How did they get those perfect curls? Very carefully.

How did they get those perfect curls? Very carefully.


When I was about 12, a friend of mine curled her hair using rags. She was a fan of Anne of Green Gables and wanted to see what it looked like. It was cute, but rags are similar to curlers worn overnight. They may produce waves or add volume to straight hair, but they definitely don’t produce the perfect little tight curls one often sees in portraits from the Regency era or in period films—at least not on her.


The first curling iron was patented in 1866, but the device, or its precursors were around long before that. The precursors to the curling iron were knows as curling rods or curling tongs depending on their design. Tongs operate in the same way that modern curling irons work. They contain a clasp and the tip of the hair is help in place while the shaft of hair is rolled. Curling rods, on the other hand, were held up and the hair was wrapped around the rod starting at the base of the hair.

Artifacts from Babylonian, Assyrian, Persian, Greek, and Egyptian cultures all include tools of this nature. They were often made of iron or bronze, and just like the first patented design, the curling end of these devices were heated directly by flame. This method of heating makes the temperature of the metal difficult to predict. Hair styled using these tools often became singed and damaged. In extreme cases, the hair could catch fire. Needly to say, it took a certain level of skill to operate these things correctly. Originally, curling was reserved for the wealthy, but this changed over time.

Electricity was introduced to the curling iron in 1959. In the 1980s, a spring was added to the design which ensures that the heat was more evenly distributed. Today, modern curling irons can be made of all sorts of materials, including ceramic. You can still damage your hair using a curling iron, but your chances of success are far greater than it would be if you used one of the ones Jane Austen had access to.



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Riana Everly
February 23, 2021 2:21 PM

One of the good things (????) about having been sick is that my hair is now really short and I don’t feel the need to try to get it to curl, which seems to go against every dictate of nature. I could spend hours with hot rollers and a curling iron and it would look great. For about 5 minutes. Sigh.
Perhaps I should have used a sugar solution to help set the curls too. LOL
I can’t imagine having to go through that with tongs that had just come out of the fire. I’m just a little bit clumsy with things like that and I’d probably have burned off an ear!

Riana Everly
February 24, 2021 10:45 AM
Reply to  Cinnamon

I really learned how much hair keeps your head warm! I don’t know how many hats I crocheted that year. LOL Living in a cold climate, we have SO many hats. Winter hats, knit hats, faux-fur hats, woolen caps, caps with earflaps, between-season hats, sun hats, dressing-up hats…

J. W. Garrett
J. W. Garrett
February 23, 2021 12:48 PM

In the movie ‘Little Women’ one of the sisters wasn’t careful and actually burned off a section of hair. In the movie ‘The Importance of Being Ernest’ one of the male characters was standing in front of the mirror talking to his butler/valet saying he would need the curling tongs for the next day. Funny how I remember that. Oh, the things we do for beauty. Thanks for sharing this post.

Elaine Jeremiah
February 23, 2021 11:51 AM

Thanks for sharing this, Cinnamon. As someone who has dead straight hair which takes about half an hour to curl with my ceramic straighteners, funnily enough, I find it fascinating how curling hair has been done in the past.

Riana Everly
February 23, 2021 2:18 PM

My hair is also stick straight. I don’t want to think of how many hours I’ve spent trying to get it to curl.

Elaine Jeremiah
February 23, 2021 12:25 PM
Reply to  Cinnamon

Hahaha that’s funny cos when I was growing up I wanted a perm and would have killed to have curly hair! The grass is always greener… 😉

Gianna Thomas
February 23, 2021 7:48 AM

Interesting post, Cinnamon. Definitely those irons would be utilized carefully. Especially when ones ear could get singed or, as you mentioned, one’s hair could catch on fire. Looking beautiful could get a little dangerous. 🙂

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
February 23, 2021 7:42 AM

I am not a curling iron girl but it does seem ours today are easier then the ones from those days!lol

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