Monday, January 29, 2007

Edwardian/Victorian Hair Care Tips from the Famous Aline Vallandri

Most of us have never heard of Aline Vallandri. But, in her day, Mademoiselle Vallandri was a famous singer who was also noted for her beautiful hair. It was described as forming "a veritable golden mantle about her and reaches to the very ground."

In 1912, she shared her hair care secrets with "Every Woman's Enclopaedia". Her insights are fun to read. It's especially interesting to compare her thinking about a woman's crowning glory with our thinking today. In the process of reading her musings, we might adopt a hint or two to help our own tresses gleam.

One thing that stands out is her day's norm for hair length compared to ours. She notes that as a child, she was not particularly noticed for having long hair. She said, "It was no longer than that of any of my companions. By the time I was thirteen or fourteen, it had reached my waist and many girls have hair as long as that."

Today, waist length hair is so rare in our culture that managing to grow thick, beautiful tresses beyond shoulder blade length attracts attention. To stand out in her day, Mlle. Vallandri had to grow her hair to the floor, a goal that most of us would not aspire to today. No matter what the length of our hairstyle is, though, we all want strong, shiny, healthy, and luxurious locks. I imagine every woman of every era has been interested in maintaining beautiful hair.

Mlle. Vallandri notes that her hair began to grow luxuriantly once she was sent to a convent to finish her education. One of the nuns there had a special lotion which she used for the hair. The nun gave Mlle. Vallandri the recipe for the potion, and she continued to use it throughout her life. Alas, Mlle. Vallandri declined to share the recipe with the readers of Every Woman's Encyclopaedia, and, thus, I have no clue what the secret ingredients were.

Mlle. Vallandri didn't feel that she was cheating her readers by keeping her hair potion a secret. She believed that every women could get a prescription from her own doctor, which if she persevered in using it, would make her hair grow thick and strong.

Hmm. If there was such a doctor around today, he'd be making lots of money!

So, we'll have to do without Mlle. Vallandri's secret lotion and look to her other hair secrets:

She said, "Greatly as I prize and value my gift, I am no slave to it, for I devote only about three quarters of an hour every day to its care. If women generally did the same, I have no doubt that in a short time they would soon notice an improvement in the condition of their hair."

Mlle. Vallandri believed the great essential for growing luxurious hair was to keep the scalp and the hair perfectly clean. However, to Mlle. Vallandri, clean hair did not mean frequent shampoos. In fact, she tried to stretch out the time between washings as much as she could. She felt that in dark, foggy weather, there was a lot of soot in the air which settled on the hair. So, she washed her hair a little more frequently in winter. However, in summer's lighter, fresher air, she was able to stretch the time between washings even longer.

Some people today are going back to Mlle. Vallandri's way of thinking. They are not so extreme as she was, but many women are trying to go a week or at least a few days between washings. I grew up during the days when we all washed and blew our hair dry every day. This may have been ok for adolescent hair, which is oilier than more mature hair and has stronger follicles. But, daily blow drying isn't the best idea for of women of adult age.

When Mlle. Vallandri did wash her hair, she let it air dry. She did not rub it with a towel, nor did she use the special hot irons that served as the hair dryers of her day. Nor did she use curling irons, which she believed overly dried out the natural moisture that is produced at the roots of a woman's hair. Her opinion was even stronger for having had a bad experience at the hands of a hair-dresser, who applied curling irons that were too hot. The irons burned a lot of the hair on the middle of her head, and she never allowed anyone to attempt using a curling iron on her hair again. I imagine that it took quite some time to air dry floor length hair. I wonder if that wasn't a reason -- in addition to her hair philosophy -- for her trying to stretch the time between washings.

I had a friend in college who would have been in sympathy with Mlle. Vallandri's attitude toward hair appliances. She had lovely, waist length tresses. She claimed that the secret of her beautiful locks was that she never, never blew her hair dry. She always let her hair dry naturally.

Rather than washing her hair frequently with water, Mlle. Vallandri sought to keep her hair clean through brushing. She owned more than brush. Once a brush had touched her hair, she did not use it again until it was thoroughly cleaned and dried. She may not have washed her hair every day, but she did wash brushes every day. She equated brushing your hair with a dirty brush to drying your face with a dirty towel. (Note to self: Clean brushes today!)

Every morning when she got up, Mlle. Vallandri's maid brushed her hair for half an hour. (Ok, the personal lady's maid is another of Mlle. Vallandri's tips that most of us will have to skip). Mlle. Vallandri's hair was so long that she had a stool made especially high just for sitting on while her maid ran the brush through her locks.

As we said earlier, in Mlle. Vallandri's day, the average woman had longer hair than the average woman does now. Hair that is labeled "long" today wouldn't have seemed so long to Mlle. Vallandri's peers. In order to keep such long hair naturally shiny and conditioned, it was necessary to brush natural oil at the scalp down the length of the hair to the ends.

Many people believe that today's shorter hairstyles have eliminated the need for long brushings. After all, even if your hair tips reaches shoulder length, that's not so far for the oil to travel from root to end. In addition, we apply conditioners and other products that substitute for our hair's natural oils. Thus, many hairdressers suggest that we should all forget the addage, "Brush your hair one hundred strokes a day". They believe that in today's world, brushing hair more than is needed to style it harms the hair.

However, other hair experts are still in favor of a good brushing to keep the scalp free of any flakiness and to stimulate the scalp. And, is there anything more relaxing than brushing your hair until it shines, either by your own hand or if you can talk dear hubby into doing it once in a while? Mlle. Vallandri notes that headaches can often be soothed by massaging the aching part and then brushing the hair.

I'm of the belief that if your hair is shoulder length or longer, daily brushings with natural hair britstle brushes can be helpful. However, as one who has baby fine hair, I believe it's important to brush hair every so gently. You don't want to break strands when you brush. A tale-tell sign that you are brushing too hard is if you hear strands "snap" as you bring the brush down the length. I've heard it said that you must treat shoulder length and longer hair as if it were fine, antique lace.

As Ms. Vallandri pointed out, dry hair is dull hair. Hair that is coated with the natural sheen that our body produces reflects the light. Thus, it appears shiny, glossy, and healthy. Greasy hair is also dull looking. So, hair that is neither too dry nor too oily is our goal.

Mrs. Vallandri said that "dressing" her hair or styling it only took fifteen minutes. That must have been quite a feat for putting up so much hair into a do.

Ms. Vallandri was a huge believer in having the ends of her hair trimmed regularly. She believed that split ends weakened the hair and that trimming them off allowed the hair to stay strong. In following the custom of her day, she had the ends singed with a lighted taper to further prevent split ends. Today, hair experts still believe in the regular trimmings, but singeing the ends is not as popular.

Mlle. Vallandri believed that if your hair is consistently too dry, it means that the little oil glands at the roots are not supplying enough nourishment. In such cases, she believed in supplementing by massaging a little brillantine into the scalp (not all over the hair). She believed that if you attend to your hair care routine, in time, your dry hair will correct itself and you can leave off the oil treatment.

Mlle. Vallandri refers to one of the Queens of France who was reputed to have kept luxiriant and youthful looking hair all of her life. Again, her secret was good brushings.

Mlle. Vallandri believed in consulting a doctor immediately when a problem with the scalp seemed worrisome. However, she did not fret over times when her hair seemed to fall out with greater frequency. She saw this as part of the normal life cycle of the hair.

Indeed, whenever we brush our hair, we loosen strands that were about to fall out anyway, and this can upset us if we don't understand that our hair is constantly falling out and renewing itself. Often, women will find that their hair is thicker during pregnancy, because pregnancy hormones affect this cycle. Three months or so after baby is born, however, they will see an increase in fall out and fear they are losing their hair.

Most likely, finding hair on your brush or comb is perfectly normal. However, if this suddenly increases or your hair is visibly thinning, you should consult your doctor. Also be aware that some medicatons, such as thyroid medicines, can interfere with hair growth.



Terri said...

Dear Elizabeth, I found this post very interesting since I am growing my own hair out. It is now past my shoulders and I hope to grow it waist length. The points that you made, or rather Mme. Vallandri made, are very interesting. I am going to try some of them! By the way, where did you obtain this information?

Elizabeth said...

Hi Terri,

I'm glad you enjoyed the article. Good luck on growing your hair out!
This article was printed quite a while ago one a internet community of people who are interested in growing long hair:

I haven't visited this board in a long time. Some of the people whose hair advice I found most helpful left and started another board about growing long hair. So, I can't vouch for the board now. But, if you are interested in growing waist length hair, you might want to check them out. There are three or four really good sources for obtaining information that will help you get your hair to waist length on the Internet.


Elizabeth said...

PS Terri:

If you do a search "growing hair long" you will find many sites with tips for growing long hair. Most are legitmate and helpful. But, please be careful. At least one site that I ran across when I was seeking to grow out my hair was run by a man who took candid shots of women on the street with long hair. I do not think he asked these women's permission when he took the shots. It was a little creepy.

Anonymous said...

Wow, hair to the floor! I think waistlength would be a little cumbersome for me too, I would like longer hair though, my hair is past my shoulders.

Terri said...

Thank you, Elizabeth, for the additional information. I will do a search as you suggest!

Elizabeth said...

Hi Sarah,

Yes, I don't think the average woman would or could grow thair hair so long as Mlle. Vallardi! I wonder what she did when flappers came in and the short bob became popular?


Anonymous said...

Oh where did my comment go?

Anyway, I think that she would most likely trip over her long hair if she tried any vigorous dancing, lol. If she tied her hair up surely it would be quite heavy?

Elizabeth said...

Yes, Sarah, her hair must have been quite heavy when put up! And, to think that she sang regularly on the stage and always had to appear graceful in public. I don't know how she managed. But, having a lady's maid devoted just to her hair must have helped.

She was not the only ultra long-haired songbird from her era. A few decades earlier, there were seven sisters from the Sutherland family who sang for audiences and displayed their unusually long hair. They appeared in concert venues and even in P.T. Barnum's circus. They would sing and dance and then turn around and let down their long, long locks for the audience to see.

While history remembers Mlle. Vallandri first for her musical ability, and, secondly, for her trademark hair, it was the opposite with the Sutherland sisters. Most people of their day thought their hair was better than their voices. History remembers them only because of their unusual hair.

If you do a search for the seven sutherland sisters on the web, you can find pictures of them with their remarkable hair streaming down.

Later on, their father patented the famous "Seven Sutherland Sisters Hair Tonic", and he apparently sold a ton of this magic potion. When one of the sisters died, the family haired a replacement Rapunzel to keep the image of the seven long-haired sisters going.

While the tonic may or may not have been good for hair health and growth, I doubt if it is the reason that the sisters attained unusual hair lengths. We are all genetically programmed with a personal limit to how long our hair will grow. Today, few of us ever grow hair long enough to even approach our individual limit. I know I have no idea what my personal hair growth limit is.

However, if we all did decide to let our hair grow as long as we could, we would see that many of us would not attain floor length hair. A few people in history have managed to grow hair beyond floor length, so that it actaully trails behind them on the floor! Talk about tripping over your hair!

Naila Rahaman said...

Thanks for your video it's really amazing I learned a lot from it.i also make a video on this topic please review it