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Curly Nikki

Hair Then…Hair Now

By January 27th, 202111 Comments

Hair Then...Hair Now
A reader writes:

Hey Nikki,

I had a very funny conversation with my parents last night about natural hair care during the Great Depression (particularly in the South), leading up to when relaxers hit the scene.

Get this– My Mom said that her mother (who was a seamstress and unlicensed beautician) used castile soap (in bar form) to wash hair. She then mixed oil of clove with melted Vaseline petroleum jelly to make pressing oil. She allowed this concoction to solidify and used it as a pomade for pressing. She (and many other stylists) also made a hair grower (that’s what they called it) with oil of mustard and Vaseline. Folks would use that between presses for scalp treatments.

She also told me that some people used … Are you sitting down? (drumroll) . . . Dog mange !! To treat people who had bad dandruff. I almost passed the f— out when I heard that one! 🙂

My Dad got in on the conversation and told me that his mother used to use something called a ‘rat’ to style his sisters hair. It was basically a piece of cloth that one rolled the hair over to make a pompadour. He said it was always a joke when u saw girls/women using a rat who didn’t have enough hair to completely cover it.

Another funny. . . I asked my mother how much they charged during the late 60s and early 70s for a press and curl. She said 3-5 dollars!!! That’s a helluva lot cheaper than a thousand dollar weave, but stylists sure weren’t getting rich. I guess their motto was, “Get rich, or die pressing”! Ha! I’ll have to talk some other seniors and get some more funny stories.

Funny stuff, but sad at the same time.


This is very interesting, and reminded me of some of the amazing stories told in Hair Story. NaturallyP has inspired me to start a new segment, called Time Machine- Natural Hair Then and Now. I invite each and every one of you to talk hair with your older friends and relatives (good quality time too!) and share what you’ve learned with the rest of us. It’ll make the parallels more evident, and show that although the processes were different, the motivation was the same. We’ve been re-learning our hair since the 1800s…we’ve come along way, but still have a ways to go! This could be entertaining and enlightening!

Send submissions to, using ‘History’ as the subject line.


  • barbara says:

    I'm in my 40's and I didn't get my 1st perm until I went away to college and my mother wasn't there to "press and curl" my hair. But our routine was every other saturday night she would wash my hair, no conditioner, braid my hair to dry over night, Sunday morning, "grease my scalp" with vaseline (later we got fancy with the blue or green ultra sheen than press and curl and she said she would press my hair as often as she needed to within those 2 wks..I had long thick BSL hair. She laughs at all the products and trouble I go thru with my natural hair today. She has even told me when she was growing up in the south, if they didn't have hair grease they used LARD…oh

  • Freedom says:

    would anyone like to be a part of a documentary on memories of childhood hair rituals… where it took place, how often, the products used, how you felt during the process? please contact us at reelfreedomfilms@gmail to share your story… Thank you

  • Anonymous says:

    OMG! Love the stories! KEEP IT UP CURLYNIKKI! This is my favorite site for natural hair for a reason! Where would we be without wonderful information that your site provides on a daily basis!?

  • Anonymous says:

    I'm 60 years old and when I was young my mother would have me sit in front of the oven with the door open to dry my waist length hair. In the summer I would have to go outside and sit in the sun. This was before they had home hair dryers and blow dryers.

  • Anonymous says:

    I love to hear about the ways things were.

  • The Way God Made ME says:

    OMG…my grandmother use to put glovers man on my hair too!! STANKY stuff!

  • Cho Kawaii says:

    i used to have glovers mane put in my hair as a child and i hated how everyone used to tell me my hair stunk. It stinks so bad!!!!! it's a brown liquid you put in vaseline and apply to the hair to cure my "growing dandruff" I had dandruff so bad that my scalp had sores. my grandmother used to wait until my hair was completely covered in this buildup before "curing" it. because she said that's what keep my hair thick and long.

  • Anonymous says:

    How exciting! I have been googling old-time hair styles for the past few weeks since I am going to be a femme fatale for Halloween! To veer slightly off topic, I was going to do a 1940s look with victory rolls, so I was googling how the heck to do them and came across a youtube vid and the lady said to use a rat – what she had were foamish cylinders and I bought two at my local beauty supply. She was saying hair was the it accessory back then because everything was rationed so women had to get creative with what was free in order to maintain their feminine charm, lol. To go even more off-topic, if u care, I think I will go for a more early 1930s look for halloween so I won't be trying out those victory rolls :-/

    Another fun fact: back in the 1920s guys used to slick their hair back to emulate Rudolph Valentino and those dudes were called 'Vaselinos' lol. I can't imagine washing vaseline out of my hair – seems like it was the 'gel' of that era

  • sweet t says:

    um, i'm 24, but was reared around older people. i have definitely had dog MANE applied to my hair for growth. it's a hair dressing, not actually mange from a dog. apparently it's called something different now:

    bet it still stinks though! lol.

  • Anonymous says:

    LMBO @ "Get rich or die pressing!" 😀

  • Ms. Silky Coils says:

    this seems to be a promising section of the blog Nikki. Good for you for diversifying your posts.
    Be blessed!

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