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5 Easy Tips for Better Hair (From the Early 1900s)

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Pour cyanide on your scalp—and other tried-and-true pointers from the turn of the last century.

1.  Brushing

Have you ever looked at old-fashioned hairbrushes, with their flat soft bristles, and wondered how they could possibly be used to style hair? Whereas modern hair brushes can grab hair, de-tangle it, fluff it up, and sweep it into any style, the brushes of our grandmothers look as if they were intended for sensual massage, not hair care. The answer to the hairbrush puzzle lies in the shower. Or rather, the lack of shower.

For most of us, three days without a shower leaves our hair lank, greasy, and impossible to work with. But if your hair was 2 feet long and rolled up in a bun all day, that may not be the case. So it was throughout history, clear up to the 1920s. Of course, these women knew their hair was gathering oil and dirt every day. That (and that alone) was what a brush was for.
Says Helen Follett Jameson, who wrote The Woman Beautiful in 1901:

A brush should never be touched to the hair with other than a gentle, caressing motion; its first office is that of a polisher, to spread the natural oil exuding from the scalp over the hair, and give it a satiny gloss; and, secondarily, as a cleaner, to wipe off the surface soil, that is, the dust and dirt manifold of the polluted atmosphere in which it is the fate of a large part of mankind to pass their lives. The brush cannot penetrate to the scalp, through a heavy mass of hair, to remove any accumulation of dirt and dandruff there without carrying away with it very much of the crop of hair also; while, at the same time, if stiff enough to perform this office, it impairs the delicacy and integrity of the epidermis. [The Woman Beautiful]

Brushes that can penetrate the hair to the scalp will make you bald and pervert your skin's integrity. So if you insist on getting rid of the dirt and dandruff accumulated after days — or weeks — of satiny gloss, you're going to have to wash your hair.

2. Washing

How often must a lady wash her hair to maintain its cleanliness? At least eight times a year, and no buts about it!

According to Annette Kellerman who wrote 1918's Physical Beauty, How to Keep It:

The frequency of the shampoo is a matter which, to a certain extent, you must decide for yourself. Every three weeks I should say was about right on the average, although many women do not require a shampoo oftener than every four or even six weeks. [Physical Beauty, How to Keep It]

In those days you actually did have to rinse and repeat, for you had a month's worth of accumulated dandruff, oil, coal smoke, and road dust to wash from your scalp. As for what to use as a shampoo, Jameson has science for an answer:

There is no better shampoo for the hair than an egg, well-beaten with about an ounce of water, and rubbed thoroughly into the scalp. It is not merely a detergent, cleansing the scalp and hair of the dirt, but is tonic in its effect and strengthens the scalp. The yolk contains natural food for the hair, iron and sulphur; while the white, being a mild alkali, finds its congenial mate in the oil from the sebaceous glands, and they mingle in a saponaceous lather. [The Woman Beautiful]

But if you were not open to allowing the conjugal relations of egg white and sebaceous glands, Jameson offers a shampoo recipe, which sounds vaguely explosive:

SHAMPOO CREAM.
New England rum 1 pint

Glycerine 2 ounces

Carbonate of potash 1 ounce

Borax 1 ounce

Carbonate of ammonia 1 ounce [The Woman Beautiful]

Not being in a hurry to shampoo is beginning to make more sense.

3. Unwanted hair

Beauty's Aids, written in 1901 by the anonymous "Countess C__," has much to teach on the subject on unwanted hair. Or, as the better classes refer to it, hirsuteness:

Hirsuteness is the name by which the learned characterise an excessive development of the hairy system.... Of course an exaggerated crop of hair all over the cheeks and chin and nose gives to the face a villainously masculine appearance, and is a serious drawback to feminine beauty, but if only a light down shades the upper lip, preserve it. It gives a piquancy to the face, and is often an added charm. [Beauty's Aids]

Still, if you don't like being piquant and want to tamper with your hirsuteness, the countess lays out your options:

Three ways exist by which to disembarrass yourself of this deformity — depilation and electricity. [Beauty's Aids]

The countess only lists two ways there, but hush, you. The countess doesn't have time for your nitpicking, which, by the way, is unnecessary if you properly egg your hair every six weeks. The countess warns that depilation is tedious and painful, as each hair must be pulled from the root by "small nippers of steel," and will grow back again. You can create a cream, but it will give you chemical burns. The only foolproof way to get rid of your villainously masculine appearance is by the new and exciting science of electrolysis. Electrolysis and cocaine. Lots of cocaine.

The countess writes:

This process, invented rather recently, consists in annihilation of hair by means of electricity. Into the hairy follicle a fine needle is introduced, threaded at the end with an electric spark. When the needle touches the hair of the matrice, it causes a current to pass which destroys it for ever. This operation, in no way painful to the face, is hardly painful to the chest either, and, if necessary, one can escape all pain by using cocaine. [Beauty's Aids]

You can escape a lot of things by using cocaine.

4. Hair dye

The good Countess C__ cannot wholly support the use of hair dye. Such products contain "corrosive materials." But if you must dye (and really you must, as grey hairs advertise your fallow womb and joyless life to the entire world), she recommends avoiding the use of lead. That's good. Instead she offers this recipe:

To obtain a more pronounced black, use a mixture of celeste (ammoniated solution of sulphate of copper) water with a solution of yellow cyanide. (Take great care in using this preparation; the cyanide is a terrible poison.) [Beauty's Aids]

Let it not be said the countess did not warn you. Take great care with the cyanide as you pour it on your head. It is a terrible poison.

5. General cautions

There is a wealth of information about the importance of your hair in this next paragraph, given to us by my favorite eugenicist/advice writer of the 20th century, B.G. Jefferis, in his extremely popular Searchlights on Health series:

Cautions. — It is ascertained that a full head of hair, beard, and whiskers, are a prevention against colds and consumptions. Occasionally, however, it is found necessary to remove the hair from the head, in cases of fever or disease, to stay the inflammatory symptoms, and to relieve the brain. The head should invariably be kept cool. Close night-caps are unhealthy, and smoking-caps and coverings for the head within doors are alike detrimental to the free growth of the hair, weakening it, and causing it to fall out. [Searchlights on Health]

In sum, your beard, hair, and whiskers keep the germs out. That's just science. But sometimes you may need to shave your head to relieve your brain in times of sickness. Also, don't wear hats inside. It obstructs your hair's free-range living, weakens its virility, and makes you bald. Again, that's just science.

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Learn to Tie a Tie in Less Than 2 Minutes
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For most men—and Avril Lavigne-imitators—learning to tie a tie is an essential sartorial skill. Digg spotted this video showing how you can tie one the simple way, with a tabletop method that works just as well if you’re going to wear the tie yourself or if you're tying it together for someone else who doesn't share your skills.

The whole technique is definitely easier to master while watching the video below, but here's a short rundown: As laid out by the lifehack YouTube channel DaveHax, the method requires you to lay the tie out on a table, folded in half as if you're about to loop it around your neck.

With the back of the tie facing up, you loop over each end, then twist the thinner of the two loops around itself so it ends up looking like a mini-tie knot itself. You'll end up nestling the two loops together and snaking the thin tail of the tie through the whole thing. Then, essentially all you have to do is pull, and you can adjust the tie as you otherwise would to put it over your head.

Unfortunately, this won't teach you how to master the art of more complicated neckwear styles like the fancier Balthus knot or even a bow tie, but it's a pretty good start for those who have yet to figure out even the simplest tie fashions.

[h/t Digg]

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20 Old Hat Styles Due for a Comeback
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John Firth, BIPs/Getty Images

One thing that illustrated and photographic archives have taught us is that people have always known how to rock a stylish piece of headwear. From squat caps to towering toppers, history has produced a hat for every occasion. Here are 20 old styles that, with a healthy dose of fashion and confidence, could still look just as fabulous today.

1. THE CLOCHE

A woman wearing a cloche hat decorated with flowers.
Sasha, Getty Images

The sleek, head-hugging cloche was the perfect companion to the bobbed hairstyle worn by flappers in the 1920s. The hats were typically left plain to emphasize their bell-shaped silhouette, though they also offered a blank canvas for embellishment. The cloche was most popular during the Jazz Age but it’s occasionally incorporated into retro fashion styles today.

2. THE OTTOMAN HEADDRESS

A drawing of a man wearing an Ottoman headdress.

In Ottoman ceremonial costumes, hats played a starring role. The headgear often featured bright colors, feathery ornamentations, and elaborate designs that signified status. The wearer’s class, religion, gender, and clan could all be gleaned from the way the fabric in their headdress was layered.

3. THE BOWLER HAT

Oscar Wilde wearing a bowler hat in 1885.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The top hat was popular in the 19th century but it wasn't always the most practical choice for outdoor activities. When looking for a way to protect the heads of horseback riders from branches, brothers Thomas and William Bowler came up with their namesake cap. The bowler hat was sturdy, compact, and appropriate for most any occasion. Though the bowler hat largely fizzled out by the 1980s, the item's original London manufacturers Lock & Co. still sell thousands each year.

4. THE PILLBOX HAT

Woman wearing a pillbox hat in the 1960s.
Chaloner Woods, Getty Images

Unlike some hats from history, this one was prized for its simplicity. It could be easily identified by its brimless, round shape evoking that of a pillbox. It began gaining steam in the 1930s before reaching peak popularity with First Lady Jackie Kennedy in the 1960s.

5. THE FASCINATOR

Victoria Beckham wearing a fascinator in 2007.
Mark Mainz, Getty Images

Depending on the look you’re going for, a fascinator can be worn as a subtle accent item or a show-stealing statement piece. The hat is defined as an ornamental headpiece that’s secured to the crown using a headband or comb. Once they fit that criteria, fascinators can take the form of flowers, feathers, fabric, or whatever else the wearer can engineer to stay on their head. And though they're still popular in the U.K., Americans don't tend to utilize fascinators outside of Derby Day attire.

6. THE TRI-CORNER HAT

A tri-cornered hat from Spain, circa 1780.
Gabriel Bouys, AFP/Getty Images

In 17th century Europe and America, tri-cornered hats, or tricornes, gave men the opportunity to show off their lustrous wigs poking out from beneath the upturned brim. It's no surprise then that the hat style died out with the powdered wig fad, but that doesn't mean it isn't fit for a comeback. Even if wearers don't have wigs to flaunt, they could take a page from our forefathers' book and upgrade the hat itself with feathers, brocades, and fabrics—or maybe just sports insignias.

7. THE DEERSTALKER HAT

British actor Peter Cushing wearing a deerstalker hat circa 1960.
Keystone/Getty Images

If you’ve seen this hat anywhere, it was most likely on the head of someone portraying Sherlock Holmes. The headpiece has been tied to the character since the books were published in the 19th century (it was the illustrations—not the story—that did it, as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle never mentions the cap in the text). It’s peculiar that an urban detective would be wearing a deerstalker hat in the first place, considering they were designed for hunting game and not tracking clues, but the smartly styled hat's comeback should be ... elementary.

8. THE HENNIN

Illustration of a French woman wearing a hennin in the 15th century.
plaisanter, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

These striking hats were a clear sign of royalty in the medieval era. Reinforced with wire or padding and draped in fine fabric, the cone-shaped hennin is still synonymous with the stereotypical princess today. English hennins were fairly modest in height, but the French version reached up to to three feet and the hat's Mongolian predecessor towered five to seven feet high.

9. THE NEWSBOY CAP

Newsboys in St. Louis in 1910.
Lewis Hine, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This hat goes by many names (the big apple, the eight panel, the Gatsby), but its strongest association is with newsboys at the turn of the 20th century. The floppy, brimmed cap wasn't just popular with the younger working class. It was worn by men across the social ladder and was a common sight on the golf course.

10. THE PEACH BASKET HAT

Actress Marion Davies in a peach basket hat.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The origin of this hat name isn't too hard to figure out: It resembles a bulky, over-turned fruit basket. The peach basket hat first appeared at the start of the 20th century, but it was shunned by many for being an "unpatriotic" display of vanity during the first world war. It was revived in the 1930s and experienced a popularity streak until the 1950s.

11. THE PORK PIE HAT

Actor Buster Keaton wearing his signature pork pie hat in 1939.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This hat is known for having a domed crown inside a pinched rim, creating a shape similar to that of a certain savory pastry. The style was originally worn by women in the 19th century and was later embraced by men’s fashion in the early 1900s (thanks in part to Buster Keaton). It’s not as popular as it was in the 1920s but it recently enjoyed a brief return to the spotlight by way of the Heisenberg character on Breaking Bad.

12. THE CARTWHEEL HAT

Actress Fanny Brice wearing a cartwheel hat circa 1910.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Out of context, a cartwheel hat could be mistaken for an hor d'oeuvres platter or a tiny landing pad. The hat was worn slightly askew for an eye-catching look and was often crafted from luxurious materials. But after catching on in the 1930s, the broad hats have since fallen out of fashion.

13. THE CHAPEAU BRAS

Bicorne hat.
Marie-Lan Nguyen, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.5

With the chapeau bras, gentlemen in the 18th century proved you don't need to compromise style for convenience. The bicorne shape of the hat was designed to both sit comfortably on a head and fold flat when tucked beneath an arm. The French name roughly translates to "hat arm." It was a popular hat style among military men in the 1800s, including U.S. admiral George Dewey.

14. THE BOUDOIR CAP

Hat on mannequin.

For a brief period at the turn of the 19th century, hair nets were fashionable. Women used boudoir caps to protect their hair while getting dressed in the morning or at night, though more stylish designs also worked as statement-making loungewear. Typically made from silk, muslin, or other lingerie fabric, the cap was the perfect companion to the kimono negligee, which was just beginning to gain popularity in the West at the time.

15. THE EUGÉNIE HAT

Illustration of Victorian woman.

The Eugénie hat is named after Empress Eugénie de Montijo, one half of France’s last reigning royal couple. It’s traditionally made from felt or velvet and worn tilted forward slightly to cover the wearer's eye. The hat saw an initial popularity spike in the mid-19th century, then a second after Greta Garbo worse a version of it in the 1930 film Romance.

16. THE GAINSBOROUGH HAT

Portrait of woman wearing hat.

Gainsborough hats, or picture hats, were popularized by 18th-century artist Thomas Gainsborough, who often depicted the society women in his portraits beneath massive headwear. The hats are known for their wide brims and over-the-top embellishments. It wasn't uncommon to see women walking around with stuffed birds perched on their hats during the style's peak.

17. THE PAMELA BONNET

Woman wearing bonnet.

Named for the protagonist of Samuel Richardson's 1740 novel, the Pamela bonnet was an elegant hat option for women in the 19th century. It's crafted from straw and tied with a ribbon in such a way that folds the wide brims against the wearer's cheeks. The sides of the hat slope down and away from the head, allowing the woman’s fashionable ringlets to peek out.

18. THE HALF HAT

The Queen wearing a half hat and waving from a car.

The sleek, close hat trend reached its peak in the 1950s with the half hat. Part-hat, part-hair accessory, the half hat cups the back of the skull and curves across the crown, stopping just short of the ears. Milliner Lilly Daché received an American Designer award for the hat in 1941.

19. THE WHOOPEE CAP

Actor wearing a hat.

The whoopee cap is best known as the crown hat Jughead wears in the Archie comics. Instead of buying a professionally-made version from a hat shop, wearers fashioned caps of their own by tattering the brims of old fedoras and turning them inside-out. The style appeared recently on Riverdale, the gritty Archie reboot, so a comeback may be on the way.

20. THE HOMBURG

British Foreign Secretary Sir Anthony Eden (right) with Neville Chamberlain, Leader of the Conservative Party, wearing Homburg hats while walking in London in 1937.
Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Homburg isn't a household name like the top hat or the fedora, but the men’s hat is still a classic. The style is distinguished by a curled brim and a dent depressing the center of the crown. King Edward VII launched the trend in the late 19th century. When he brought a hat back with him following a visit to Bad Homburg, Germany, the rest of the world noticed his new look and started wearing Homburg hats of their own.

A shorter version of this story originally ran in 2017.

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