The Beauty Shop: A Brief History of Hair

Maybe our mothers and grandmothers had the right idea. Going to the beauty shop once a week to get their hair done and then wrapping a scarf around their head to keep it nice for the rest of the week sounds a lot easier than washing your hair every day or so, blow drying, using the curling iron or flat iron….You know what I mean. I would pay good money to go in and be pampered, to sit under the hair dryer and have a beautiful “do” that lasts all week. Yes, Ma’am…. buckle me in for a beehive!  I’m ready to go back to the beauty shop.  

The beauty shop as we know it, did not start out that way.  Although the profession of hairdressing actually dates back to ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome.  A more modern version began in the late 1800s. Salons started advertising in a big way to get women out of their homes where most hairdressing had taken place up until that time.  A self-made entrepreneur Martha Matilda Harper opened the first public salon called ‘The Harper Hair Parlor’ in 1888 in Rochester, NY using her life savings of $360. She invented the salon recliner chair and she started training schools, employing the trainees in her salon.

Between 1910 and 1920, salons and hair care companies in the United States were growing exponentially. At the same time, hundreds of never-seen-before products and hair accessories were hitting the market.  In particular, there were things becoming available such as salon furniture, new adjustable chairs, mirrored styling stations and portable manicure tables. Bobby pins, the hair dryer, perms and hair color also became popular during this time. It was the age of Jazz, Coco Chanel, and short bobs. Many salons of this era refused to cut women’s hair, so they went to barbershops instead. The roaring 20s saw almost 25,000 hair salons open in the US. 

The 1940s era brought about hairspray, relaxers, and other new styling products. Beauty shops became the go-to-place for women to escape from their mundane lives to get pampered and indulge in gossip. It was around this time that military outposts opened beauty shops in order to boost the morale of their female employees. Both hair and makeup reached new levels of popularity in the 1950s, with red lipstick, heavy eye makeup and bouffant hairstyles coming into fashion. Beauty shops were bursting at the seams, and that business only increased in the 1960s. 

The 1950s and 1960s woman went to the beauty shop for special facial treatments, aspiring to endorse a look of health and youth. An appointment at a hair salon for a shampoo and set was a weekly highlight for many women during the 1950s and ’60s. Once husbands headed for their offices and children made their way to school, wives and mothers left their homes to spend an hour or more in the company of their regular stylists. They emerged with tidied-up versions of the same iconic hairstyle that all the best gals were wearing–the bouffant.

A timeline of beauty: 

  • 1875 – The first curling iron is invented in France.
  • 1890 – The first hairdressing academy is opened in Chicago. 
  • 1890 – The first electric hair dryer is invented.
  • 1905 – The first permanent wave is invented using borax paste and electrically heated curlers. The first perms take 12 hours to complete and cost the client hundreds of dollars.
  • 1907 – The first synthetic hair dye is invented.
  • 1916 – Bobby pins are introduced to America.
  • 1920 – The short bob is the most popular haircut.
  • 1943 – The US Government creates the first aerosol hairspray during WWII. 
  • 1950 – Platinum blonde hair becomes very stylish thanks to Marilyn Monroe.

Beauty shops and salons increased in popularity in response to growing demands for professional treatments that women didn’t have to do themselves. With more women working, the beauty industry continued to develop into the bustling salon culture we have today.


Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Stay up to date with our events and get exclusive article content right to your inbox!

Latest Stories

Other Featured Articles


All Article in Current Issue

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Stay up to date with our events and get exclusive article content right to your inbox!