Janice Ferguson Sews Modern Projects for old fashioned Nanas
Published: 22:20 BST, 31 August 2016 | Updated: 00:41 BST, 1 September 2016
My ears are burning, my cheeks are pink and I suspect my eye make-up is melting down my cheeks.
‘Another half an hour,’ says my hairdresser. Or at least I think that’s what she’s saying. It’s hard to hear with a giant plastic hood over my head and jets of hot air in my ears.
I’ve already been here for an hour, cooking gently, and I feel like a roast chicken in hair rollers.
Marianne Power tried out the 'shampoo and set' - a weekly treat for women in the post-war years
It’s hard to believe that for a generation of women, a ‘shampoo and set’ was not just a style necessity but their weekly treat.
Loved by everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Ena Sharples, the wash and set was a rare chance for pampering in the post-war years.
But in a modern world obsessed with quick, bouncy blow dries - the shampoo and set is an endangered species.
The National Hairdressers’ Federation confirmed this week that some trainees are no longer being taught the technique.
Paul Curry, a former chairman of the Federation, has managed Studio 12 salon in York for 30 years.
‘We used to have about 30 regulars every week for shampoo and sets. Now we have about 15. Hairdressers just don’t get the chance to practise it on younger clients who prefer hair straightening or blow dries.’
The treatment involves applying a setting lotion to wet hair, putting the hair in rollers, and drying it gently in a hood dryer before shaping it into a style (pictured, Marianne beforehand)
The shampoo and set, which became popular in the Thirties, is a more time consuming process.
It involves applying a setting lotion to wet hair, putting the hair in rollers, and drying it gently in a hood dryer before shaping it into a style - each with its own nickname, such as the ‘Cottage Loaf’ [a bun], or the ‘Teasy Weasy’ created by Britain’s first celebrity hairdresser, Raymond Bessone.
Swindon-born starlet Diana Dors was so in love with his work that in 1956 she flew him to America at a cost of £2,500 - about £65,000 in today’s money.
Despite owning all sorts of straightening irons, diffusers, heated tongs and modern dryers, I spend my life with my hair shoved back in a ponytail, and go months between cuts
Clearly, the women of the Fifties placed great importance on this dying art, so before its secrets are lost, I decided to see what the fuss was about.
I visited the Nicky Clarke salon in London with stylist Ondine Cowley. ‘I used to do my grandmother’s shampoo and set every week,’ she says.
‘She would never leave the house without her hair done and would sleep on a silk pillow to protect her hair.
‘Back then the trip to the salon was part of a woman’s week. Many would bring their own rollers and leave with them still in, and a scarf wrapped round their hair. That was a time when women would never allow their husbands to see their hair undone. It was a different era.’
Despite owning all sorts of straightening irons, diffusers, heated tongs and modern dryers, I spend my life with my hair shoved back in a ponytail, and go months between cuts, which is the first thing Ondine notices.
Marianne found that her firm bouncy curls remained in place for five days - much longer than a standard blowdry
‘When did you last cut your hair?’ she asks.
‘Two or three months ago,’ I lie. It was more like six.
‘These split ends have to go,’ she says, as she gives me a trim and shampoo.
Ondine tells me my hair might be in better condition if I had a weekly shampoo and set.
Women of my grandmother’s generation had their hair washed, brushed and dried just once a week. In between appointments, they took care not to fiddle with it.
This is a much more gentle approach than the daily war I wage on my hair, pulling it with brushes, blasting it with the hairdryers and sizzling it under straighteners. But can the old-fashioned way match up to the elegance of a bouncy modern blow-dry?
Once my hair is trimmed and shampooed, Ondine applies mousse to my wet locks. ‘Some salons still use setting lotion, but most use mousse now as it gives a lighter hold,’ she says.
The most popular setting lotion, Amami, was discontinued in 2010.
Marilyn Monroe, who always boasted signature curls, was said to love the wash and set for a spot of pampering
Next, she takes small sections of my wet hair and twists them around small rollers. ‘Pulling the hair up gives you lift and volume.
These days, hairstyles tend to be silky and swooshy but this is all about a stiffer look that lasts.’
Half an hour and 25 rollers later, I am ready to go into the oven - or rather that hood hairdryer, which diffuses heat over the whole head to ‘set’ the hair. The heat is much stronger than I expected and so noisy I have no idea how women can gossip over the din.
‘Once you’re under the dryer it gets hard to chat,’ admits Margaret Binge, 85, who has been going to Paul Curry’s salon in York for 50 years. ‘So when I’m under I catch up on all the magazines.’
Ten minutes later, the curlers come out. My hair springs free, and I can’t quite believe how high it goes. I’m like a ginger nearly 40-year-old Shirley Temple
Margaret visits the hairdresser at 3pm every Thursday. ‘My son picks me up so I don’t get caught in the rain or the wind.
When I wake up, it’s a bit ruffled but I’ll comb through it and it’s fine. I don’t wash my hair. When Paul is on holiday, I feel lost.
‘I always look forward to hairdressing day. It’s a luxury, my treat every week.’ For Margaret, the salon was a lifeline when she was caring for her late husband, John, who had Parkinsons.
‘It was the hardest time in my life and my trip to the hairdresser’s was my treat. Paul would ask after John, but mostly we try to keep the conversations cheerful. It’s eight years since he died and I miss him every day.’
And Paul Curry agrees that the social side is very important.
‘People come every week on the same day for years -so they all know each other. For some of them it’s the only time they get out.
The character of Ena Sharples (played by Violet Carson) on Coronation Street was known for her pristine 'shampoo and set' hair
‘I started working here when I was 22 and now I’m 52. I have one client who didn’t wash her own hair for three weeks when I was on holiday!’
She sounds like my kind of woman. I think I could get used to handing over my hair once a week which is surely much less effort than my daily battle with the hairbrush.
After an hour and a half the hood comes off and my hair is left to ‘sit’. ‘You have to leave it to rest and cool in the same way you do with beef coming out of the oven,’ says Ondine.
Three days later the curls have dropped a bit, but in a lovely way, and five days later, when any blow dry would long have given up the ghost, it’s still going strong
Ten minutes later, the curlers come out. My hair springs free, and I can’t quite believe how high it goes. I’ve used rollers before but I’ve never seen my hair as curly as this. I’m like a ginger nearly 40-year-old Shirley Temple.
Ondine breaks up the curls with her fingers to create the unmistakable full, poofy shape. I raise my hands to touch it and she practically slaps them down.
‘Rule number one: don’t touch the hair,’ she says, getting out a giant can of hair lacquer. ‘Rule number two: you can never have enough lacquer.’
Looking in the mirror I don’t recognise myself. Gone are the long, frizzy ends, replaced by a bouncy bouffant so firm I think it would survive a gale-force wind.
It’s taken two and a half hours but I look - and feel - like I’ve gone back in time. And I must say I quite like it.
Three days later the curls have dropped a bit, but in a lovely way, and five days later, when any blow dry would long have given up the ghost, it’s still going strong.
The classic shampoo and set may be on its way out, but I’m thinking of starting a one-woman campaign to bring it back.