Sunday 21 April 2013

Permanent waving, electric massage

Above an estate agent's in Wells, Somerset, stained-glass windows advertise a former business. It offered quite a variety of services for appearance-conscious women, including 'modes' and 'robes' for the fashionably-dressed. And for those concerned about their coiffeurs, 'permanent waving' and 'electric massage' were on offer. 

Permanent waving has been with us so long that many people have probably forgotten it's the correct name for the familiar 'perm'. The process, first invented in the late nineteenth century, developed steadily through the 1920s and was commonplace in the 1930s. Only after the Second World War would home perms become an alternative to visiting the salon.

'Electric massage' may seem a more surprising hairdressing treatment. Today, it sounds odd and uncomfortable but in the first part of the twentieth century, electricity was seen as a source of health. An advertisement from 1931 offers electric massage using the Vytalife Electric Comb: it would cure headaches, dandruff, and baldness as well as giving the user wavy hair! One suspects that the women of Wells did not experience similar miracles.


Angela said...

It's good to see these old features retained. I'm glad of your explaination of 'electric massage' - it did make me wonder for a moment!

Anonymous said...

It was only in the later decades of the 20th century that legislation was introduced to prevent product advertisements making false or exaggerated claims such as you quote for the Vytalife.

"Electric massage" is still popular, of course, but in this era of electronics, massagers are not the big, heavy and expensive appliances they once were. You can now buy your own handy device at a modest price from Amazon.

The French terms "modes" and "robes" sit ill with the other two English phrases but were typical of the era when the use of French terms was intended to indicate a high-class (and expensive) establishment. More recently, the term "boutique" was used to the same effect, but today, even that appellation has gone down-market.