How to Make Gray Hair Look Its Best, 1910

This post is for Lynn, who writes American Age Fashion, a blog dedicated to a usually neglected topic: “what older American women wore, 1900 to now.” (Lynn does not have white hair, but I do.)

Side and back views of a hair style for older women; Delineator, January 1910. The ornament implies that this is a style for evening, although the model is not wearing an evening dress.

Bottom of a full page of hair styles for gray-haired women. From the article, “How to Make Gray Hair Look Its Best,” Delineator, January 1910.

Here is the accompanying text:

“If there is any poetry in hair, it exists quite as truly in the silver tresses of our mothers as in the much-lauded golden and Titian tints.

“Because hair is gray does not mean that it has lost its beauty. On the contrary, many a woman finds white hair her crowning glory, while the possibilities for becoming arrangement provided by present styles allow her to appear quite as well coiffured as any younger woman. A variety of ways in which she may arrange her hair is shown.

A coil at the back of the head….” This one is kept in place by a large, curved comb.

“Where the hair is worn parted….”

“A coil at the back or top of the head, where [when] the hair is worn parted, has all of the charm of such simple arrangement, while the braid-coil is equally pleasing.

“…The braid coil is equally pleasing ….” This is a pompadour style, with softly curled bangs.

“Many find the pompadour becoming, and the short bangs curled across the forehead are not only fashionable but very softening in effect.

A smaller pompadour, also with bangs.

“A few puffs may be prettily arranged at the top or back of the head.

“A few puffs may be arranged at the top or back of the head….”

The sides are not enormous, but the “puffs” give height. I can imagine this hairstyle being possible without the use of purchased hair.

“Thin hair may be matched and supplemented with a braid, some curls, or bangs.

Thin hair may be supplemented….” [You think?] “Big Hair” like this required some invisible padding and/or purchased hair pieces.

“As to adornments which the elderly woman may use, gray combs, a simple knot of ribbon, or small jetted ornaments are always in good taste.”

Parted hair, wide at the sides; a comb, rather than hair, adds height.

This hair ornament is not quite a “simple knot of ribbon….” Since many older women wore mourning, black jet hair ornaments were often worn, but these appear more glittery.

The back view of this hair-do with ornament shows a cluster of curls — and a surprising amount of hair!

Women needed a huge mass of hair to fill in under — and sometimes to support — the gigantic hats of 1910.

Big hair at the back under a big hat. 1910.

Styles which had a huge mass of hair low at the back were worn by young and old. 1910.

Although it is very full and thick everywhere, this young woman’s hair extends quite far in back.

A coil or braid worn low on the neck worked with big hats….

Hair fills in the space under a big turban hat. Delineator cover, detail, March 1910.

A young model wears most of her hair at the back of the head, with a ribbon securing it. This was a style copied from classical statues.

Photograph of Mrs. Clara E. Simcox, Paris fashion columnist for Delineator magazine, 1910.

Although my hair is both white and long, I have never had that much hair!

Neither did they.

Hair Goods for Big Hairstyles

Women could buy a “turban braid” of real hair from Mrs. Negrescou. Ad, 1910. “Very fashionable and largely worn with the new turban hats…. Can be braided, puffed, or curled.”

A hair braid could be ordered by mail — on approval.  Ad for Anna Ayers hair goods, “high grade switches, pompadours, wigs, puffs, etc.” Delineator ad, Jan 1910.

Hair switch from a Paris Fashions hair goods ad, Delineator, February 1910. On offer: “Chignon Coiffure, full back piece, curly hair, dresses in 14 puffs” and “Pompadour, Natural Curly.”

Buying a switch on approval guaranteed you could return it if the color didn’t match.

Ad for Burnham’s 30 to 36 inch long hair switches, turban frame,  pads, etc. Delineator, June 1910. “We can match your hair exactly.”

Ad for the Austin-Walker patented Hairlight Turbanette, May 1910.

By brushing your own hair over a frame like the Hairlight Turbanette, or a “rat” or pad made by stuffing your own hair combings into a hairnet, a huge pompadour could be created.

Ad for E. Burnham hair goods, January 1910.

“The ‘fullness’ of this headdress is produced by the “Puffer-Fluffer,’ $10.”  Also available: Billie Burke curls, Pompon curls, Daphne Puffs, the new Turban Braid… “Gray and extra shades cost 50% more.” [edited 12/16/18 — I should have put that in boldface, because several ads had the same “gray hair costs more” message in the fine print.]

Hair Styles for Young and Old

I wondered whether the hair styles for gray haired women were different from those for younger women and girls. Of course, only young girls and early teens wore their hair down:

Schoolgirls often wore huge ribbons (top center), increasing the size of the head area. Usually girls didn’t put their hair up (off the neck) until they were 16 or older. The hair style at lower left would be easy to transform into a style with the braid coiled at the back.

The older teens at right and left have put their hair up in adult hair styles. The schoolgirl wears a really wide bow.

But women in the prime of life certainly did wear huge pompadours, sometimes with bangs, braids, puffs, etc.

Pompadour hair styles illustrated in Delineator, early 1910.

Young and old wore styles that massed their hair low in back. 1910 illustrations, Delineator.

Very wide hairstyles, and styles with a center or side part were worn.

Often the hair style was necessary to the hat styles:

Photos of fashionable hates, complimented by big hair-dos. 1910, Delineator.

In this advertisement, left, a woman is working in her kitchen, in a hair style that is in fashion, but of a believable size. I suspect that the woman on the right is also wearing a practical, everyday style — which may be all her own hair.

Left, illustration from an Ivory Soap ad; right, hairstyle for gray hair, both 1910.

Speaking of working women — these nurses show that big hair was also worn with tiny nurses caps!

Three nurses in an ad for the Chautauqua School of Nursing. April, 1910.

7 Comments

Filed under 1900s to 1920s, Hairstyles, Hats, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture

7 responses to “How to Make Gray Hair Look Its Best, 1910

  1. Joan

    I wonder how old are the grey-haired models in the photographs.

  2. nice timing as I am going to grow my grey hair long – I have had a bob for a while and miss tying my hair up- I doubt I could navigate those complex styles though!

    • I love having white hair, but after coloring my hair for many years, the transition wasn’t easy! One surprising thing: I had to change my hair spray to one made for white hair. With long hair, I don’t wash it nearly as often as a blow-dry cut, and my old favorite spray gave it a yellowish tint after a few days! The clear hairspray doesn’t do as good a job. 😦

  3. What a wonderful surprise! Thank you so much for this. Like Joan, I also suspect that the “older” model was not all that old. It’s interesting to see that big hair stretched across the generations and that women young and old needed some extra help to support those style. Now I wonder if gray hair was cheaper to buy that other colors.

    • Glad you liked it; I didn’t have a really good whole page photo to send you. And, “gray and extra shades cost 50% more!” I meant to highlight that and forgot to. (It makes sense; there are fewer women with gray hair to sell….) None of those white haired models looked suspiciously young to me — but I do wonder how they found them.

  4. Linda

    My grandmother (a teen in 1910) never did use wigs. She always used a “hair receiver”- a porcelain bowl with lid and a hole at the top- to collect her hair. She then rolled it into a “rat” and used it to add volume to her hair. She usually would part her hair in the middle and make two very long braids, then wrap them over her head ear to ear to make a “coronette”. (She was also riding horses and taking care of 6 kids). For fancy occasions, she used the ‘rat’ to make her hair above her forehead look more full, then wrapped those braids into a bun. My gray hair is thin and fine…no chance of a pompadour !

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