Blast from the past: 7 iconic hair gadgets that defined eras

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By Katie Wright

When perusing old photos, if there's one thing that's a dead giveaway as to which era you're looking at, it's the hair. Farrah Fawcett-esque waves? That'll be the Seventies. Crimped locks? You're looking at the Nineties. A shiny sheet of flattened hair? It's got to be the Noughties. And who to thank for those hairdos? In part, they're all due to the technological breakthroughs of the time, which brought heated hair gadgets into the home.

As far back as the Twenties, we've been using tools to tame and enhance our tresses, and today's iterations are getting ever more advanced. Here, we look back at seven grooming gadgets that have changed hair-story...

1. Curling tongs

A true icon in hairdressing history, Marcel Grateau invented one of the earliest curling tongs, way back in 1872. He used them to create his signature style, the 'Marcel wave', which was hugely popular at the time.

The device, however, had room for improvement. The scissor-like metal tongs were heated over a fire but with no way to accurately regulate the temperature, they often burned hair. Electric curling tongs started to be sold in the late 1950s and have remained popular ever since, although hair fashions have changed, with today's ceramic barrel tongs used to create 'beachy' waves rather than tight curls.


2. Hood hairdryers

The first mechanical hair drying device was introduced in a French salon in 1888 by a man called Alexander Godefroy. The hood style dryer was powered by a gas stove but it wasn't a great success. It wasn't until the 1950s that electric 'bonnet' dryers became widespread. Large rigid plastic helmets were common in salons, while soft shower cap-styles with portable heating units were sold for home use.


3. Handheld hairdryers

Remaining the quintessential hair styling gadget to this day, a hairdryer uses a simple mechanism - a heated coil and a fan - to increase the speed of water evaporation. The earliest handheld hairdryers were invented in the 1920s, their heavy metal cases making them unwieldy and the offering only 100 watts of power compared to today's 2000.

4. Heated rollers

Solomon Harper is the man credited with inventing electrically heated hair rollers, in 1930, but they really took off in the Sixties. A weekly session with the rollers ensured a perfectly coiffed 'do that stayed put for seven days.


5. Crimpers

Used to create ultra fine, zig-zag waves on straight hair, the crimping iron was invented in 1972 and reached peak popularity in the mid-Eighties. Crimping fell out of fashion but has had something of a resurgence in recent years, with GHD bringing out a modern day version, called the Contour, in 2017.


6. Straighteners

GHD is far more famous, of course, for a device that eradicates even the slightest hint of a kink. Founded in 2001, the company bought the rights to a South Korean straightening iron and sparked a global phenomenon as the trend for poker-straight hair took hold.

The history of hair straightening actually goes back much further, to the 1870s when Marcel Grateau used heated rods to banish waves, but the Noughties will always be remembered as the heyday of the straightener.


7. High-tech hairdryers

In general, hair dryers haven't evolved much in the last 20 years, apart from getting more powerful, lighter and quieter, but there is one notable exception. Dyson, the company famous for vacuum cleaners, launched in 2016 its Supersonic Hair Dryer, which uses the brand's patented airflow principles and a digital motor to, it promises, dry hair faster without damaging it. But at €399 a pop, this high-tech gadget has yet to become a household essential.

Catherine Devane