Sunday, September 23, 2012

A 1960s Salon Wetset

Having been incredibly lucky enough  to purchase a like-new vintage salon dryer  from  the late 50s or early 60s, I thought I would write about the 1960s salon experience .

My 1960s (50s?) vintage dryer.  The bottom right (in photo) makes the front open out into a wonderfully comfortable footrest.

Of course the main difference between that and salons today would have been wetsets and perms as the main services being provided, so that's what this article (well wetsets)  is about,

A "shampoo and set" would have begun  with a luxurious shampoo to get all the old setting lotions and sprays out of your hair as well as to make sure your  hair was wet and ready for setting.

Depending on the salon layout you would be led to another chair with a towel around you head for the actual set. Based  on your hair and the salons preferences, either wire brush, plastic brush or plastic mag (aka smooth plastic rollers) would  have been used. You might have been asked to hold the rollers in your lap and hand them to the hairdresser, or a specialty cart like this might have been used (What a vintage find that would be if it showed up on ebay!)

(American Hairdresser, Nov 1963)

Having your hair put in rollers can be an enjoyable experience - a great time to chat or dare I say it, gossip (remember this was before the Internet!) and socialize in general. It would take ten to twenty minutes for the rollers to be wound and fastened with clips or piks.When all is done, you actually feel nicely set: not a hair or roller out or place, all curlers nice, neat and tight, and a net just to make sure. Really quiet a contrast to todays velcros sets where the rollers are often half falling out. 

Now it off to the dryer for anything between half an hour to more than an hour depending on you hair, the rollers and dryer.  A variety of dryers existed with names like Rayette, Bonat and Turbinator, all attached to chairs ranging for the most simple to very comfortable ones with a footrest to height of luxury, a complete lounger!

Hair Salon in 1961 (Library of Congress)

Lounge chair dryers in 1965, So luxurious! (American Hairdresser, March 1965)
(Note: I was going to show a hairdryer ad from that period, but there are so many interesting ones I will leave that for another blog posting.)

If your chair is comfortable, and most were, dryer time can be a most enjoyable experience. At great time to read magazines ( most dryers of the time were loud enough that conversation is impossible) . A considerate hairdresser would let the dryer warm up a bit before placing you under it, and even then the first minute or so it feels refreshingly cool.The warm dryer air (hopefully your hair dresser was not in a rush and didn't set it on hi) is wonderfully relaxing and quite soothing, particularly if your curlers are on the tight side. As your hair drys and looses moisture it feels noticeably  warmer and the dyer temperature should be lowered to keep you comfortable but also to make sure you set last the longest but not leaving the hair too warm when teh rollers are removed.

Finally, once dry, your rollers are removed, and the shape set by the curlers is manipulate into the desired style by combing, teasing, pinning, and then spraying with liberal amounts of hairspray. And your done, leaving the salon with a beautiful hairdo after and enjoyable couple of hours. To bad nobody has the time for that today!

Besides making dryers, Bonat also made (amrketed?) perms and other items. I was struck with this ad a photo of a classic finished style. If you want to see the rest of the ad, its below:

(American Hairdresser, Nov 1963) 


  1. I gasped! Literally! This is tremendous. May I share at the HHOF and of course will link back to you?

  2. WOW! You did a good job on this post. I would proudly share this to my hairdressers friend. I like it much.

  3. Thanks! I'd be delighted if you would share it!

  4. LOVE this! Had to see it after Donna recommended it!

    Cookie, Founder of The Hair Hall of Fame

  5. Hey I am curious as to who made the Salon Chair in the top photo. My mother had one in her beauty shop for over 30 years. She just died suddenly on November 14, 2013 and the Autopsy came back as Mesothelioma related to Asbestos. We think she got it from the asbestos in these dryers. It would be so helpful if you could give me a name. Thank. You can post it here or email me

  6. Sorry to hear about your mom. The dryer in the top photo is a "Dorado Model #60" by Rayette. I opened it up to see if there was any obvious sign of asbestos. The heating elements in this dryer are held in place with ceramics, which is where I might have thought there could be the possibility of asbestos. Doesn't mean there isn't some buried more deeply inside, but less likely). You should also be aware that many dryers of the era looked very similar but are not actually the same type/model/manufacturer, an example being the classic coca-cola ad dryer: . The dryers in the ad are so similar to this one that I first thought they were identical. But inspecting the photos shows minor differences. given the popularity of dryers like that in the 50s and 60s, I would expect there were a significant number of different manufacturers and models all very similar.

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  9. Hey Hi! Thanks,I'd be delighted if you would share it.
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  10. Nice Blog. Thanks for sharing, Hooded Hair Dryers importance in the popularity of salon.