Learn about Life in the 1920s

The following 1920's haircare article by Broadway and Hollywood actress Ann Harding and pictures of bobbed hairstyles are taken from 1927 issues of the Ladies Home Journal.

1927 Bobbed Hairstyles and haircare from Actress Ann Harding


THE more the world admires an actress, the more beauties it thinks up for her. She may be magnificently endowed with generous emotions, with a spirited personality, with wit and charm, and even with a dramatic sense; yet it is frequently her beauty that is most often praised. If she has the luck to have gorgeous hair or haunting eyes or a lovely voice or an exquisite figure, or if she dresses well, she becomes famous for these; her talents seem taken for granted.

In my case it has been my hair. I am only what you might term a baby star. I still thrill to seeing my name spelled out in glowing street lights. But already I have found myself praised for my hair by critics, when what I wanted was a serious criticism of my acting. I have been called beautiful on the stage as often as I have been scolded offstage, for my appearance. I owe both the praise and blame to the fact that I have ash-blond hair, and plenty of it. On the stage such a possession is striking, but in the home it makes me look rather washed out. In the home I just coil it up and forget about it, but on the stage I must treat it as an asset. What I haven't learned myself about taking care of it, others have volunteered to tell me, so that I have become quite a storehouse of knowledge of the things to do to improve one's hair.

One Basic Rule for All Beauty


IT IS astonishing how little women know about their hair. It is only after one tries every sort of treatment—under which the hair somehow survives—that one learns that the basic rule for hair health is the basic rule for all beauty:

Which is, that just as real beauty has its foundation in sheer health, so beautiful hair is hair that is conspicuously vigorous; so full of vitality that it seems to snap, to spring out of the scalp, thick, shiny, full of light and individual tone.

Hair really is the crowning glory of a woman. It lights up her person, it frames her face, it makes a halo around her.

No matter how she mangles it, or mistreats it, no matter if she cuts most of it off, her hair still remains the most telling item of her appearance.

Of all the supposedly permanent adjuncts of a woman's person—her eyes, her nose, her teeth, or hair—the last is the only one over which the possessor has absolute control. She can control its color—to a too great extent—its length, its shape. She can treat it like an article of dress, changing its shape and its style as often as she pleases.

The most radical change in the costume of women in our times has been the change in hair styles. Short hair is considered chic. It is also the symbol of the freedom of women. But bobbing the hair won't make you free. It isn't so simple as that. And having long hair won't make you reactionary and stupid. That's mixing spiritual causes to make aesthetic effects, and it can't be done. By this you may assume I have long hair. I have—very long hair, and quantities of it.

I like long hair because it means variety, and variety is difficult to achieve with bobbed hair. No matter what sort of dress you put on, if your hair is short your head always looks the same. A severe bob with a bouffant period evening dress is a hideous combination, yet I've seen many such incongruities. Frenchwomen who have short hair are clever enough to wear transformations with their evening clothes, for whatever the virtues of a bob, it does not go with the grande manner. Professionally it is valuable to me to have long hair, because I can dress it in different ways for the different types of women I am in various plays.

If my hair were the fine, slithery sort that's always coming down I'd bob it. Neatness, trimness is the essential thing in dressing the hair. If short bits of hair insist on escaping your hairpins, if you can't dress your hair and be sure it will stay put without being forced to pin it over and over again during the day, it is better to end the annoyance by cutting off such troublesome tresses. For to be beautiful, hair and head must form one perfect, one harmonious single outline. One mustn't look messy, and no head looks well groomed with straggling hair. My sister's hair was like that. It was so heavy and she had so much of it, she could never do it up smartly or have it stay put. When she cut it off I was surprised at the change it made in her appearance. She is more attractive. She looks ten years younger, and very smart and neat now.

Instead of accenting its slightest tendencies to curl, women seem to do everything to destroy whatever natural, graceful wave their hair may have by substituting stiff, unnatural-looking waves.

Training the Hair to Curl


TURN to Nature, and Nature will repay your efforts, if 1 only you are patient and persistent in your efforts. Your hair will become more curly gradually, and it is work that is best done at home. A beauty-shop operator, for instance, will usually discourage you from taking a water wave if your hair isn't almost so curly that you don't need a wave. In a way she is right, for the good that water waving might do is discounted by the fact that she puts a hot-air dryer to your hair, thus taking away the natural tendency to curl.

In addition, a commercial operator must give you what you pay for, and finger waving only begins to show results after a year's steady efforts. It takes about three years to train the hair to curl in definite, unmistakable ringlets. Three years may seem a long time when you are looking ahead; looking backward it doesn't. We want to have everything happen quickly; but isn't it worth while to have vigorous, gleaming, natural curls at the end of three years' treatment, instead of weak and brittle hair for one's pains?

Any woman can learn to water wave her hair at home. Every single time you wash your hair train it with your fingers. After shampooing the hair and thoroughly wiping the water out of it, give the scalp a thorough massage with the tips of your fingers until your whole scalp is loose, and tingling and warm with circulating blood. Then comb the hair out, part it, or comb it back, as you prefer to have it trained. Then, where you want your first wave, put your finger against the hair and push it toward the scalp with your finger until a wave is formed. Put a comb in firmly where you have your finger. There are slightly curved water-waving combs you can buy for the purpose. Make the next wave with your finger, again pushing the strand of hair against the scalp until a wave is formed; again put a comb in in the place of your finger. Make the next wave, put a comb in there and keep on until your whole head is in waves that are held in place by combs. Leave your head that way until the hair dries. When your hair is thoroughly dry take out the combs. If your hair is straight the operation will seem a failure. But do not be disappointed.

This is one thing you must try and try for a long time until you begin to see the effects of your persistence. After several months the finger waving will have become a habit, and you will go on with it until, after a year or so, the results will show in so certain and definite a wave that you will keep on with the finger waving out of sheer happiness and gratitude for your curly locks. I recommend women with slightly waving hair to try this method.

Another hair treatment, which can easily be done at home, is a "hand dried" shampoo. After the hair has been washed and rinsed thoroughly, dry your hair by natural friction—that is, by massaging the scalp with the finger tips. If you live where you can dry your hair out in the sun, so much the better.

One should never wash hair in any but soft water. Soft water and a good pure soap and a great deal of rinsing; then hand drying, out in the sun if you can—that is as perfect a treatment for the hair as one could wish. But if the hair is out of condition, if it is oily, thin, or has dandruff, I should advise an application of olive oil. Italian peasants have a good way of shampooing the hair, and they are known for their vigorous hair. The evening before they are to wash the hair they rub hot olive oil into the scalp and allow it to remain on overnight. This softens the scalp and takes up all the dry particles. When the hair is washed with hot water and pure soap the next day an emulsion is formed that takes away all excess matter.

When Not to Dye the Hair


BUT if you do not care to have your head greasy overnight, heat the olive oil just a few minutes before the shampoo and rub it into your scalp with your finger tips. Work it in well. Oil of sweet almonds is just as good for the purpose—perhaps better, because it doesn't become rancid and it penetrates the skin better. After the oil is massaged into the scalp until the scalp tingles, give yourself a shampoo with a pure soap and rinse your hair repeatedly until it feels brittle to the touch.

To curl your hair and make it look trim, instead of wetting it just as you are dressing it, as women generally do, wring out a towel in very hot water and wrap it round the head. It will moisten but not wet the hair, bring out all its curl, and make the hair easy to dress.

A lot of brushing is the greatest tonic for the hair. Brushing works out the natural oils. The friction stimulates the hair and gives it vitality and electricity. Brushing does for the hair what physical exercise does for the body.

I have written of the various things I have found out about caring for the hair, but none of them is any good unless you have general health to begin with.


There are some things one wants done which only an experienced hair dresser can do. Hair, if it must be dyed, for instance, is best dyed in a reputable beauty parlor. One can understand dyeing hair while it is in process of turning gray if it is graying in splotches. But hair, once gray, should never be dyed. Dyed hair makes the face look hard, and if there is one thing an aging face needs it is a softening frame. Gray hair is beautiful in its own color and its own right, just as maturity is beautiful if beautifully. borne. Some of the most striking women one meets are women with prematurely gray hair who have had fine enough taste to make the most of this so-called misfortune. They look as dignified and charming as ladies out of an eighteenth-century court. Gray hair brings out all the delicate tones in the skin. It is striking, it is beautiful, it is never obviously artificial, as dyed hair almost always is.


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Fingerwave Hairstyles
Lessons on how to create fingerwave hairstyles based on 1920's movie star hairstyles.

Cutting and Styling Hair
A 1920's hairdresser teaches cutting and styling techniques for Bobbed hair.

1920's Haircare and Hairstyles
Pictures of 1927 Ladies Hairstyles and haircare information from Actress Ann Harding.

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1920 Dress information as published by the Woman's Institute Fashion Service magazine, Fall and Winter edition 1920-1921 to help women plan and develop their own clothes for the approaching Winter.

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