History Of The Blonde

by Kathie Rothkop

The mystique of the blonde has been eternal with both men and women since the beginning of time. Poems and myths have been written about the golden haired woman. The word blonde comes from the Latin blondus (yellow).

It has been recorded throughout history that women have agonized to achieve blonde tresses with bad results. Highly alkaline soaps were applied to the hair and then the women would sit in the sun for hours to bleach it. An easier way was to powder the hair with pollen and crushed yellow flower petals. Costly wigs were made from imported blonde hair from the Netherlands.

It wasn’t until 1907, that a French chemist named Eugene Schueller began manufacturing hair dye in his Paris flat. His main chemical ingredient was called paraphenylenediamine. He called his company L’Oreal, which is still a leader in it’s field today.

The blonding process was quite dangerous at this time, with the chemicals inflicting headaches and scalp burns. It was not unusual for the hair to break off during the process. A common formulation for bleach was peroxide with ammonia, added to ivory soap flakes to make a paste. This formula was used into the 1930s.

Hollywood soon realized how great a blonde looked in their black and white films and conceived Mae West and, soon to follow, Jean Harlow. Jean Harlow died in her 30s and the rumor was that she died because of her hair dye. The truth is she had kidney problems.

In 1931, an American chemist, Lawrence Gelb, introduced the first oil shampoo tint. After eight more years of research, he established the first home purchased hair dye. He named his currently famous company Clairol.

Up until World War II, a woman who dyed her hair was considered “fast”. Hollywood depicted the blonde as being dumb, naughty, and immoral. Because Clairol wanted more women to purchase their home hair dyes and also frequent the beauty salon, they came up with some of the most famous advertising slogans of all time.

  • DOES SHE OR DOESN’T SHE?
  • ONLY HER HAIRDRESSER KNOWS FOR SURE!
  • DO BLONDES HAVE MORE FUN?
  • IF I’VE ONE LIFE…LET ME LIVE IT AS A BLONDE!

Naming famous blondes could go on forever. Marilyn Monroe certainly is at the top of the list. Blondes sell more merchandise in TV commercials and are employed more in commercial print. Forty-five percent of people, including men, prefer to be dyed blonde.

Is it true blondes have more fun? The ageless brunette Cher is now seen sporting a blonde wig. Shall we venture to ask?

Copyright by Kathie Rothkop of Hairrific. Reprinted at www.beautyworlds.com, February 2003, with permission.

For more information about blonde hair in cultures past and present read the feature length review of Joanna Pitman’s On Blondes here.

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