lady Gaga may have appeared to be a trendsetter when she set her hair with pop cans (or soda cans if you prefer), but women were actually using can technology 50-some years ago. Back when beehive or bouffant hairdos with a maximum of pouf were all the rage, girls cursed with straight hair used rinsed-out cans of frozen orange juice concentrate (with both ends cut out) as makeshift jumbo hair rollers. On the other end of the hair spectrum, girls blessed with naturally curly hair set their hair with cans to flatten their tresses into that straight California surfer-girl look. Keep in mind that blow dryers were not yet commonplace, so—like their brush roller sisters—women often had to sleep with their hair rolled thusly.
6. BONNET HAIR DRYERS
Part of the reason women subjected themselves to nightly sleeping-with-rollers-in-their-hair torture was that prior to the mid-1970s there really wasn’t a more time-efficient way to dry one’s hair. There were a few primitive hand-held blow dryers available beginning in the 1920s, but they weighed an average of two pounds, were insulated with asbestos, and only produced a paltry 100 watts of heat. In 1951 General Electric introduced a portable soft-bonnet hair dryer, which was a home version (sort of) of the hard-shell blast furnace dryers that beauty parlors then used. The plastic cap was flexible enough to fit over a head full of rollers, and the “works” part (the motor, etc.) was supposedly light enough to carry around (via a convenient shoulder strap) as the busy housewife attended to her regular daily chores. It was quite the innovation when bonnet dryers with the power to dry hair in just 22 minutes eventually hit the market.
7. HOME PERMANENTS
Toni introduced the home permanent in the late 1940s, and the product flew off the supermarket shelves into the homes of women who wanted to save the cost of a salon wave. Other brands like Lilt and Rave followed, but thanks to an aggressive, long-running ad campaign (“Which twin has the Toni?”) “Toni” became as synonymous with a home perm as “Kleenex” did with facial tissue. Suddenly every mom became a kitchen table hairdresser, completely ignoring the fact that there’s a good reason it takes many months of study for a stylist to become licensed. As a result, many young girls of the 1950s dreaded those special times of year—back to school, Easter—when Mom decided that it was “time to give you a Toni.”
8. AEROSOL HAIRSPRAY
That hole in the ozone layer we hear so much about? I’m loathe to point fingers, but I have a feeling the elaborate bouffants and flips of the 1960s had something to do with it. Mary Tyler Moore admitted that her Dick Van Dyke Show on-set stylist sprayed her flip so solidly that “you could hang clothes on it,” and Barry Williams (of Brady Bunch fame) reminisced in his autobiography about a guest spot on That Girl in which Marlo Thomas spent every off-camera moment having her hair teased and sprayed until it could deflect bullets. As mentioned earlier, shampooing more than once per week was out of the question, so when a lady’s hairdo started to go limp, it was hairspray to the rescue. Women moistened their hair with Aquanet, White Rain, or VO5 before re-setting it with rollers or giant clips. Those cans were filled with fluorocarbons as well as the other ingredients that lacquered hair into submission, and people spritzed that stuff with abandon until the FDA stepped in and hair styles gradually changed to a more “natural” look.