Skin and Hair care through the years
words Evie Smith | illustration Sophie Filomena
When the world ‘war’ comes to my head, a lot of words pop up in my mind: bombs, rationing, fear, danger, army, guns. Words that don't really spring to my mind are ‘makeup’ and ‘skincare’. Did you know that during the Second World War, women were encouraged, above all else, to maintain their looks and glamour? The government strongly believed that by looking our best, we would boost morale for ourselves and others around us, despite how hard make-up was to come by during the rationing era.
However, taking care of yourself during the 1940’s was a miniature ‘fight back’ against Hitler. It is a well known fact that it was seen as very ‘un-aryan’ to be made up, so it was a little kick back, showing that we may not be able to control much, but we can control our appearances and no one was about to take that away.
Despite cosmetics being in short supply, the sales stayed steady until it became near impossible to get such items. This happened once again in the credit crunch of 2011 which also became known as the ‘lipstick effect’. Consumers still wanted to spend money on luxury items to treat themselves and make themselves feel good.
For men, skincare has always been at the forefront, and by always, I mean always. Some of the earliest discoveries of a skincare regime can be traced back to Ancient Egypt. Queen Cleopatra was famous for using black eyeliner. Due to how hot Egypt is, it was of utmost importance to bathe regularly. They used an array of oils in baths and for moisturising to keep their skin hydrated after excessive sun exposure.
Beards we also said to be fashionable, even then, and any excess hair was removed using varying products such as tweezers and razors.
Moving on to the Roman era, they had the word ‘cosmetae’ which was first used to describe slaves who had the job of bathing men in perfume. With the Romans absolute love for bathing, and the development of Roman Baths, it became apparent that the benefits of warm water and indeed steam would be a ritual that has still carried on, even today.
However, during the Victorian time, make-up was actually seen as the ‘Devil's doing’ and understandably, its popularity faded. Fast forward a fair few years to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and the love of skincare amongst the males of the species was still going strong, with men using rose water on both their skin and hair to add nourishment and to tone. Elder-flower was used on the skin and for a treat, an egg and honey mask was used to smooth away any wrinkles and to tighten pores. With regards to makeup, pale was the trend of the time and a lead based foundation was used along with lye to bleach hair. Needless to say, this resulted in lead poisoning and a bald head.
In the early 1930's, men began slicking their hair back into a style known as ‘the high and tight’, which is quite simply, cut quite close to the skin, with the hair longer on top. Not to be confused with a military cut, but very similar. Men's hair, had a very deep side part, usually on the left and sometimes, the part was ‘cut in’ a little deeper to add definition. Not for the faint hearted or for a new barber!
For products, Murray's pomade was used. It should be run over with a lighter or match to loosen the product and applied to the hair, sweeping it back and slightly across. Or, as my friends Granddad Reg used to use, trusty old Vaseline, the staple of every gentleman's hair kit for many a year.
For skin care, men were to be clean shaven which meant using a good moisturiser. Ponds cream was a staple for most women in this era and there were even colleges offering classes for young men and women, educating them in the art of skin cleansing.
Today, the love of skincare and hair care is still very much apparent for men, and now more than ever, there are hundreds upon hundreds of products to choose from. The oldies such as Vaseline and Old Spice are still kicking around and many hair pomades have taken their roots from the pomades of yesteryear. Beards have made their return and the introduction of beard oils will keep them in tip top condition. Both men and women have always and will always have an interest in skin and hair care and I wouldn’t have it any other way.