The deep, dark history of hair curling

Throughout the centuries women have always gone to fairly extreme lengths (geddit) to achieve beautiful hair. We cut it, bleach it, perm it, crimp it...and we've all had a hairstyling horror story that we're not proud of. 

Personally I used to use the family household iron to flatten my poor teenage locks, which was probably both harmful and dangerous, even if it did give me a perfectly straight, sleek appearance (in my eyes). 

But there is surely no darker hair history than that of curling - achieving ringlets, permed curls and even a classic beach wave has caused many a woman to get her hands on one "must-have" gadget after another. (No judgement here, ladies. I would've been right there with you.) 

Thankfully, we've come a long way, and we now have some pretty incredible technology that allows for tear free styling, but to appreciate the present we must reflect on the past. 

Curling Tongs and Trimmer, 575 BC-1194 BC  

EGYPT - AUGUST 22:  The ancient Egyptians were very conscious of their personal appearance and followed a regime of applying fragrant oils to their skin and hair, and applying make-up to their eyes and mouths. Eye make-up was usually black or green and acted as a fashion statement as well as preventing sand and dust from the desert getting into their eyes. The oils they used prevented chafing from the desert wind and also provided a scent. Unshaven men were deemed unclean and so a process of removing hair using tweezers was commonplace. The wealthier ancient Egyptians also wore wigs constructed from human hair.  (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
Photo credit: Getty.

Yes, we're going right, right back. Cleopatra had a lot to answer for - the ancient Egyptians were always conscious of their beauty. Much like today, the proper styling tools were a status symbol. While these might look like weapons, they're actually curling tools which were heated, before the hair was wrapped around. So much innovation!

Curling Iron, 1891

UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 22:  Tongs have been used to curl and wave hair and beards since early Roman times. Tonging became particularly fashionable in the 1890s when women�s hair was worn waved on top of the head.  (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
Photo credit: Getty.

Frenchman and hair-styling guru Marcel Grateau is credited for actually inventing the curling iron in 1890. According to Science and Society, it was during the late 19th century that tonging became particularly fashionable, when women started wearing their hair waved on top of the head. 

The tongs were warmed in this Crompton electric curler by high society ladies - very fancy. 

1950s - The Electric Curling Iron

The deep, dark history of hair curling
Photo credit: Pinterest.

Rene Lelievre and Roger Lemoine are credited with inventing an electric curling iron in 1959. They were popping up in daily households, rather than being a luxury only the rich could afford. As we moved into the 60's hair curlers went through another upgrade: different sized barrels. Your curls no longer had to be the same as every other woman: you could be as understated or as bold with your hairstyle. 

Individual style began to reign supreme - what a novelty!

1990s - The teens have it

Hair styling curlers on white background close up
Photo credit: Getty.

Let's flash forward to the 90s, where we all used all manner of crazy shit to get our hair beautifully spiralled. Anyone else use Clairol Spoolies? Better in theory than in practice - as it  the case with most ’90s hair tools - these rollers could realistically only fit two strands of hair, max. Meanwhile, velcro Rollers were du jour for sleepovers and school discos, and setting your perfectly coiffed fringe of course. 


The deep, dark history of hair curling
Photo credit: Dyson.

Now in the 2000s we live in a glorious, hair curling age. Even hair straighteners like the GHD or Cloud 9 are used for curling, because the future is now. 

The future of curling also seems to be in air flow, if the new Dyson Airwarp is anything to go by. This crazy tool uses the Coanda effect to style  hair, which means the air wraps the hair around the curved surface - but you don't need to worry about that. All you need to worry about is that you're left with perfectly coiffed curls, without burning yourself on a hot barrel. 

Unlike the ancient Egyptians, you can create voluminous curls, classic curls or beach waves with one tool. 

2019 is one crazy ride.