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The Way We Were (1910-1920)

The Dawn of the Advertising Age

From developments in salon furniture to happenings in the French fashion world, The American Hairdresser covered the major changes in the beauty biz between 1910 and 1920.

One hundred years ago, this magazine was called The American Hairdresser. Today, it's known as American Salon, but its mission is much the same as it was then: to keep hairdressers up to date on the latest and greatest innovations in the industry.



Between 1910 and 1920, salons and haircare companies in the United States were growing exponentially. At the same time, hundreds of never-seen-before products and hair accessories were hitting the market. All of these changes were documented in the magazine's pages. In particular, one notices the amount of coverage given to salon furniture. New adjustable chairs, mirrored styling stations and portable manicure tables were regularly advertised. Shampoo tables, upright gadgets that looked like music stands, were popular purchases in the early part of the decade. By the end of the decade, these stands were being replaced by sink basins.



Similar to today, the pages of the magazine were filled with advertisements for schools of all kinds. The Louisville School of Electrolysis and Dermatology promised an education that was "the best in the world at any price." The school offered instruction by mail on everything from skin diseases to salon management. In an era when more and more clients were beginning to demand educated professionals, schools such as these offered know-how and a "handsome, engraved sheet of parchment to hang on the wall."

 Andrew's Famous Steel Rod Furniture was designed for use in massage, manicure and hairdressing parlors. Its claim to fame was the fact that it was clean and hygenic.
Andrew's Famous Steel Rod Furniture was designed for use in massage, manicure and hairdressing parlors. Its claim to fame was the fact that it was clean and hygenic.

Of course, magazine editors were also trying to cultivate beauty professionals who had knowledge of trends and style. It was in this era that this magazine first gave significant attention to fashion trends. In 1911, the magazine published an article on the various uses of scarves. The piece instructed hairdressers on the latest ways to style hair using scarves, and on how to cover bad hairdos with them as well. Articles devoted to Paris fashion were also common during this era. It is here that we can see the integral connection between the burgeoning beauty industry and its finicky big sister, the fashion world.

Halliwell & Company's improved electric hair dryer, which revolved to the right and left
Halliwell & Company's improved electric hair dryer, which revolved to the right and left


A state-of-the-art barber chair from Barker Specialties.
A state-of-the-art barber chair from Barker Specialties.

Deirdre Clemente is pursuing a Ph.D. in history at Carnegie-Mellon University. She specializes in American cultural history and the interplay between fashion and social change. For more information on her work, visit her Web site,
deirdreclemente.com.

In 1910 Max Factor introduced makeup to the masses at the World's Fair >> Helena Rubinstein opened a salon in Paris in 1912 >> Rival Elizabeth Arden's real name was Florence Nightingale Graham

Cultural Context

The second decade of the 20

th

century saw the rise of media culture. At the center of it all was advertising.

Advertising slogans, catch phrases and taglines are used as part of our everyday speech. Today, we take it for granted, but before World War I, advertising had a rocky reputation. As the amount of stuff one could buy grew and ad makers turned selling goods into an artistic medium, advertising emerged as one of the most important forms of cultural expression in the early 20th century.

Monte Christo Magic Hair Tonic was touted as excellent food for the hair. What's more, the "superior product" contained medicinal properties; it claimed to cure dandruff and all other scalp troubles.
Monte Christo Magic Hair Tonic was touted as excellent food for the hair. What's more, the "superior product" contained medicinal properties; it claimed to cure dandruff and all other scalp troubles.

Sure, advertising had been around for ages—quite literally. Think of the big-mouthed huckster selling goods in crowded city streets. After the Civil War, however, advertising turned from simply a printed list of purchasable items available at a particular store to a method of persuasion used by manufacturers that was aimed at attracting customers and encouraging brand loyalty. Art took an increasingly important role in the place of an advertisement, as did snappy copy that convinced consumers of the item's uniqueness. As the number of magazines, journals and newspapers grew exponentially around the turn of the century, advertising became essential to a product's success and came to reflect the mind-boggling diversity of the American market. No longer local in its scope, advertising became increasingly important as a national market for products arose.

Scheffler's Instantaneous Colorine for the Hair claimed to be like nothing ever known in the history of the hair trade.
Scheffler's Instantaneous Colorine for the Hair claimed to be like nothing ever known in the history of the hair trade.

Despite its widespread use, advertising (and the Madison Avenue firms that came to be associated with it) got a bad rep. Moralists cried that ads were misleading and promised more than the products delivered. (It's a good thing these guys never saw Anna Nicole's Trim Spa ads.) Religious leaders, cultural critics and social workers wrote newspaper editorials on the evils of advertising and how it encouraged unbridled consumption, especially for women, who inherently lacked self-control. Advertising firms responded with attempts to self-regulate by forming trade associations to police outlandish claims. They also played up their role as spokesman for modernity and educators of the masses.

The advertising industry played a pivotal role in selling World War I to the public, even creating ads to sell Liberty Bonds to solicit money for the Red Cross.
The advertising industry played a pivotal role in selling World War I to the public, even creating ads to sell Liberty Bonds to solicit money for the Red Cross.



Dr. Rhodes had an entire line of products for sale, including Rejuvenator to restore color and vitality to hair, Massage Cream and Freckleine, a face bleach. Then, as now, the way to a hairdresser's heart seemed to be through free samples.
Dr. Rhodes had an entire line of products for sale, including Rejuvenator to restore color and vitality to hair, Massage Cream and Freckleine, a face bleach. Then, as now, the way to a hairdresser's heart seemed to be through free samples.

The advertising industry did much to win over its skeptics by playing a pivotal role in "selling" World War I to the American public. Under the banner of patriotism, advertisements used pro-America copy coupled with dramatic illustrations to remind Americans that supporting the war was not a choice but a duty. The government relied on firms to create ads to be used for everything from encouraging women to write their men cheerful letters to selling Liberty Bonds to soliciting money for the Red Cross. Most significantly, the government published ads to recruit men and women into joining branches of the armed forces. The role of advertising during the war serves as a remarkable reminder of the power politics yields when it is mixed with popular culture.

Senator Hair Whitening preparations were guaranteed to whiten gray hair that had turned yellow from any cause. According to their ad, "All up-to-date hairdressers use Senator Hair Whitening."
Senator Hair Whitening preparations were guaranteed to whiten gray hair that had turned yellow from any cause. According to their ad, "All up-to-date hairdressers use Senator Hair Whitening."



Before there was Jazz
Before there was Jazz

The Truth About the Bob

It may have reached the pinnacle of its popularity in the 1920s, but the bob is older than you think. Dancer Irene Castle sported the look, dubbed the "Castle Bob," as early as 1915.

Ahh, the power of association. It seems to cement ideas together in our brains and hold them there with an ironclad tenacity. Take New Year's Eve and Champagne, for example. How about Texas and big hair, ball games and hot dogs, or even cowboy hats and Tim McGraw? In our minds, the bob has long been married to the 1920s. History, however, has a different lesson. The bob first appeared in the early 1910s. After an era of puffed-up pompadours, hairdressers—as they often do—pushed for a change. Of course, who brought the bob to the forefront of fashion remains fuzzy.

Irene Castle and her husband, Vernon, were the most famous ballroom dancers of their day. Willowly and boyish yet decidedly feminine, Irene bobbed her hair for "convenience."
Irene Castle and her husband, Vernon, were the most famous ballroom dancers of their day. Willowly and boyish yet decidedly feminine, Irene bobbed her hair for "convenience."

Many attribute the style to Parisian hairdressing powerhouse, Antoine. Born Antoine Cierplikowski in 1884 in what is today central Poland, Antoine lived nearly a century, and his clients ranged from Sarah Bernhardt to Brigitte Bardot. He had salons in Paris, London, Milan and New York City. He designed costumes for the stage and screen, hobnobbed with everyone who was anyone, and was even credited with helping Coco Chanel develop her signature style. Antoine said that he was inspired by Jeanne d'Arc and in 1909 he started chopping his clients' hair to just below the ear. Those who were not bold enough had him pin their hair under, thus getting the look without the commitment. Hence, the bobby pin was born.

Within the next few years, the bob became popular in Britain among a group of bohemian writers and wanna-bes known as The Bloomsbury Set, which included the likes of Virginia Woolf and E. M. Forster. Some historians claim that it was this group of high-profile socialites who popularized the bob before World War I. The group's open marriages and homosexual liaisons were forever attracting attention from the press, and their avant-garde style of dress made them acknowledged trendsetters. Many European women took to the style in the chaos of the war, as it required much less attention and maintenance than previous coiffures.

Meanwhile, in the United States, a celebrity of epic proportions had bobbed her hair and is often credited with bringing the bob to America. Dancer Irene Castle lopped her locks in 1915 and claimed it was for convenience; her long hair had impeded her dancing. It's because of Castle that the term "bob" became popular, as the style was called the "Castle bob." It was also known as the "Dutch bob" and the "page bob." The word itself had been associated with cutting or bobbing the tails of horses.

Americans were much slower to hop on the bob bandwagon than their European sisters. Social convention turned the haircut into an issue of morality that pitted mother versus daughter and husband versus wife in a heated and public battle that lasted until the early 1920s. The controversy is best exemplified in F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story "Bernice Bobs Her Hair," published in the Saturday Evening Post in May 1920. The tale tells of a previously unpopular girl who takes the town by storm with her provocative new hairstyle. Now that's a story for the ages.

Perfectly Poiret

Bye-bye bulky skirts and hats the size of house plants. Thanks to a long-forgotten couturier named Paul Poiret, the 1910s saw the rise of smaller, slimmer and chicer styles.

Women's bodies had been hidden under mounds of clothing since the early 1800s. With each passing decade, it seemed the skirts got wider, the hair got more elaborate and the accessories got larger. But beginning around 1910, women's wear deflated. At the center of this downsizing was a French couturier name Paul Poiret.

A Poiret design at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York City.
A Poiret design at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York City.

Poiret had been trained in two of the biggest fashion houses in Paris—the House of Worth and the House of Doucet. In 1903, he set up his own shop and within a few years began making floor-length dresses with a tubular silhouette. The most noticeable features of these dresses were their filmy cap sleeves and high waistlines. Today, this waistline is known as an "Empire" waist, and its name is taken from the Napoleonic Empire (1804–1815) when these styles were last popular. These form-fitting garments required none of the elaborate petticoats that had been popular in past decades. Moreover, they could not be worn with the "S" curved corsets associated with the Gibson girl era. Instead, women wore corsets that elongated rather than distended the body. With time, Poiret became a strong proponent of the bra. The long and lean body shape that would become associated with the flapper was not born in the 1920s. Rather, it came into being nearly a decade earlier.

Poiret's Paris was alive with innovative art movements and boundary-pushing performances. At the center of it all was the Ballets Russes, a dance troupe that hailed from St. Petersburg, Russia, and made Paris its home in 1909. The ballet's creative genius was Serge Diaghilev, and it featured the artistic input of composers such as Igor Stravinsky, Claude Debussy and Eric Satie, dancers such as Nijinsky and Anna Pavlova, and artists such as Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso and the legendary costume designer Léon Bakst. The Ballets Russes ruled Paris in the 1910s.

While Poiret vehemently denied their influence on his work, the Ballet's exotic and colorful costumes and sets had much in common with his "Orientalist" clothing that came into popularity around 1912. Full-bodied "harem" pants coupled with tunic dresses were donned not simply by the artistic elite but by socialites and royalty as well.

In 1913, Poiret and his model/wife made a lecture tour of the United States. Americans, who were unable to buy authentic Poiret designs for lack of distribution arrangements with American department stores, flocked to his talks. Within a year, Poiret had made arrangements to sell his clothing, textiles and accessories in the United States. Poiret was the first couturier to release a perfume and the first to branch into other forms of design, such as wallpaper and home décor. He was also the first to use a distinctive trademark—a rose.

Ultimately, Poiret's sense of showmanship overshadowed his business acumen. His fashion shows were so elaborate that even John Galliano would have balked; some were held on barges in the Seine, others at country estates. Poiret's legendary parties such as The Thousand and Second Night, which was based on 1001 Arabian Nights, may have established his reputation for extravagance but did little for his bottom line.

Following World War I, Poiret was unable to recapture his clientele, who longed for a more simple and functional style of dress. The master's work was eclipsed by rising stars such as Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel and Jeanne Lanvin. After a stint in the circus and on the Paris stage, Poiret died nearly penniless, all but forgotten, in 1944. However, devoted scholars and steadfast fashionistas have since revived his reputation as one of the most innovative and important designers in fashion history.

African-American Beauty Queens

The birth of the professional beauty industry gave African-American women increased opportunities for financial independence.

Most of us have heard of Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden. And thanks to historians of African-American business and culture, the name Madame C. J. Walker has been saved from obscurity—she even made it onto a postage stamp in 1998. But what about Annie Turnbo Malone and Sarah Spencer Washington? These African-American women proved that the beauty industry was a place where women could make their mark and make some money.

Annie Turnbo Malone traveled from town to town demonstrating her shampoo, Wonderful Hair Grower, until there was so much demand for her product that she had to expand her business.
Annie Turnbo Malone traveled from town to town demonstrating her shampoo, Wonderful Hair Grower, until there was so much demand for her product that she had to expand her business.

Women were key players in formulating many of the hair and skincare products that hit the market around the turn of the century. Between 1890 and 1924, women were responsible for registering more than 450 trademarks for cosmetic treatments. The majority of these trademarks came after 1910, when the government began to push for more regulation of hair and beauty products.

One such amateur chemist was Annie Turnbo Malone. She was born in 1869, and after her parents deaths she was raised by her older siblings in a small town on the Ohio River. In her early 20s, Malone began to experiment with tonics and salves for hair loss and breakage. Many of her products contained sage or eggs and were based on traditional folk remedies. In 1900, she and her sister relocated to an exclusively African-American town, Lovejoy, IL. Here, she began to sell Wonderful Hair Grower from the back of her buggy. Demand grew so quickly that Malone hired a flock of assistants and within a few years relocated to nearby St. Louis, where she patented her product under the name Poro, a West-African term for a highly religious society.

A self-made businesswoman, Madame C. J. Walker was born Sarah Breedlove.
A self-made businesswoman, Madame C. J. Walker was born Sarah Breedlove.

Malone's tale is similar to that of her rival Sarah Breedlove, known to most as Madam C. J. Walker. Walker was the daughter of former slaves who gave birth to her own daughter at 16. After her husband's death, Walker worked as a maid and laundress before she began to experiment with her own remedy for hair loss, which she also named Wonderful Hair Grower. In 1905, Walker moved to Denver and married Charles J. Walker, a newspaperman who helped her advertise and begin a profitable mail-order business. In 1910, Walker and her family settled in Indianapolis where she could better serve her growing national market.

These pioneers paved the way for a new crop of entrepreneurs to emerge between 1910 and 1920, most notably Sarah Spencer Washington, a well-educated chemist who helped African-American women earn livings as beauticians. Washington went to Norfolk Mission College, relocated to York, PA, to study beauty and eventually made her way to Columbia University. In 1918, Washington relocated to Atlantic City where she began Apex, a haircare company and affiliated schools. Her schools would expand all along the Eastern seaboard and train thousands of women to become financially independent.

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American Salon Staff

American Salon Staff