I really don’t understand America’s obsession with daily hair washing. I blame it on ad campaigns and ignorance mostly but it makes me a bit angry. It irks me in particular when people assume that, pre-WWI, everyone walked around with greasy, smelly hair (and also that everyone smelled in general, but that’s a different post). Our society is so much healthier now, isn’t it?
Let me dish out some science here – the scalp and body only produce as much oil as it needs to be healthy. The reason modern folks “need” to wash their hair everyday is because they wash their hair everyday. Your scalp is just trying to fight back. The more you strip the oil, the more oil your body produces in order to compensate. I only wash my hair once a month, and even then without any soap, and it looks perfectly fine. In fact, it’s incredibly healthy, shiny, and soft because I’m not damaging it on a daily basis. It also grows like a fiend. I know it sounds gross by modern standards but I’ve even had several beauticians ask me what my secret is. Seriously, stop spending so much money on hair care products and just stop washing it so often. You can thank me later.*
All right, lecture over. On to Victorian Hair Care!
Soap was incredibly harsh back in olden times and the average person didn’t have the luxury of running water. That meant hauling and heating water to bathe and, as someone who does that, I can attest that it’s a big pain in the ass. So, at the very least by necessity, washing hair didn’t happen often. Instead, there were many remedies and solutions to keep hair looking healthy and I’ve listed just a few of the healthier treatments below.
- To Strength Hair and Improve Growth – A handful of box (buxus sempervirens) leaves added to a pint of boiling water. Infuse until cold, drain liquid and add to it several drops of alcohol to preserve. If box leaves are unavailable, add instead one ounce black tea.
- For Dandruff – Beat thoroughly one egg yolk, one pint of rain-water, and one ounce of rosemary spirit. Use warm and massage into scalp repeatedly.
- To Wash – Boil one pint of water with a handful of bran and a dash of white soap, and wash with this solution once every two weeks. Next, rub a beaten egg yolk into scalp and let it remain for several minutes before rinsing with warm water.
- To Maintain Healthy Hair – Brush 100 strokes twice a day, being sure to maintain a clean hair brush by washing it in warm water and bicarbonate of soda.
- In Between Washes – Add five sprigs of fresh rosemary to a pot of boiling water. Infuse until cold, drain liquid and add several drops of alcohol to preserve. Rinse hair weekly with mixture, being sure to massage scalp.
- To Prevent Hair Loss – Steep six ounces of boxwood shavings in twelve ounces of alcohol, at room temperature, for two weeks. Strain and add two ounces of rosemary spirits and two ounces of spirit of nutmeg. Rub into scalp morning and night.
- To Soften Hair – Beat four egg whites until frothy and apply to the roots of hair, leaving to dry. Wash clean with equal parts rum and rose water.
- For Growth-Inducing Pomade – Boil half a pound of green southern wood, a pint and a half of sweet oil, and half a pint of port wine. Strain and add two ounces of bear’s grease.
I haven’t tried all of these nor, perhaps, should anyone but I can attest to using both egg and rosemary. Rosemary has natural astringent properties and, in between washes, I regularly use it on my scalp to keep oil at bay and promote growth. I also wash my brush every other day and brush my hair often, as the action helps redistribute the oils throughout the hair – a natural conditioner.
* Note: It’s really hard to wean yourself off of daily washing, I know. If you’d like to give it a try, I suggest lengthening the time between washing as opposed to going cold turkey. When going cold turkey, your scalp doesn’t realize you’ve stopped abusing it and, thus, it still produces the same amount of oil. Try, instead, to wash every other day for a week, every three days for the next week, every four days, et cetera. Your scalp will rapidly adjust and you won’t have to worry about going to school or work looking like a 50’s greaser.
If anyone knows poor, I know poor. Well, the first world version, anyway. I’ve got family that grew up in a shack, literally. One room, in the mountains, built from spare pieces of wood. I’ve got family that didn’t have their first indoor toilet and shower until they were in their twenties. I’ve had Christmas presents purchased with the points off diaper boxes. I’ve been homeless, underage and living out of my car. I, currently, haven’t had hot running water in three years, came close to starving this winter and don’t own a single pair of shoes. Trust me, poverty and I are close friends.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I’d rather be poor than even comfortable because I like that every little thing is a blessing. I took my first hot bath in three years on New Year’s Eve – using water heated on the stove and a large Rubbermaid container – and it was the most glorious, if hilarious, experience of my life! You can’t buy that shit.
I’m only mentioning it because, given my close ties to the less-than-fortunate side of life, I’ve gained a lot of ghetto knowledge about how to get by and there are a lot of people struggling right now. Maybe some of what I know can be of use. So, ta-da! The Poor Victorian’s Guide to, well, Poverty!
I might discuss the actual doing of laundry another day but today I want to give some poverty pointers on ironing. Dude and dudettes, when you’re poor, spending even $10 on a miniature ironing board is ridiculous. But you still need wrinkle-free clothes if you want to get anywhere in life. So, here are a few things that I’ve learned.
1) A flat surface and a (natural fiber) towel make as good an ironing board as the real deal. If you need to do collars or cuffs, a raised surface, like a book or a board covered with a towel, will definitely get the job done.
2) Cornstarch and water – mixed until the liquid is milky – make a great, cheap starch. A spray bottle makes the mixture handy but, if all else fails, dip the item you want starched in the liquid and then squeeze out the excess. Iron as usual.
3) Don’t have an iron? No problem but plan ahead! If it’s a lightweight item, hanging it up in the bathroom while you take a steaming shower will get out a lot of the obvious wrinkles. If it’s really wrinkled, you might have to let the hot water run for awhile.
4) And last, and certainly most desperate sans-iron: lay a towel on the floor, the (damp) item that needs to be ironed smoothed out on top. Lay another towel on top of that and then pile on the weight. Books, shoes, bricks, the dog. Whatever will keep it laying as flat as possible while it dries. Just make sure the clothing is completely smooth before weighting it down or it will dry with new, very crisp wrinkles that will be hard to get rid of.
Being poor is rough. It means you can’t just run out and buy something even if you desperately need it. None of these tips are rocket science, I’ll admit, but they’ve certainly come in handy throughout my life. And, hey, even if you’re not poor, you never know when your iron will blow on a Sunday night at midnight when all of the stores have closed.
Be sure to stay tuned for more poverty pointers!