Saturday, January 19, 2013

"No 'Poo, Sherlock."

Enjoying Janet Stephens' demos recently has me thinking, as I am wont to do, about the history of personal beautification.  I still want to take a look at ribbon styling, a popular weave method used (to my current knowledge) most prominently in Renaissance Europe, but likely going well beyond what I know today.  But first, I accidentally ran across the marketing history of shampoo, and the way this product has changed the way we live during the past century.

The No 'Poo movement comes out of multiple motivations - the desire to get away from chemical exposure, the wish to go "more natural", simple curiosity, frank economizing on a product which can lead to a lot of expense when used at the rate currently encouraged in the mainstream ... and, even more frankly, a certain vintage fashion trendiness which goes in for Mad Men, mid-century longer-wearing hairstyles, a little dab of pretension, and the kind of moral or cultural seeking that leads us to try new - or old - things for one sort of benefit or another.

The Great Unwashed
(New York Times)

I've always been vaguely aware that hair-washing is its own reward, at least for the "lather, rinse, repeat" crowd of the beauty industry.  In my usual, non-confrontational and conformist (lazy) manner, I have always also agreed to go along with what I've been taught, and so I am a regular shampooer.  I used to be every other day or even every three, but the haircut I got four years ago left me with a LOT less hair to hold the oils, and I had to become a daily washer.  Once my hair grew back to its former length, I kept in the daily habit as much because it had just become exactly that as because ... well, to be frank, with age, we get a little smellier in general, and I do like to do what I can to minimize what may debatably be thought of as "natural" body odor.

Another recent haircut, while less radical than the one four years ago, has reminded me once again:  six inch strands seem to look dirtier more quickly than fourteen inch locks, which either hold oil with more aplomb, perhaps using it - or just hide it better.  So it goes.  I like my shampoo, and use it these days as much for its scent as I do for the squeaky-cleanliness.  At least I can use less, with so much less hair to deal with.

1 comment:

DLM said...

I don't want to edit, but thought I would add this - from a post at the thread I started on ancient hairstyles at Historical Fiction Online ( ):

I linked an article [URL=""]here[/URL], by someone touting great success going with only a weekly shampoo and blowout for some time now. I think the truth of this fad, as with many personal care/dietary trends that come up on media radar from time to time is that "your mileage may vary" and there's no such thing as a cure-all. People seem to be drawn to new habits for a variety of reasons, and testimony as to success and/or failure can be hugely biased.

Still, it *is* true that daily or every-other-daily hair washing is a very new trend and at least as to "greasiness" there appears to be some basis for the speed at which constantly shampooed hair gets dirty as opposed to infrequently (I wouldn't presume to speak to *non* shampooed at all hair). But even if hair-washing weren't frequent before the 20th century, it was still done.

As for the smell, well, the relativity of our idea of "stink" has varied a LOT through history. Most of us here are probably familiar with Napoleon's love letter to Josephine exhorting her, 'don't bathe baby, I'm coming home!' The scent of the sweat of someone we love can still be (perhaps secretly or unconsciously, for most people) beautiful. But ill health, sometimes old age, or personal slovenliness are never attractive!