Susan, be smooth! by Nell Giles, 1940: Chapter V – A Hairsbreadth Escape

Chapter V

Since 1900. . . long before you were born. . . there have been precious few hairstyles that have made History, compared with the number of dress styles that bring a lump in your father’s throat.

There was The Rat. Your mother wore Rats fore and aft, to build up a fine outstanding pile of hair upon which to set her Turban or her Gainsborough Pieplate.


After the First World War, or rather after Irene Castle, your mother had the Flapper Bob to show that she was daring and didn’t care what she did, and that she had little time left for doing up a long roll of hair.

Whizzing up through the years to your time, was Lynn Fontanne in Idiot’s Delight, wearing a wig designed especially for her and christened The Page Boy. You might still be wearing your hair this way unless Ginger Rogers has persuaded you to make it “half and half” with the next great hairstyle. . . The Up-sweep.

On a very few enormously chic and very young women, the Up-sweep gave a certain soft charm to the back of the neck and the sharp planes of the face. But to everyone it adds years and in few cases with grace. The Up-sweep therefore died a most natural death, as do all fashions which call more attention to the fashion than to the person wearing it.

A very becoming style is a compromise. . . longer hair in back. . . an up-sweep on the sides and curls on top. This is the general silhouette of the head, and is most likely to remain in fashion for several years because it makes people look prettier. . . and that’s what every woman wants, to look the youngest and prettiest she possibly can. She learned that from you, Susan.

We believe that the number of outstanding hairstyles with Names is small because people know and care less about hair than about clothes, from the standpoint of style. And we believe that this is a Mistake. We believe that your Hair can be an Escape from the Hum-drum. . . it can set you apart always as Somebody Smooth, and this chapter is to tell you how.

Texture, Color and Style are the three things about your hair that make people want to touch it.

Texture actually means fine, coarse, limp or wiry. . . and these are qualities your hair is born with and there is little you can do to change them.

It is impossible to say “Fine hair is best” . . . or “Coarse hair is best,” because while fine hair is actually nicer to the touch, it is the despair of the hairdresser. It is “millionaire’s hair” and requires twice the care.

But there is something to do about dryness or oiliness, which affect the appearance of the texture.

Dry hair is caused from inactive oil glands at the roots of the hair, from lack of rest and improper diet. Try this for a month and you’ll see a new shine in every hairshaft (and in your eyes as well): Eight or nine hours of sleep every night; eight glasses of water a day; milk, butter and cream in your diet; two fresh vegetables for lunch and two for dinner; fresh fruit every day.

To wake up the lazy oil glands, we say Massage and BRUSH! Make ten pussy foot cushions of your fingers. Go over every inch of scalp with a rotary motion night and morning and then BRUSH!

A good brush seldom has a silver back with your initials. A good brush is plain and firm looking, and is stamped “Genuine bristles. . . sterilized”. . . and can be washed twice a week without injury to its broad wood back. It can cost as little as a dollar and shouldn’t last more than a year.


Always brush your hair UP. . . never down. Begin at the hairline and go all around the edges, sides, front and back, with long, sweeping strokes that lift your hair right up from your head. Make each one a separate stroke, firm and definite. Now divide your hair in sections and go over each inch of scalp to the ends of the hair. This is exactly the way a hair specialist would to it and the reason is that it stimulates your oil glands, and starts the flow of oil through the hair shaft. It is well to hang your head down as you brush the back of your hair. This causes a stimulating rush of blood to the head.

Oily hair needs brushing just as often as dry hair. . . and as thoroughly. Brushing normalizes the flow of oil, whether it is too much or too little.

Diet and rest are also correctives for oily hair. But in your diet you must cut down on sweets, fried foods and greasy, rich foods.

You see that the texture of your hair can apparently be changed by getting the oil back to normal. Your hair will have shine, luster and life. . . it will lose that dead, lank look if it is healthy hair.

Sometimes brushing, rest and diet are not enough. In spite of the fact that you use only your own comb and brush, you have dandruff and itching scalp. Then buy a good tonic. . . there are any number of them sold in Beauty Salons by people who can tell you just what is wrong with your hair and what to do about it.

After Texture, Color is important. That’s something you’re born with, too. . . and don’t do anything about it! Just play it up!


Even mousy hair can develop a shine if it’s bucked up a little with brushing, a becoming hairstyle, and worn with colors that call attention to it. Sometimes this color is Mouse, too, if your skin and eyes will stand it. . . and you have a sort of beige-all-over look which is the smoothest of the smooth. Few people can get away with it.

In general, the best way to call attention to the color of your hair is by contrast: blondes are best in black; brunettes startle the stag line in white or red; brownettes attract attention in greens or purples; red hair is lovely with clear lemon yellow. But only clean, sweet smelling hair. . . in any color. . . holds the attention. A point to remember.

Style is the third factor in smooth-looking hair. You aren’t ready for style until your hair is in health condition, which won’t be until you have put it in training with brushing, rest and diet.


But let’s say that you have, and your is beautiful hair in a Primitive State, ready to be turned into Something.

Again we say, go to an Expert. All through this book we say, Go to an Expert. And it isn’t because we think you have a big allowance to squander. It is because experts cost the least. That is a thing to learn, because it will save you many a dollar.

Because, you see, there are two kinds of experts. . . real ones and fakes with fancy names. It is very safe to choose an expert in any line from a department store or specialty shop. They seldom have to tack on an “atmosphere charge” to cover the overhead. You most likely get real, down to earth people who have been “through the mill,” and know just what you want and know that you don’t want to spend a fortune on it, either. Learn right now to be a good shopper. Pick and choose until you find the store or the departments in many stores that suit you best . . . and stick to your choice. A salesperson who knows you will always give you better service.

Now for your expert on hairstyling. You’ll find that you don’t have to go to Monsieur So and So from Paris. There is an everyday man named Jimmy or Fred or George, with no cock-eyed ideas about twining wild rose leaves about your brow. . . but who has an uncommon knowledge about the shape of your face, the way you wear your hat, how tall you are and how to make you look anything but too utterly sweet.

Go to this Jimmy or Fred or George. Don’t tell him a thing about how to do your hair. You came to learn; get your money’s worth. Watch him reason out why a wave goes here. . . a curl there, and why he leaves the top smooth. Ask him why. He’ll like it.

Memorize the way he puts the curls in. You’ll try it in front of the bathroom mirror this way next week. Notice that he has the general idea in mind before he puts in all those pin curls; that he puts so many curls in the place your face is thinnest to give it “fluff.” Notice that he doesn’t take a hunk of hair at random, but that each section is combed from a smooth hairline and is turned from the scalp in the way he wants it to go.

After you’re “dry,” keep your eyes peeled to see how he combs your hair out. Learn by heart what happens to the top and sides and back. And as soon as you can reach “the privacy of your boudoir,” as the gum-chewers used to say, comb it exactly as the hairstylist did. Once you’ve done it, the next time won’t be so hard. Tie a piece of veiling around your head at night to keep the lines of this hair-do. By the next shampoo, you’ll have it by heart.


We have saved until last a few words on permanents. It is impossible to tell you what kind to have because it all depends on your hair. But here are some DO’s and DON’T’s:

DO have a permanent if you’re hair is straight and your face hasn’t a “gamin” look. In other words, if curly hair is more becoming to you than straight hair, it is better to have a permanent than to use curling irons or pins.

DON’T have a permanent on top of an old one.

DON’T have a “cheap” permanent. . . it means the lotions used to curl your hair are cheap. They will split, discolor and ruin your hair. It is better to have no permanent.

Two things make a “good” permanent once your hair is in good condition: a good operator (the person in the Beauty Salon who gives the permanent) and good lotions and equipment.

Of the two, the good operator is really more important, because she, or he, will test your hair before the wave is given to find out exactly how much heat and what kind of lotions are to be used.

There is no need to bother your head with the two types of winding curls for permanent waves. These are spiral and croquignole; the first gives a loose wave, the second gives the hair a tighter curl. The croquignole is easier to give and for this reason many operators will give it although your hair would be better with a looser wave. For this reason, again, we say, go to an expert. Experts are seldom lazy . . . and you’ll get what you need.

Does your head ache, at this point, from its narrow escape?


To Be Continued. . . 

If this is the first time you’ve met Susan, be sure to check out:

Introduction and Table of Contents
Chapter I: Give it a Thought
Chapter II: Keep it Simple with Subtraction
Chapter III: Soap-and-Water Clean
Chapter IV: S-T-R-E-T-C-H

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