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Hair Care pre 1960s


Pipe cleaners as hair curlers

Original tobacconists' pipe cleaners

Although pipe cleaners are well-known these days for craft work, the original pipe cleaners were sold by tobacconists for smokers to clean their pipes. Hence their name. They were of a non-descript pale colour and were longer than today's craft type. They were designed to poke backwards and forwards through a pipe, brushing out the stale tobacco and tar. They had to be suitably long and flexible enough to reach round the bends in the pipe while retaining their stiffness.

Old pipe cleaners

Pipe cleaners, as sold by tobacconists, and used as hair curlers in the mid-20th Century

Why use pipe cleaners as hair curlers

These old-style pipe cleaners worked well as hair curlers because the outer surface was soft and fleecy, whereas the wire inside was flexible yet stayed put however it was bent.

How pipe cleaners were used as hair curlers

Pipe cleaners were used to curl hair overnight.

To make a curl, a strand of hair was wound round a pipe cleaner which was then wound back on itself to hold the curled hair in place. Small as the pipe cleaner curl was, it was still lumpy to sleep on. Just another example of use just at the ends of hair, resulting in the early-mid 20th Century hair fashion of hair being straight along its length and ending as a curl.

The type of curl produced with pipe cleaners

When the pipe cleaners were unwound in the mornings, the resulting curls were tighter than with the metal types but still fairly loose and natural looking. They gradually unwound themselves during the day.

The short life of a pipe cleaners as curlers

Pipe cleaners were not made to be twisted and untwisted tightly on a nightly basis, so they didn't last long as hair curlers. My mother visited the tobacconist frequently to buy them when I was taken shopping with her in the 1940s.

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