October 8th, 2012
Our new bungalow boast two full bathrooms. Naturally I’ve decorated mine with pink flowers, green leaves, purple towels, an astonishing assortment of vintage and antique dresser jars, perfume bottles, and a truly horrifying clock surrounded by pink ceramic doves.
Nestled amidst the carefully scattered clutter is this pretty porcelain piece that I’m using as a hair receiver.
It’s late 19th-century — a childhood gift from my godmother’s best friend, who was an antique dealer. And it’s not actually a hair receiver. If it was, it would have a little hole in the center of the lid through which to poke the hair and swirl it into the forming rat.
In case you’re reading this and wondering, what on earth is she talking about, or if you’re just thinking “ew, that’s gross,” I’ll share a little background. In the 19th century, frequent, vigorous brushings were a good way to keep your hair clean between occasional washings. Brushing spreads oil from the roots, where it seeps out of your scalp, down to nourish and protect fragile ends. It also pulls out weak or damaged strands so that new, healthy hair can grown in. Women saved those pulled out hairs and used them to make the rats and pads required for many 19th-century hairstyles — their ears didn’t stick out that much without a little help!
I’ve made four or five rats since my hair grew out. It takes months of brushing to get enough hair together. On a side note, I recently found a strand of my own hair on my desk and decided to measure it (it was a slow evening). Thirty-one and a half inches — nearly a yard long! And, to my great delight, the California sun has exaggerated enough blond and red highlights to eliminate the mousy brown I’d developed after years of dreary NY winters.
September 29th, 2011
I realize it’s rather silly to think of one’s own hair as historical research, but in a way, it is. I’ve been growing it since 2006, trimming the ends in the bathroom as needed. With no bangs, layers, or other modern styling, it’s as close as I can get to mid-19th century hair, without forgoing shampoo and rubbing it with pomade. I actually spent a few weeks using only period hair-care, but decided to abandon that effort until the next time I’m stranded on a desert island.
Long hair is a bit of extra work — washing it takes forever — and it gives me a headache if I put it up the wrong way. But it’s actually much cheaper than a shorter style that needs professional cutting. And I never bother with expensive products. Just natural shampoo and conditioner, with colorless henna for a little extra shine.
There aren’t really many people left who’ve seen me with truly short hair, but more than a few of them have told me I looked a lot better with a close crop. Perhaps they are right. Certainly the center-parted, over-the-ears style of the 1850s isn’t very flattering. Here I am in my Jean Seberg stage — they used the clippers for this cut.
Time to go give my current locks their nightly 100 strokes…