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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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11 Classic Facts About Converse Chucks
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Converse’s Chuck Taylor sneakers have been around since the early 20th century, but they haven’t changed much—until recently. In 2015, The Chuck II—a new line of Converse that looks much the same as the original shoe but with a little more padding and arch support—hit stores. In honor of the kicks' staying power, here are 11 facts about Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars.  

1. They were originally athletic shoes. 

The Converse All-Star debuted in 1917 as an athletic sneaker. It quickly became the number one shoe for basketball, then a relatively new sport (basketball was invented by James Naismith in 1891, but the NBA wasn't founded until 1946). By the late 1940s, most of the NBA sported Chucks. They remain the best-selling basketball shoes of all time, even though very few people wear them for basketball anymore. (Many teams switched to leather Adidas in the late ‘60s.)

2. Converse previously made rain boots.

The company started in 1908 as a rubber shoe company that produced galoshes.  

3. The All-Star design hasn’t really changed since 1917.

The updated Chuck II is Converse’s first real attempt to update its flagship product since the early 20th century. The company is understandably reticent to shake things up: All-Stars make up the majority of the company’s revenue, and like any classic design, its fans can be die-hards. In the 1990s, when the company tried to introduce All-Stars that were more comfortable and had slightly fewer design inconsistencies, hardcore aficionados rebelled. “They missed the imperfections in the rubber tape that lines the base of the shoe,” according to the Washington Post. The company went back to making a slightly imperfect shoe.

4. Chuck Taylor was a basketball player and trainer ...

Chuck Taylor in 1921. Image Credit: North Carolina State University via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Taylor was a Converse salesman and former professional basketball player who traveled around the country teaching basketball clinics (and selling shoes) starting in the 1920s. His name was added onto an ankle patch on the sneaker in 1932

5. ... And though he sold a lot of Chucks, he wasn't always a great coach.

Taylor is in large part responsible for the shoe’s popularity with athletes (the company rewarded him with an unlimited expense account), but his training advice wasn’t always the best. As former University of North Carolina player Larry Brown told Spin in an oral history of the shoe:

My greatest memory of Chuck Taylor—probably ’61 or ’62—is that he told Coach [Dean] Smith that he’d make us special weighted shoes in Carolina blue. The idea was that we’d wear the weighted shoes in practice, and then during the games, we’d run faster and jump higher. Well, we tried them for one practice and everyone pulled a hamstring.

6. Converse didn’t intend for their shoes to be punk.

“We always thought of ourselves as an athletic shoe company,” John O’Neil, who oversaw Converse’s marketing from 1983 to 1997, told Spin. “We wanted to sell a wholesome shoe.” The company was still touting its shoes as basketball sneakers as late as 2012, and some of its non-Chucks sneakers still have pro endorsers.

7. The company owns a recording studio.

Finally embracing its role in the music scene, the company launched Rubber Tracks, a Brooklyn-based recording studio where bands can record for free, in 2011.

8. Not all the Ramones were fans. 

Chuck Taylors are associated with punk rockers, especially the Ramones, but not everyone in the band wore them. “Dee Dee and I switched over to the Chuck Taylors because they stopped making [the style of] U.S. Keds and Pro-Keds [that we liked],” Marky Ramone told Spin. “Joey never wore them. He needed a lot of arch support and Chuck Taylors are bad for that.”

9. Chucks were initially only high tops. 

In 1962, Converse rolled out its first oxford Chuck Taylor All-Stars. Previously, it had just been a high-top shoe. Four years later, the company would introduce the first colors other than black and white.

10. Rocky ran in them.

In 1976, All-Stars were still considered a viable athletic shoe. If you look closely at the training montage from Rocky, you’ll see the boxer is wearing Chucks. 

11. Wiz Khalifa loves them. 

The rapper named his record label Taylor Ganag Records, in part due to his appreciation for Chuck Taylors. In 2013, he launched a shoe collection with Converse featuring 12 styles. 

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Adidas Collaborates With Artists to Create Sneakers for All 50 States
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Adidas, Mari Orr

For a recent project from Adidas and Refinery29, artists were given a women’s running shoe to use as their blank canvas. Their only prompt: Design the sneaker to represent one of the American states. The results are as varied and colorful as the nation itself.

As Adweek reports, the initiative, dubbed BOOST the Nation, takes an all-American look at Adidas’s UltraBOOST X footwear line. Refinery29 selected several artists—all women—to put their regional stamp on the plain white shoe. Some have been decorated with state flora. For instance, the Florida sneaker sports a tropical frond and the shoe for North Carolina is embellished with Venus flytraps. Food is also a popular theme: Wisconsin cheese, Maine lobster, and Tennessee barbecue have all been incorporated into sneaker designs.

Each sneaker is one-of-a kind and only available through auction. All proceeds raised will go directly to Women Win, an organization dedicated to bringing sports to adolescent girls around the world. The auction runs through Tuesday, July 11, with current bids ranging from $110 to $2000. Check out the artists’ handiwork that's for sale below.

Sneaker designed to look like a peach.
Georgia

Checkered running shoe.
Indiana

Adidas, Jen Mussari

Yellow running shoe with cracker tag.
Wisconsin

Sneaker designed to look like a mountain.
South Dakota
Adidas, Mari Orr

Sneaker decorated with wheat.
Oklahoma

Adidas, Jen Mussari

Sneaker embellished with fake roses and leaves.
Kentucky

Pink running shoe with lobster claw.
Maine

[h/t Adweek]

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