The Way We WereFebruary 1, 2007 By: American Salon Staff American Salon
The Beauty Biz Grows Up
Much like today, hairdressers a century ago turned to trade magazines to keep up on the latest technology and services. Here's what they were reading about.
Back in ye olde days, American Salon went by the name The American Hairdresser, beauty salons were sometimes called toilet parlors, and a shampoo and style cost $1.25. By 1900, the beauty industry was the business of choice for entrepreneurs and innovators looking to make a quick buck. The American Hairdresser, which had been around since 1878, played a pivotal role in publicizing these new products and services to the thousands of beauty establishments that were cropping up around the country. Technology set the tone for the first decade of the 20th century. Electricity gave rise to heavy-duty hair dryers that weighed in at around two pounds (today the average professional dryer is less than one). Some dryers were handheld; others rested on rotating pedestals. Hair-removing machines and vibrating-facial massagers also featured the wonders of electricity. Technology promised clients something that was simultaneously scientific and mystical. While women didn't really understand the technical nuances of these machines, they believed wholeheartedly in the science behind them. Many of these inventions, such as the hairdryer and the Marcel iron, were European born. The iron, which required a good deal of practice and patience, debuted in France in 1872, but didn't reach the United States until 1897. The iron had not been a huge success with European hairdressers who shied away from such technology, but American stylists were much more accepting. Of course the soft, wavy effect of the iron went hand-in-hand with the big hair of the turn-of-the-century era. Advancements in chemistry also drastically altered the beauty biz and The American Hairdresser featured dozens of ads for the many hair dyes to hit the market. In 1907, French chemist and founder of L'Oreal, Eugene Schueller, invented the first synthetic hair dye, which he named Aureole. Around the same time, advertisements for products called "hair regenerators" or "restorers" began appearing in the magazine and copy promised uniform and natural-looking color. From its inception, hair color attracted clients. One company called Imperial Hair Regenerator claimed that its product was "so largely advertised and so well endorsed, it draws to hairdressers the very best class of trade." Much like today, hair-care companies relied on national advertising campaigns to create enough buzz to send clients looking for salons that carried their particular products.
Other innovative services were bringing money into salons. Skin-care services were increasingly popular throughout the decade as facial steamers, tonics and massages all claimed to keep one looking young. As the standard of beauty was lily-white skin, skin bleaches for the face and scalp were in high demand. Manicures became the staple of any self-respecting salon. The magazine featured advertisements for all the kinds of essentials we use today-nail scissors, buffers, tweezers, manicure boards and disinfectants. Foot care came in the form of chiropody, the forerunner of podiatry. Pedicurists called themselves "chiropodists" and offered corn and callus removal. The practice required a range of bizarre tools, such as a toe expander that was like a mini vice that propped open toes to allow for easy access to corns.
All these new services required new equipment. During the first decade of the 20th century manicurists got specially designed tables, estheticians got reclining seats and hairdressers got adjustable chairs. Remarkably, much of the salon environment looked somewhat similar to what it does today. The coming decade would force the industry to standardize. With the passage of the first Food and Drug Act in 1906, the beauty industry began to regulate its products and many patent medicines were either run out of business or made to tone down their over-the-top claims. Despite the government's intervention, however, the beauty business grew with leaps and bounds, thus proving that you can't stop Americans' desire for self-improvement.