8 Oct: The Permanent Wave

Hairdressers descended upon Oxford Street on October 8th, 1906 to witness Karl Nessler’s first public demonstration of his pioneering new ‘perm’ – a style which didn’t have its heyday until some eighty years later.

Creating a long-lasting curl had been a goal for many stylists over the decades, but Nessler had hit upon a winning combination of technique and chemicals. He achieved this by subjecting his wife, Catherine, to a seemingly endless onslaught of painful and laborious experiments.

In this episode, Arion, Rebecca and Olly reveal the system of weights, pulleys and chandeliers that facilitated these early experiments; discuss the parallel movement for (yet more risky) chemical relaxers in the African-American community; and compare notes on the weirdest hairdos they’ve permitted on their own heads… 

Further Reading:

• ‘The Story Of Hair and The Nessler Wave’ (Timeless Tales, 2018): 

• ‘Inside the heated history of the permanent wave machine’ (The State Museum of Pennsylvania): http://statemuseumpa.org/wave-machine/

• ‘Making waves: Celebrating the centenary of the perm’ (The Times, 2006): https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/making-waves-tnttbrtt30n