Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Day I Went Curly, By Evelyn Taylor

I did not inherit my mother’s curly hair but had straight black hair like my dad’s. This had never bothered me until seventh grade. Going to Madison High School seemed to call for more style: like nail polish, sweaters and skirts instead of cotton dresses, silk stockings instead of socks, and curly hair.
I am sure this last change would not have happened except for the fact that a new beauty salon had opened on Main Street, fairly close to where I lived, and the price of the permanent was right. The huge sign in the window read, “Permanents--$1.25”

This shy twelve year old was delivered into the hands of several beauty operators, for this was a production line operation—one shampooed, one wound, one unwound, another combed, and yet another set the hair. All these strangers working on me, along with my shyness and inexperience in the world of the beauty salon, made me almost mute the whole day. And it was a day—I was there eight hours! Looking back on it, I do not think it was because the process took so long, as much as I, in the production line, got pushed aside for some adult to go through.

At noon, Mom who had never needed a permanent came to see what had happened to me. I was in one of the ‘stages’, but not nearly close to the end. She gave me a candy bar (my lunch) and told them not to bother setting my hair as I was tired. She later regretted this decision.

Permanents in the 1930’s were a form of torture. The hair was wound on metal rods and tied with string. The pulling and tugging made tears come to my eyes. These rods were then encased in a metal tube and heated. The head was surrounded by metal rods, sticking straight out and hooked to the machine by adjustable cords. An outer space creature would be a good comparison, but at that time, I had no concept of such beings. No test curl was done, and later on I learned that I only needed about four minutes of heat as my hair curls very easily.

After eight hours of this torture, I walked home with my head a mass of kinky curls. Poor Mom,  When she saw me, she burst into tears. As I was told later, she thought she had ruined me for life.

We hurried across the street to consult with Hattie, a young woman who used makeup and went to beauty salons, neither of which Mom did. The suggestion was that I return to the salon the next day and have my hair set. Then a ‘set’ meant putting a gooey setting gel on and making finger waves.

Frankly, I cannot remember how I looked after the set. On the day I went curly, my memory is only of the wild mass of hair and my mother’s horror. Little did I know that day that I was the forerunner of the ‘Afro’ style of the 1970’s – born 40 years too soon!

Evelyn today WITHOUT the curly hair!


Pat Herdeg said...


I don't know if these pictures show the type of machine that tortured you, but they certainly look 'alien-like'!

What an adventure! Thank you for sharing this part of our American history past.


Evelyn Taylor said...

Yes, Pat, this was the torture machine used then! How great that you were able to come up with pictures.


CB said...

I can't imagine a time when a permanenet only cost $1.25! And I did not know anyone in the 1930's that had one. I only know that hair washing those days at our house was a BIG production! Certainly NOT done weekly! It was done in the dishwater pan m on the stove where warm water from the reservoir could be used to rinse! Then a vinigar rinse, and then a Roughtowel dry led to rags tied around each section and sleep on these knobby affairs! For church the next AM you looked lovely! I'd take this over yours, Eve!!