Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Which Twin Has The Toni?

I decided to let my hair grow at the end of summer so a couple of months ago I had a salon permanent. How different that was from the perms we had as youngsters! Home permanent kits were "in" during the 1950's - just in time for my sister and me to have the curls we weren't born with. (We weren't twins, of course. I was almost two years older than Betty (on the right), but Mom did often dress us alike.)

It was the boys in our family who were born with natural curl. That just never seemed fair to us. In this picture at the top, Betty (9), Ron (15), Les (1) and Ramona (11).

Before permanents Mom always fixed my hair in 'finger' curls. I don't know how she got the curls to stay in place for any length of time. Probably just long enough to snap a picture or two.

She also set our hair in rags which we had to sleep in. The curls would last longer that way. I never understood how rag curls worked. Even after watching a video on line I'm not sure how it is done.

It seemed like we would have our perms in late summer, just before school started in the fall. We always went down to Grandma Ridnour's where Aunt Lois would give us our (usually) Toni. I think Grandma's kitchen was turned into a beauty salon because she had a kitchen sink with the spray attachment which made the process easier. By the end of the school year, the overly curly perm had relaxed back into nearly straight hair. Betty almost always had bangs, while I rarely did.

As you can see in this picture - not much curl left. Which was preferable to me. I didn't like the overly curly, just-permed look. Getting a perm was torture; first having the curlers rolled as tightly as possible, then having that burning, gagging, lotion applied. I remember Mom and/or Aunt Lois giving me a towel to hold over my face to catch any drips, but that also trapped the ammonia fumes.

Toni was the most popular home permanent. Their magazine ads showed identical twins - one with the expensive $15.00 salon perm and the other with the $2.00 home perm. You were supposed to guess which twin had the Toni, which was hard to do since they both looked the same. And after you had purchased the first Toni which included the curlers, you could then buy a 'refill' kit (lotion, neutralizer and end papers) for $1.00.
There were other home perm brands. Richard Hudnut advertised a special perm just for children, as did Lilt with their "Party Curl". But I believe those brands were a little more expensive, so we got the Toni. When I was a little older, Bobbi came out with the "Roller Perm" which was advertised as the home perm for a softer, more casual curl. That was the perm I wanted, of course. No more Curlylocks for me! It took some talking, but I finally convinced Mom to let me have a Bobbi instead of a Toni.
The earliest salon permanents used machines something like this 1934 model. I remember when we moved to the Odell place west of Brooks there was a room upstairs with a lot of stuff left in it. One item was a machine which looked a lot like this. My first thought was that it was something used for torture. That probably wasn't too far off as guesses went. I don't even remember my first 'salon' permanent. I know it was after I graduated and got a job and had my own money to spend. And it was long after machines like this one were used!

I even got to the point where I could give myself a home perm - with just a little help. Bud's Mom was so surprised after we were married and I told her Bud had given me a perm. "He did?!" she exclaimed. "Well, he applied the lotion for me after I put the curlers in." I guess she just couldn't see her son as a beautician.

Most of the home permanent brands have gone by the wayside. They are a thing of the past. About the only brand still available is Ogilvie if you can find a store which carries it. The price ranges from $5.89 to $11.99; curlers extra.

I doubt I'll ever have a home permanent again. But I'll never forget being a kid and holding that towel over my face and just wanting the whole ordeal to be over.


  1. Wow! Just realized this is my 600th blog!

  2. I just happened upon your blog today (due to lunch boxes), and I thought I'd read a little more. I love it! My mom always did her own perms! And the rag curls--I used to use yarn, when my hair was long and I was in high school (late 70s). I'd tie it to the end, roll it up, and tie it at the top, near my scalp. My rag curls lasted well and didn't hurt to sleep on. I love the pictures of the perm paraphernalia!

    1. Maggie - Thank you for your kind comments on this post and some previous ones. I'm happy to have you as a follower. Good luck with your children's book.