Hair salons and barber shops were a little out of our league when we were kids. I believe the only professional haircut I got before I left home was a pixie cut, when I was about seven. The rest were D. I. Y.: Dad had his electric clippers and a comb; Mom a pair of shears. And the history is recorded in school pictures:
The boys would file in, take a seat on a high stool, and sit motionless while Dad buzzed their heads. Crew cuts were the style-du-jour, and once the clippers were warmed up, Dad would keep on cutting until everybody had been taken care of. Any boys in the vicinity who needed a trim were welcomed to his stool. On those occasions when Dad trimmed up one of the neighbor boys, I was always fascinated by the different shades of hair clippings in the pile of hair to be swept up afterward. Newly shorn, the boys would bend over at the waist for a dusting of talcum powder on their shoulders and neck and a swish of a very soft long bristle brush to remove as much of the itchy residue as possible. Haircuts were usually scheduled for right before bedtime, so they would then head straight for the bath tub and on to bed.
Since I was the only little person in the household not getting a buzz, my haircuts could be scheduled at times that best suited my mom’s busy day — sometimes day, sometimes before bed. I probably took my seat on the same high stool too, but I don’t really remember. I do recall standing for the trimming of the bangs. I never ceased to be amazed at how complicated cutting a straight line across my forehead seemed to get. Invariably one side would end up a little shorter than the other, and she’d have to even them out. But that often resulted in the other side becoming too short, and on it would go, until she got both sides even enough for her satisfaction. Occasionally I’d look in the mirror afterward and be quite surprised at how short they had gotten in the process. Oh well, I figured, they would grow.
The shampoo I remember most vividly was one I got in the kitchen. Mom set up the ironing board and adjusted the height until it was even with the sink and counter. Then she lifted me up onto it so I could lay on my back, tresses falling into the sink. Her massaging of my scalp and the cup after cup of warm water pouring over my head during the washing, rinsing, and conditioning of my hair was very luxurious and made me feel absolutely pampered.
Once clean, my hair would either be put up in pin curls with bobby pins, rolled on sponge rollers, or combed out and left to air dry depending on its length and the style I was wearing at the time. My styles ranged from tight curls (as seen in the middle photo), to looser curls (as seen on the right), to straight — for ponytails, pigtails and braids (photo on the left). It wouldn’t be until my college years that hot rollers came into play and a girl could sleep unencumbered.
[Side note: As the mother of five, my mom’s efficiency could sometimes get in the way of an ouch-free comb-out. So if we weren’t pressed for time, I’d always prefer that Dad comb my hair out before shampoos — he had the patience to take things a lot slower and didn’t pull the tangles.]
My hair has always been fine and straight, so if Mom wanted me to have curls that wouldn’t droop as soon as I walked outside, she would resort to that old household standby — the Toni perm. Oh, how I hated the smell of the perm solution! But I will admit, I did like the results afterward — curls that lasted all day. As Mom wound each lock of hair onto the curling rods, I would sit, package of rectangular tissues in hand, handing them to her one at a time, right as she needed them, to wrap each tress before winding it. I was always so relieved when the whole ordeal was finally done. By that point I was fairly envious of the boys, who had been in and out in just a fraction of the time it had taken for me to get “beautified.”
Once I was a mom — being the penny-pincher that I am — I replicated these scenarios. When my third son opted to wear a crew cut during elementary and middle school, we got the whole electric clippers/high stool ritual going on. However, I did add a smock to the drill — just seemed easier to keep the hair off the back and neck rather than try to remove it afterward with powder and a brush. I think having showers also simplified things afterward.
When my daughter was small, she was very compliant with the whole sitting-very-still thing, so I was able to cut her hair and trim her bangs for years and years, just as my mother had done, before me. One time she even sweet-talked me into buying a perm to do her hair. But only once. The solution still smelled stinky (but not quite as bad as the perms of the 50’s and 60’s).
It remains to be seen whether my kids will carry on the tradition of setting up shop in the kitchen for their kids, or whether they’ll just make things simple leave it to the pros. Who knows? Maybe they’ll send them to Grandma’s!
[P.S. For the longest time, when I looked at these early grade school pictures of myself I’d think, “Wow, could those bangs get any shorter?!” That is, until I saw school pictures from the same era that my cousin posted on Facebook — with bangs every bit as short! Must have been in vogue to show lots of forehead…]