Story of Us, 1930-1940: Advisors Advocate

Much like today, beauty professionals in the 1930s turned to the pages of The American Hairdresser for product news, business tips and marketing strategies. However, the era also saw much change in salon amenities and government legislation. Longtime editor Hazel L. Kozay and her staff kept readers abreast of these advances with editorial coverage and monthly columns. 

By the 1930s, names such as Oster, Belvedere, Andis, Takara Belmont and Helene Curtis had already established themselves in the industry. But the decade saw the birth of other big names still going strong today. In 1930, Wella opened its American division; two years later, Revlon was founded by Charles and Joseph Revson and Charles Lachman. Also in 1932, Zotos (then known as Inecto) invented a chemical heat method for permanent waving that revolutionized hairdressing because it put an end to the use of electricity to curl hair. The company issued certificates to licensed shops to be displayed in their windows. An ad in 1935 called their product, “The Ultimate Permanent.”

Presenting the latest hairstyles and haircolors was also part of the magazine’s mission. Hairdressers from around the country offered their tricks of the trade. Kranz of the Belmont Hotel Beauty Salon in Chicago gave his advice on accomplishing that illusive “Champagne” tone; he advised readers to try a lavender rinse after bleaching. One article that ran in the mid-1930s promised that learning how to style a “Shirley Temple” would bring in new business with the “under 10” set. It noted, “Even the little girls who come to the beauty shop have their favorite movie stars and like to have their hair dressed in the latest style set by these little Hollywood actresses.”

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The 1930s also saw the introduction of new salon amenities. Air conditioning received an enormous amount of coverage during the decade. Every few months the magazine ran articles such as “Of Course I’m Air Conditioning My Salon!” and “Air Conditioning Spells Patron and Operator Comfort Plus Extra Profit.” These articles argued that hairdressers needed to look refreshed to sell services and that air conditioning could stave off the mid-summer slump. Our editors interviewed one salon owner, Lorenzo of Omaha, who raved, “Thanks to air conditioning we no longer rush one day and do nothing the next.” Lorenzo also found that the cleansing portion of his air-conditioning system kept odors at bay, giving customers “pleasant air to breathe all year-round… which she does not enjoy everywhere.”

Also significant, The American Hairdresser was on the forefront of industry activism. In an era of increased government regulation, the magazine not only reported on happenings in Washington, D.C., but its editors were also consultants to the bureaucrats, making sure that the industry’s interests were well represented.”

Retail was in its infancy in the 1930s, yet we saw fit to publish an article called “As You Sell So Shall You Reap,” which is just as relevant today as it was when we printed it in 1935. The article concluded that department stores, drug stores and cosmetic specialty stores—hello, Sephora!—were walking off with merchandising business that was “rightfully a part of the beauty establishment.” Salon owners were encouraged to build a foundation for “year-round merchandising business” and to remember that “one individual can give a limited amount of beauty services in one day, but that same individual can sell an unlimited amount of merchandise at a profit to you.”

Celebrity hairstyles became a popular feature in our magazine during the 1930s, much as they are now. Legendary Hollywood hairdresser Perc Westmore, the son of an English wigmaker who began his career in Hollywood in 1921, created a plastic tiara coiffure for Betty Davis and asked us to publish the photos. 

In September 1936, we reported that Columbia Pictures received the cooperation of The Coiffure Guild of New York, which created a modernized version of an ancient Tibetan coiffure to be worn by actress Jane Wyatt in Lost Horizon. Not only did we print photos of the Shangri-La style, but we also suggested that it offered a splendid opportunity for hairdressers to capitalize on the trend and adapt the Guild style for their patrons.” Not much has changed in 70 years, except that today actresses like Jennifer Lawrence are setting the trends. 

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