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Healthy, Silky Hair in the 19th Century

Discussion in 'Mid-19th Century Life' started by Eleanor Rose, Nov 6, 2018.

  1. Eleanor Rose

    Eleanor Rose 1st Lieutenant

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    [​IMG]
    Young girl with "sausage" curls, circa 1860. Image is by Anson of New York, N.Y.

    Did your grandmother ever tell you to brush your hair 100 strokes or so before bed each night? This was often advised in years past as a way to create healthy, silky hair. Well a lot of today’s fashionistas say that’s a myth and can actually damage your hair causing split ends, flyaways and even baldness! So was grandmother right or wrong?

    The answer may depend on the type of hair brush you use. In the 21st century, many ladies use plastic brushes to detangle their hair. If you use one of those brushes, it can create static and lead to snarls and frazzled hair. In the 1860s hair brushes were natural-bristle brushes. A woman’s vanity set would have included one or two combs to take the tangles out of her hair and a natural bristle brush to style it. The bristle brush was not used as a detangler. It was used to distribute the oils throughout their hair so it wouldn’t accumulate at the roots. This also served to smooth flyways and to clean the dirt out of their hair.

    [​IMG]
    Natural-bristle brush, circa 1880.

    Victorian females were taught to properly brush their hair. This meant starting at the roots and pulling the brush down the hair shaft. This helped make their hair silky smooth, but it took time, especially since long hair was the most popular style.

    [​IMG]
    Portrait of a Woman, circa 1870.

    The 1830s sculpted buns and 1870s up-dos were easier to achieve with natural hair. In many of the photographs of Victorian women with long hair, you’ll notice that it’s slightly wavy and feathers as it near the ends. Healthy, long hair naturally takes this shape if properly cared for. Victorian hair brushing practices pulled the natural oils near the base down the hair shaft towards the ends.

    While Victorian ladies didn’t have access to hairspray, they did have a variety of styling oils, waxes and creams to help hold their hair in place. Often the natural sebum in their hair was enough. They also had access to chemical hair treatments. However, many ladies were afraid to risk them because they could be quite harsh. Curling irons were very popular. They were heated by a stove or lamp. Just like today, our Victorian friends had to be really careful not to burn their hair.

    [​IMG]
    Group of young Victorians, circa 1870.
    In the 19th century women didn’t just style their hair differently than we do today; they cared for their hair differently. While they used pomatums, powders and oils frequently, they used soap as a last resort because it was considered to be drying.

    So is the old advice about brushing your hair 100 strokes or so before bed each night good or bad? Well it probably depends on your hair brush. A boar bristle brush seems to be the key. It’s a simple addition to any vanity set and works best for smoothing back hair for a sleek ponytail or getting a little natural lift in your roots. Of course everyone’s hair is different, so what hair care methods work best for one person may not work well for others.



    Source: The Pragmatic Costumer
     
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2018

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  3. Zella

    Zella First Sergeant Trivia Game Winner

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    Very interesting, Ellie! Thanks for sharing! :smile:

    I always brush my hair from the bottom to the top, which I actually learned from my Cousin Eddie. My male cousin . . . with short hair. :roflmao:

    I used to have waist length hair, but it is now a little past my shoulder. My hair was straighter when it was longer because it was so heavy. Or so I thought. Maybe I was just doing something wrong! :laugh:

    I'd be interested in more about the stuff they used to set their hair without hairspray. I'm allergic to the stuff, so my hair always seems perpetually disheveled. Maybe there's a 19th-century solution for me. :smile:
     
  4. Legion Para

    Legion Para Captain Retired Moderator

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    ....
     
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2018
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  5. Eleanor Rose

    Eleanor Rose 1st Lieutenant

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    What??? How does that work? Doesn't it get all tangled up? My hair is so thick I don't think I could ever do that. Amazing! I learned something new today!
     
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  6. Zella

    Zella First Sergeant Trivia Game Winner

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    I start a few inches from the bottom and work my way up, brushing down.

    It actually tangles less for me and is less painful! I have fine hair but a lot of it. People always assume I have thick hair because of the amount of hair I have, but the individual strands are quite thin.

    I could see how it might not work at all for someone with thicker individual strands of hair. My college roommate and step mom both have such thick hair that they don't brush it. They can't!
     
  7. christian soldier

    christian soldier First Sergeant

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    Thanks for sharing this rather interesting information. David.
     
  8. Michael W.

    Michael W. First Sergeant

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    That young girl is absolutely beautiful! But I can't imagine the time involved to do that hair...
     
  9. Mrs. V

    Mrs. V First Sergeant

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    I have thin, curly hair. I can see where a boar bristle brush would work well, but I suspect I would have the flattest hair on the planet using it. I wonder if Fuller Brush still makes brushes, and if they have ones for women? ( My husband has one of their brushes)..
     
  10. Eleanor Rose

    Eleanor Rose 1st Lieutenant

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    Here's some more hair care advice from The Pragmatic Costumer.

    Always brush your hair before going to sleep. Never sleep with clips, barrettes, braids or hair ties in your hair (it tugs and tears at the hair as your head moves on the pillow). This one surprised me. I had the impression a lot of Victorian ladies slept with their hair braided. Maybe I got this impression from movies. When I was little my grandmother sometimes braided my hair at night. I woke with lovely waves the next morning. @JPK Huson 1863, do you have any knowledge about this. I consider you my Victorian expert.

    Never use products which contain sulfates. You don’t need a lather to get your hair clean! Sulfates will dry your hair and encourage breakage.

    Never use a brush in wet hair. A wide-toothed comb is gentler.

    Always allow your hair to air dry when possible. It's healthier for your hair. Personally I love to do this. It's a luxury when I have time to do so.

    Never let your hair loose if the weather is very windy. The tangled mess will be difficult to untangle without damage. I know firsthand that this is good advice. I always wear a scarf or do an updo.

    Our Victorians sometimes placed a piece of silk over their brush head and brushed with that. I've never tried that or known anyone else who has.

    Anyone else have Victorian tips you can share? Anyone tried placing silk over their brush head? @grace, I'm wondering if you've tried this.
     
  11. Eleanor Rose

    Eleanor Rose 1st Lieutenant

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    Example of wavy hair after sleeping with it braided...

    [​IMG]

    Source: Bustle
     
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2018
  12. Eleanor Rose

    Eleanor Rose 1st Lieutenant

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    I've come across several different natural hair-washing methods while reading through my collection of 19th century books and magazines so I wanted to share some with you. You'll notice some seem to be in conflict with the others. I think they're all quite interesting.

    “To cleanse the hair, there is nothing better than soap and water . . . the soap, of course, should be mild, and well and plentifully rubbed in, and afterwards thoroughly removed with an abundance of water” – pg. 121, Hints on Health (published 1852).
    Modern day tip: The soap would have been a castile soap or “toilet soap” as it was often called because it was milder than the soap that would have been used for washing laundry. Water type can affect the results. You need to find a soap that will wash out completely with the water type that you have. J.R. Liggett Bar Shampoo is popular.

    If you want to have a good head of hair, never apply to cosmetics; use nothing else to clean it but strong, cold black tea. Rub it into the roots every evening before going to bed, with a little sponge, and every morning do the same. I generally use it, and recommend it to all ladies desirous of having a full head of hair” – pg. 261, Godey’s Lady’s Book (September 1867).
    Modern day tip: Black tea works best for those with medium to dark hair. It can temporarily darken very light blonde hair.

    “Vinegar and water form a good wash for the roots of the hair” – pg. 316, Decorum (published 1879).
    Modern day tip: Use about a teaspoon diluted in a cup of water for the best results.

    “Any preparation of rosemary forms an agreeable and highly cleansing wash” – pg. 317, Decorum (1879).
    Modern day tip: Use rosemary tea as a rinse.

    The yolk of an egg beaten up in warm water is an excellent application to the scalp” – pg. 317, Decorum (1879).
    To cleanse long hair – beat up the yolk of an egg with a pint of soft water. Apply it warm, and afterwards wash it out with warm water” – pg.458, Godey’s Lady’s Book (printed 1869).
    Modern day tip: Egg yolks are great to use as a mask to nourish and moisturize the hair. Wrap hair up with a towel or shower cap and let the egg yolk mask sit in the hair for 10-15 minutes or longer. Wash hair thoroughly afterwards.

    New England rum, constantly used to wash the hair, keeps it very clean, and free from disease, and promotes its growth a great deal more than Macassar oil. Brandy is very strengthening to the roots of the hair; but it has a hot, drying tendency, which N.E. rum has not.” – pg. 12 The American Frugal Housewife (published 1833).
    Modern day tip: This seems best suited for an occasional clarifying wash. I have never tried it. Ever heard of this @NH Civil War Gal?

    If you interested in using natural hair care methods, you might enjoy reading The No Poo Method: Your Guide to Natural Hair Care by Ashlee Mayer. This book is a guide to all-natural, shampoo-free hair care with tips and recipes.

    @diane, are there any interesting hair care methods in Native American culture? Inquiring minds want to know.
     
  13. Eleanor Rose

    Eleanor Rose 1st Lieutenant

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    [​IMG]

    Advertisement for hair curler in "The Ladies' Home Journal", August, 1890.​
     
  14. diane

    diane Brev. Brig. Gen'l

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    The wild lilac is used a lot by our people. Also soap plant, which is used for bathing as well. It mashes up into a nice, delicate powder for laundry. Good smell. The people here tend to have very thick hair and the lilac tames it down pretty well although it's a fairly seasonal treat.
     
  15. Dumb Yankee

    Dumb Yankee Cadet

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    This is a fascinating thread! But after reading about how all these Victorian ladies kept up beautiful hair, I need to know... what the actual heck was Custer's hair routine? Did that crazy bastard CURL it regularly? (I'm sorry to interrupt, but I just remember he was very preoccupied with his hair and I have no clue what men's hair care was like back then??)
     
  16. Zella

    Zella First Sergeant Trivia Game Winner

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    Maybe he's born with it. Maybe it's Maybelline. :wink:

    Maybe it's cinnamon oil. . . .
    http://www.custerbattle.com/general-custer-scented-hair-cinnamon-oils/
     
  17. Dumb Yankee

    Dumb Yankee Cadet

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    "He often scented his hair with cinnamon oil, which kept it spicy."

    Say what you will about the man, but he sure as heck kept it spicy!

    (also I'm definitely not going to try and make a cinnamon hair mask this weekend...)
     
  18. Zella

    Zella First Sergeant Trivia Game Winner

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    That line made me giggle uncontrollably, so I'm glad someone else found it as amusing as I did. :roflmao:

    I'm going to opt out of the cinnamon hair treatment myself. :smile:
     
  19. Dumb Yankee

    Dumb Yankee Cadet

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    I mean, they're not wrong?? Custer was a very spicy individual.

    (And I'll keep y'all updated- if I end up with magnificent golden hair and a terrible personality, I'll know I'm going something right...)
     
  20. Mike Serpa

    Mike Serpa Major

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    A quote from the link, "One of the most common ways cinnamon oil is used as a hair product is a hair growth stimulant."

    This must have worked for Custer! In the photo below George is with his sister Margaret Custer Calhoun representing Quaker Peace Commissioners in a skit at Fort Abraham Lincoln in 1875.
    GAC:sis.jpg
     
  21. Zella

    Zella First Sergeant Trivia Game Winner

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    His hair game was definitely on point!
     

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