Tag Archives: grandmothers

Things Borrowed from my Grandmother — Human Hair Nets

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Things Borrowed from my Grandmother — Human Hair Nets

The Ottawa Citizen
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
21 Apr 1923, Sat  •  Page 23

Hair nets were made either from combings collected from men’s plaits by local barbers or from whole plaits which flooded the market in the years around the revolution of 1911. … With the advent of nylon the global demand for human hair nets plummeted.

I used to borrow two things from my grandmother- Her hairnets and her tie up shoes with cuban heels in mesmerising brown !!! I wore those shoes until they died and wore her hairnets as a snood. She just shook her head LOL

In the late 19th century fashionable ladies in Europe began to replace their silk hair nets with hair nets that were hand-knotted out of human hair. Initially these were made by poor women and children in the rural villages of Alsace and Bohemia but production later spread to the Shantung province of China which became the most important centre of hair net manufacture, employing as many as 500,000 workers. By the early 1920s the human hair net had become an item of mass consumption, with American women consuming over 180 million nets in the year 1921-22. The appeal of the human hair net was that it was invisible, blending with or adding subtle highlights to a woman’s own hair.

1923

What is interesting is that wherever they were produced the nets were made exclusively from Chinese hair – much of it collected up from men’s combings. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries most Chinese men wore their hair shaved at the front and in a long plait or ‘pigtail’ at the back in a style which had been imposed by the ruling Manchu dynasty two and a half centuries earlier under penalty of death. When itinerant barbers tended to these pigtails, they saved the combings many of which ended up recycled into hairnets for the Western market. ‘No other hair possesses the right degree of coarseness and resilience to give that peculiar elastic spring to the mesh that a good hairnet requires’ argued the Textile Mercury in 1912, suggesting that the hair of the northern blonde races was too fine and soft, the hair of Italians and Spaniards a little more suitable owing to its coarser texture, the hair of the Japanese too stiff and the hair of yaks inadequate.

However when the bob became a fashionable hair style in Europe and America the hair net industry in China suffered a severe blow. Attempts were made to revive it with some success in the 1930s and 1940s when double mesh hair nets became popular. Using two rather than one hair at a time these nets were longer lasting and some of them were designed specifically for bobbed hair styles. But soon this fragile and ephemeral artefact, which had always been valued largely for its invisibility, had disappeared from European and American heads, replaced in many cases by nylon alternatives. Emma Tarlo

Did you know?

Ena Sharples, a character in the UK soap opera Coronation Street between 1960 and 1980, was famous for wearing a hairnet;  the original hairnet was brought in by the character’s actress, Violet Carson, to stop the make-up women from altering her hair.

Food service workers often wear it to prevent hair from contaminating the food, even though there has never been any scientific or anecdotal evidence that hair poses any health hazard. The man who started the trend of hairnets for food service workers admittedly lied about the dangers of hair in food, and his hairnet manufacturing company profited greatly from the propaganda and new regulations.

Hairnets are part of normal attire for female horse riders, and are worn in most equestrian disciplines, including dressage, eventing, show jumping, and hunting. Organizations such as the Pony Club encourage their young members to become accustomed to wearing hairnets when around horses, not only to ensure a neat and elegant appearance, but also to eliminate any danger of scalping, should the rider fall off and the horse tread on loose hair.

Ballet dancers typically wear one at the crown of the head covered in a fine hairnet.

Chattanooga Daily Times
Chattanooga, Tennessee
11 Feb 1923, Sun  •  Page 11

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