Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Victorian Hair Care

The Victorian book of etiquette called Our Deportment, published in 1881, gives us a glimpse into how Americans of the 1800s viewed and care for their hair.

Our Deportment by J.H. Young
Chapter XXXII

There is nothing that so adds to the charm of an individual, especially a lady, as a good head of hair. The skin of the head requires even more tenderness and cleanliness than any other portion of the body, and is capable of being irritated by disease. The hair should be brushed carefully. The brush should be of moderate hardness, not too hard.

The hair should be separated, in order that the head itself may be well brushed, as by doing so the scurf is removed, and that is most essential, as it is not only unpleasant and unsightly, but if suffered to remain it becomes saturated with perspiration, and tends to weaken the roots of the hair, so that it is easily pulled out. In brushing or combing, begin at the extreme points, and in combing, hold the portion of the hair just above that through which the comb is passing, firmly between the first and second fingers, so that if it is entangled it may drag from that point, and not from the roots. The finest head of hair may be spoiled by the practice of plunging the comb into it high up and dragging it in a reckless manner. Short, loose, broken hairs are thus created, and become very troublesome.

Do not plaster the hair with oil or pomatum. A white, concrete oil pertains naturally to the covering of the human head, but some persons have it in more abundance than others. Those whose hair is glossy and shining need nothing to render it so; but when the hair is harsh, poor and dry, artificial lubrication is necessary.

Persons who perspire freely, or who accumulate scurf rapidly, require it also. Nothing is simpler or better in the way of oil than pure, unscented salad oil, and in the way of a pomatum, bear's grease is as pleasant as anything. Apply either with the hands, or keep a soft brush for the purpose, but take care not to use the oil too freely. An overoiled head of hair is vulgar and offensive. So are scents of any kind in the oil applied to the hair. It is well also to keep a piece of flannel with which to rub the hair at night after brushing it, in order to remove the oil before laying the head upon the pillow.

Vinegar and water form a good wash for the roots of the hair. Ammonia diluted in water is still better.
The hair-brush should be frequently washed in diluted ammonia.

For removing scurf, glycerine, diluted with a little rose-water, will be found of service. Any preparation of rosemary forms an agreeable and highly cleansing wash. The yolk of an egg beaten up in warm water is an excellent application to the scalp. Many heads of hair require nothing more in the way of wash than soap and water.

Beware of letting the hair grow too long, as the points are apt to weaken and split. It is well to have the ends clipped off once a month. Young girls should wear their hair cut short until they are grown up, if they would have it then in its best condition.


A serious objection to dyeing the hair is that it is almost impossible to give the hair a tint which harmonizes with the complexion. If the hair begins to change early, and the color goes in patches, procure from the druggist's a preparation of the husk of the walnut water of eau crayon. This will, by daily application, darken the tint of the hair without actually dyeing it. When the change of color has gone on to any great extent, it is better to abandon the application and put up with the change, which, in nine cases out of ten, will be in accordance with the change of the face. Indeed, there is nothing more beautiful than soft, white hair worn in bands or clustering curls about the face. The walnut water may be used for toning down too red hair.


Gentlemen are more liable to baldness than ladies, owing, no doubt, to the use of the close hat, which confines and overheats the head. If the hair is found to be falling out, the first thing to to is to look to the hat and see that it is light and thoroughly ventilated. There is no greater enemy to the hair than the silk dress-hat. It is best to lay this hat aside altogether and adopt a light felt or straw in its place. Long, flowing hair on a man is not in good taste, and will indicate him to the observer as a person of unbalanced mind and unpleasantly erratic character -- a man, in brief, who seeks to impress others with the fact that he is eccentric, something which a really eccentric person never attempts.

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