Home / Beauty Tips / Curls for Christmas – archive, 13 December 1951

Curls for Christmas – archive, 13 December 1951

For some years now cosmetics have been used to enhance nature rather than to create a blatantly artificial effect. No longer does a purple gash indicate a mouth or a thin streak of harsh colour a tortured eyebrow. In the same way that cosmetic manufacturers have improved and adapted their colours and ingredients to give a natural appearance, permanent-waving methods have been developed to give a natural-looking wave or curl. Unfortunately, while you no longer see a woman who looks as though she has dipped her face in a bowl of flour, it is not the exception to see one whose head proclaims to the world that she has “just had a perm.”

At Christmas there is the biggest out-break of these hard, jerky waves ending with an array of tight curls. Christmas, in fact, is a period when even the harried housewife finds time to tidy up her appearance by making an appointment for a permanent wave. Perhaps this is where part of the fault lies. To demand that your hairdresser perms your entire head or even “the ends” (a phrase which is open to several interpretations) will certainly achieve a number of waves and curls where they were not to be seen before but will not necessarily achieve the essential aim – an impression of naturally curled hair.

An entirely straight head of hair is an exception among Europeans. There is always some movement towards a curl in their hair however slight, which can be coaxed or trained. This is what an expert hairdresser looks for. As he cuts his customer’s hair to shape the style that will suit her he is able to judge the weakness and strength of the hair, where it can be set with hairpins into the required shape, and where it needs encouraging by treating with some type of permanent-waving system. It is by this use of the perm as a tool (in the same way as a pair of scissors are a tool) that a completely natural appearance is given to the treated hair.

The achievement of this natural appearance after a perm is probably due more than anything else to the development of the “tepid” or cool permanent waving system. Although an establishment may use the “cold” method in some cases, possibly for the few short hairs at the nape of the neck, it has ben found that the time element in curling the entire head in this way (the time taken between the winding of the first curl and the last) is so varying with different operators that the necessary control of the perm can be lost. The salon may also use the “hot” system for lank or coarse hair. But by adopting the tepid method hairdressers have been able to give a softer appearance. This means that the customer can leave the salon after having a permanent wave and look as though her hair has been merely dressed or set.

A woman sits under a perm machine drinking a cup of tea, circa 1937. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

It is said that the effect of a tepid perm will remain in the hair as long as the other systems, and there is no need for the client to spend a month with hard artificial waves for the benefit of looking attractively natural for the remainder of the time the perm lasts. As the name suggests, the tepid method uses less heat. Like the cold system, the hair is curled by using more chemicals than is necessary with a stronger degree of heat. This then is the choice given to the woman having a permanent wave: more heat and less chemicals or little heat and more chemicals.

Whether one does more harm to the hair than the other does not seem to have been proved In fact, whether a permanent cave of any kind actually damages the hair is open to argument Bleaching and dying, drying under heat, or even washing the hair can all in their war cut down its elasticity. It is for this reason that the ropes of hair (usually unwashed) of the French and Italian peasant women are bought from them and made into heavy chignons or false curls by the hairdressers of London and Paris.

But no one would suggest that hair should revert to its original purpose – a protective mat for the head. If artificial treatment lowers its condition, then other artificial methods must be taken to restore it.

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