Living History Experiment Days 5 and 6: Rinse and Repeat

Rag curls

The last experiment in the Living History Week is rag curls. Rag curls is when you take a strip of cloth, wrap your hair around it to form curls or ringlets to make your hair curly. This is one of the oldest curling techniques around, since there isn’t any special equipment needed. I was happy to finally be able to sleep properly, since the last few days of sleeping with rollers or beer in my hair  has proven to be…interesting.

The experiment was done in two different conditions: Once without any product, and again with a bit of coconut oil applied at the tips.

Day 5: Gilda Radner Frizz

Day 6: Rag Curls with Coconut Oil

From the curling methods I have tried this week, I was most satisfied with the result of the rag curls. It was closer to the curls I have in mind when I think of the 1940s. Nevertheless,  I wasn’t completely satisfied with the results of my first try, which came out a frizzy mess. I looked like Gilda Radner! And it stayed that way the whole day. Rag curls had some serious staying power. So on day six, I decided to apply some coconut oil on the tips and roots of my hair, wash it and re-do the rag curls, with the hopes that it won’t turn out so frizzy. I achieved a much better result, especially after I brushed it out. However, the curls had less staying power than the curls without any product. My hair returned to almost back to normal wavy by the evening.

Rag curls: Can definitely recommend. Up next: Conclusion and final thoughts

Living History Experiment Day 3 and 4: Beer Hair and Curls

When I first conceived of this experiment, I kept turning a central question in my head: How did women in the past keep their hairstyles going? The central theme of this experiment is lack. A lack of options, a lack of modern conveniences. There’s a war going on, baby, and rationing is a thing.

I wish that I still had my grandmother to ask about these things. Unfortunately, she has passed, so I asked the next best person: my friend Inez. Her mother was a model and socialite in the 1960s in Manila. Apparently, they set their hairstyles with…beer?!!!

This was the point in my research that I was so skeptical of. Women have been using food items as cosmetics for ages . Tea bags, cucumber, honey, sugar, oil are a few food tems I have used for non-food purposes. But beer just takes the cake (pardon the food metaphors, I am on a roll here).

But it really is a thing! Google searches confimed Inez’s claim. I went and asked German women who would have been alive in the 60s and said that yes, beer was a thing they used to keep their curls curly and bouffants puffy. Now, I doubt that my grandmother would have had access to beer in the mountains of Leyte in the 1940s, but I think that beer would have been available in wartime Germany. I went and got the cheapest beer from the Späti around the corner, and I was all set.

I got myself thin plastic perm rollers, sprayed beer on my hair, especially at the roots. I only had an hour and a half to let the curls set. My hair was not yet dry when I unraveled the curlers, but I had a life and it wasn’t gonna wait for me.

Little Lord Fauntleroy or Weird Al Yankovic?

After brushing it out, the curls did not look half-bad, although admittedly, it wasn’t the look I was looking for. I looked like I had a bad ’80s perm job than a 1940s siren. The beer smell dissapated, and my hair was not sticky, as I had feared. You could only smell the beer if you had sniffed my hair, and you would have had to be a creep to actually do that.

Beer curls settled into waves. I slept in my beer hair, without any special protection or a scarf.

By Day 4, my curls had settled into waves, which was my intended look in the first place. My scalp did not itch, and still wasn’t sticky, and the hairstyle held until the wee hours of Friday night/Saturday morning. It survived a children’s party and a night out with friends. By then, my wavy hair wasn’t so wavy anymore, but my hair had amazing volume and body, and it had amazing memory. My hair stayed in place even after removing the bobby pins that had held them.

Beer as a setting lotion: confimed! Last experiment: rag curls!

Living History Experiment Day 2: Victory Rolls and Sleepless Nights

Woke up like deez

I wonder why women have been torturing themselves for beauty. Uncomfortable, ill-fitting shoes, high heels, rollers in your hair…

Sleeping with rollers in my hair was a giant pain in the neck. Oh, God, maybe I was using the wrong rollers, Maybe I should have used hair pins, maybe I should have tied it up in bows, but I wanted victory rolls, so the giant rollers had to be set in. I had to contort my pillow into very bizzare looking shapes to accomodate my neck and the rollers around my head. I slept fitfully.

Now, I wanted to go with the 1940s because I really like that decade’s aesthetic, how that decade allowed women to dominate the workplace and give us the self-confidence that we can do anything we set our minds to, and because I have a clear picture of what the decade was like through my grandparents.

I am no stranger to the making of victory rolls, but I clearly needed practice and it took me four tries before I finally got it right for my hair length.

About Cathy

Victory rolls

My hair was still greasy from yesterday’s coconut oil, and true to the era, I did not wash my hair that day. I did not need any other product nor hairspray. My hair followed whatever shape I coaxed it into, no stray hairs, nothing sticking out. Unbelievable. And it stayed that way the whole day. It would probably have survived gale-force winds. I napped in that hair. I did household chores. Cooked, cleaned, went for a walk. The curls at the nape of my neck also held up all day. Okay, it looked very greasy and a bit stringy, but still, considering I had zero modern products and unwashed hair, I was amazed at the hold of the coconut oil. I went to bed with my hair still intact.

Tomorrow, beer head and pin curls.

Living History Experiment Day 1: Kernseife and Coconut Oil

Slicked-back chola ponytail

Day 1: I now understand why women used to wash their hair/ bathe once a week. This shit is intensive, y’all. I woke up at 5 in the morning and started my hair care routine. Apparently, in the old days, you conditioned your hair then you washed it. It made no sense two days ago but it makes sense now. I took a spoonful of coconut oil, put it in a glass, and melted it in a warm water bath. I spread out the liquified oil onto the tips of my hair, but it was no use, it spread all over. I let it stand for 30 minutes before washing it out with Kernseife.

Kernseife, aka Perla

I don’t know if it was the soap, or the oil, but it wasn’t as sudsy as I thought it would be. The oil would not wash off! I tried soaping and washing out my hair four times, but the oil just stayed put. I dried out my hair with a towel, and since I am not allowed to use a hair dryer, I had to air dry my hair, which took ages because of the oil. I decided that today was a pony-tail day. As a side effect, I noticed that having coconut oil in my hair was like slathering my hair in hair wax. I had the perfect, sleek ponytail. My natural curls stayed put all day and thought that maybe there really was something to coconut oil as a hair setting lotion.

They thought it was the horned beast from hell…turned out it was just mom in hair rollers

Last night I put my hair up in rollers and ended up looking like Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Then I bundled it up in two hair nets and covered it with a scarf, a picture of which exists on my Instagram. Beauty was always hard work, I wonder why we women put in so much effort for it.

Realizations of the day:

-Coconut as hair setting lotion/ conditioner seems to be legit.

-Coconut oiled hair looks so greasy.

-Coconut oiled hair takes forever (2-3 hours) to dry!

Living History Experiment: 1940s Hair Care

Me trying to look vintage

As a curious person, my love of experimentation is not limited to cooking. While I normally don’t show my face on my blog, I’ll be making an exception because of the nature of this experiment.

I’m hooked on the German TV show “Babylon Berlin” at the moment. While watching a “Making of” video, the hair person of the show said that hair in the 1920s behaved differently, because hair care back then was done differently. That piqued my curiosity. How could hair “behave” differently? I mean, hair is hair, right?

So I thought, why not make an experiment out of it? Would my hair behave any differntly with the absence of modern silicone-based surfactants ?

For a whole week, out of sheer masochistic curiosity, I will be doing a 1940s hair care routine as what it would have been like in wartime Manila and wartime Germany. I have spent the past few weeks reading history and vintage style blogs, watching vlogs of costume historians and the like to see what made hair care different from that of my grandmother’s.

My grandma Juanita Llorente in the 1950s

So first, I tried to recall as much as I could about my grandmother. I am the eldest of three grandkids, she basically raised my from the age of three, so I am the grandchild who knows her best. She smelled of Heno de Pravia or Sandalwood Soap. She used modern shampoo when I knew her, so I tried to remember her wartime stories. She once told me that she used Perla soap in her youth, since there was no other soap available. It shocked me as a teen, since I only knew Perla to be a mild laundry detergent bar.

She also used the bark of the Gugo tree (Entada phaseoloides), a tropical tree which has a lot of saponin in it, to wash her hair. She treated her hair with coconut oil every once in a while. I had used Gugo as a child, but try finding that in Germany!

Then came research, research, research. Perla soap is known as Kernseife in Germany. They used it as toilet soap, to wash hair, to wash their bodies, to wash delicates. To set their hairstyles, I asked my friend Inez to ask her mother, and her answer was…beer! Flat beer as hair setting lotion! So that has to be experimented with.

Then came the procurement of the necessary materials. Kernseife? Check. Coconut oil? Check. Rollers? Check. Beer? Check.

So first…hair.

I have unprocessed hair, meaning I haven’t dyed or done anything with it. I have a few gray hairs, but they are mostly still jet black, grows straight but curls at the ends. It tends to get oily after a day without washing it, and I have a sensitive scalp.

My hair: grows straight, curls at the end.

This experiment will also simultaneously go on my Facebook feed and on my Instagram, which I will make public in the week of this experiment. To be continued tomorrow!