Who is Miss Abigail?

Abigail Grotke
Silver Spring, MD
email: missabigail at missabigail dot com
twitter: @DearMissAbigail

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Miss Abigail has a collection of over 1,000 classic advice books, spanning from 1822 to 1978 and covering a variety of topics, from love and romance to etiquette and charm. The collection sparked the idea for this site, then a book, Miss Abigail's Guide to Dating, Mating, and Marriage, which has inspired an Off-Broadway production of the same name!


Posts Tagged ‘hair’

Velcro ~ The New Scrunchie!

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

glitter and froufrouQ Dear Miss Abigail:

Is putting Velcro in your hair safe, or can it lead to brain damage?


A Dear Pink:

Brain damage? I doubt it, but you might want to consult your doctor about that issue. What I can address is the question of whether or not yours is a proper fashion statement. While the following from Dorothea Zack Hanle’s Hairdo Handbook doesn’t mention Velcro, it does suggest that you can be creative with whatever you put in your hair. I must confess I’m having a hard time picturing how the Velcro is being used, but I’m sure it’s lovely.

1964: Finishing Tricks with Hair Ornaments

Glitter and froufrou, jewels and baubles, everything from simple little flat bows to elaborate tiaras abound on the counters wherever hairdoing accessories are sold. The prettiest hairstyle in the world can often be that much more exciting and lovely with a little ‘top dressing.’ And for the party-bound coif, a touch of added glamour, a bit of fun, a dash of sparkle is almost a fashionable ‘must.’

Hair ornaments may be bought or made by your own hands at home. There’s an etiquette to wearing them too. Jewels, sequined and glittery ornaments are strictly ‘after-five’ dressing. For daytime – at the office, at school – the flat bow, tailored headband, or simple gold barrette is acceptable. Artificial or real flowers are best for special-occasion evening wear – with a few exceptions: at the beach, for outdoor afternoon parties, patio or terrace luncheons. Feathers, tiny plumes, circlets of gold leaves – these also belong in the dressier, after-five realm.

Source: Hanle, Dorothea Zack. The Hairdo Handbook. New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1964.
~ p. 199 ~

Our Hats

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

walk about with the hat onI think I’m ready for a new hat. I love my winter hat ~ it’s floppy, velvety, and comfy, but it’s a few years old and a little worn. So before I go shopping, I decided to look up a little advice on selecting a hat from Mary Brooks Picken’s Secrets of Distinctive Dress. And hey, I just noticed that my copy of this book was signed by the author in 1922: “To Mrs. Marian J. Murray, With All Good Wishes, Mary Brooks Picken.” Had no idea when I bought it. Cool!

1918: Our Hats

We must expect a great deal from our hats. They must make a frame for the face. The kindliness and good cheer, the spirit of life, that our faces express for us must have a fitting background. If we are not in our homes, then our hats must be intimate enough to make a desirable background. . . .

When you are buying a hat, try a number on. Look at them from the front, the back, and the sides, and study their lines and coloring intelligently. Walk about with the hat on. Sometimes, when you are sitting, the hat may be very pretty, but when you stand you may find that you are too tall or not tall enough for that shape of hat.

Never buy a hat hastily nor without considering whether it is becoming to your face, whether it is suitable for your hair, or whether it is agreeable in color and appropriate for wear with the garments, suits, or dresses that you have. If the hat is to be worn with some particular suit or coat, have that garment on, so that exactly the right effect may be attained. Remember that much of the smartness of your costume depends on your hat. You should give it great consideration and be sure that it is right for you in every particular.

At some time you may have been so disappointed with a certain shape of hat that you continually avoid getting a hat of that kind again. Perhaps, though, there was some particular line or color that made it unbecoming; so, when the opportunity presents itself, do not hesitate to try on a hat of a similar shape, because you may find one that is becoming.

Another thing to remember is that if you gain or lose weight you may have to change the shape of your hat. A shape that is desirable for a slender figure is not agreeable for a stout one, and the shape that you wore at twenty may not be becoming when you are thirty or forty.

Beautiful picture hats, especially those of black and dark colors, are wonderful in the right place ~ at a fashionable restaurant, a hotel dining room, or an afternoon social function ~ but they are not suitable for business or street wear.

Faded flowers, bedraggled feathers, and crumpled chiffons are not pleasing in hats.

Source: Picken, Mary Brooks. The Secrets of Distinctive Dress. Scranton, Pa.: Woman’s Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences, 1918.
~ pp. 64, 65-66 ~

Am I Bald?

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

a too-tight ponytail is one villainQ Dear Miss Abigail:

Am I bald?


A Dear Claudia:

Well, sweetie, it’s kinda hard for me to tell via email. But here are some thoughts about baldness from a delightful little book calledYour Hairdo, written by Elaine Budd. And if you are not bald yet, her words should help you avoid such a catastrophe!

1966: Fallout and Baldness

Normal Fallout. You normally lose between fifty and a hundred hairs per day ~ perhaps even more in spring and autumn when you, like most creatures, have a “moulting season.” Often a new hair grows in when the old one falls out, but sometimes follicles become dormant and rest for a few years. Other follicles are meanwhile reawakening, so in normal circumstances the number of hairs on your head remains about the same.

Sudden Fallout. The Problem ~ There are also certain “abnormal” normal reasons for hair fall. After certain diseases ~ especially if you’ve run a high fever or if your body is generally run down ~ hair fall may be higher than usual, possible resulting in baldness.

The Solution ~ This type of baldness, called post-infection alopecia is generally temporary; hair growth will go back to its normal rate when your body is up to par again.

Patchy Baldness. The Problem ~ Another type of “abnormal” normal hair fall is alopecia areata, or patchy baldness. Hair loss here is in localized patches in different areas of the scalp. Many young girls complain of this condition. One of the causes is physical ~ the destruction of hair by actually pulling it out. A too-tight ponytail is one villain; the same hair style worn week in, week out, without even changing the part, is another. Stretching the hair on rollers tightly in the same place every night is also destructive.

The Solution ~ To avoid this sort of hair loss, follow these general rules:

1. Avoid tight headbands, tight hats, a tight hairdo that skins hair back from the head.
2. Keep changing position of part, ponytail rubber bands.
3. Keep hair clean ~ excess oil can act as a depilatory.
4. Massage scalp gently each night.
5. Avoid too-strenuous brushing.
6. Don’t roll hair tightly on rollers, and do vary their position.
7. Avoid overfrequent permanents.
8. Eat a balanced diet.
9. Get enough sleep and exercise.

Source: Budd, Elaine. Your Hairdo. New York: Scholastic Books Services, 1966.
~ pp. 84-86 ~

“Nice Girls” and Dyed Hair

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

extra care must be lavishedQ Dear Miss Abigail:

When did dyeing your hair blonde became acceptable ~ you know, when “a nice girl” could do it? When did it start ~ and who was doing it?

Yes, my name is Abigail, too!

A Dear Abigail, too:

How did you know that I used to dye my hair? Must be that “nice girl/Abigail” thing. Though my hair wasn’t blonde, my hairdresser commented on the loveliness of my particular shade of Clairol Light Auburn.

Authors in my collection started addressing such issues in the 1950s and 1960s. Here are a few thoughts for you to ponder, including a bit of history from Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, by Gayelord Hauser.

1955: Colorings

There was a time, not too long ago, when any woman who dared change the color of her hair was looked upon as distinctly no lady. Those days area gone forever. But ~ mark this well ~ the upkeep is still a serious matter. Before you decide to go blonde, or redhead, or whatever, consider the prospect that keeping your hair its new shade involves regular, lengthy, and expensive visits to the hairdresser; that extra care must be lavished on both hair and scalp to counteract the inevitable drying effects of tints and dyes; that the growing-out period, if and when you decide to go back to your natural hair color, can be a fretful one.

Source: Hart, Constance. The Handbook of Beauty. New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1955.
~ p. 56 ~

1961: A Change of Color

Nowadays one out of three women colors or highlights her hair.

Hair coloring is nothing new. In Cleopatra’s time, and even before, Egyptian ladies used henna and indigo. Roman matrons, admiring the blond Teutonic slaves brought back by Caesar’s legions, bleached their hair with such mixtures as ashes of plants, oils, nutshells and vinagar. Renaissance women were known to mix alum, sulphur and honey to become fair-haired. Powdering hair with gold or silver dust was the vogue among fashionable Americans right after the Civil War, and, at the turn of the century, bleaching and dyeing were considered smart by actresses and playgirls. Henna rinses again became popular just before World War I, then were replaced by peroxide bleaching which became so popular in the thirties.

A woman may have many reasons for wanting a different hair color. A shining crowning glory is still a mighty symbol of femininity, and the woman who does not care how her locks look may have deep-seated problems. A New York psychoanalyst, Dr. Harold Green, tells of a patient he had under treatment who did not appear to be responding, when one day she came with a new hair color. ‘Suddenly I knew she was getting well,’ said Dr. Green. ‘At last she was ready to establish a personality, to respond to attention. Vanity in a woman is a sign of mental

Source: Hauser, Gayelord. Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Invitation to Beauty. New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1960.
~ p. 192 ~

My Underarm Hair Is Really Dark!

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

all is healthy and normalQ Dear Miss Abigail:

I am facing a bit of problem. I used to clean my underarms with hair-removing cream, but recently I started shaving them. The hair now grows in really dark (my underarms skin color is very dark). Can you help or suggest any kind of solution to this problem?


A Dear Maryam:

Although I personally don’t think you should be too concerned (as long as you continue to shave), here are a few words about the growth of hair on our bodies. I hope it helps!

1960: Hair Growth and Distribution

From the time of fetal life, before birth, there is hair on the head and body which varies in different individuals both in amounts and distribution.

Many consider that the appearance of hair on a woman’s face or on her arms and legs is unwomanly and a detraction from her beauty. These thoughts often bother the affected person far more than anyone else. Many young ladies have long inward debates and get much contradictory advice from others concerning what to do about their hirsutism (hairiness). Here again, the physician is the best person to consult.

Occasionally the hairiness may be due to a glandular imbalance that can be corrected. But in the great majority of individuals with a more than average amount of facial and body hair, all is healthy and normal.

Even if the hairiness is not a sign of something being wrong, a girl may still want to get rid of the hair on some parts of her body. There are various chemical depilatories, easily obtainable, which can remove hair. These occasionally irritate the skin and therefore should be avoided or used only with extreme caution. Electrical depilation, or removal of hair, is a specialized technique which should be attempted only upon the advice of a physician and be done only by a specially trained and experienced person. Pulling the hair out (epilation) does not result in permanent removal and may be harmful.

In most cases shaving is the simplest and best way of removing hair. Shaving may be done with an electric or a safety razor. The idea that shaving causes and increase in the growth of hair or a thickening of the regrowth is incorrect. Though this seems to happen to men, it is only because of natural changes that occur in the hair of the face which would occur even if men did not shave.

Cosmeticians, and often mothers, know ways of diminishing the effect of unwanted hair by bleaching it to less noticable shades.

Source: Roth, Arthur. The Teen-Age Years. Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1960.
~ pp. 119-20 ~

How Well Are You Groomed?

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

are your undergarments clean?This selection comes from a fabulous home economics book sent to me by my friend Helen in Kansas. She searched the region for an addition to Miss Abigail’s collection, and I must say she found the perfect text.

1936: How Well Are You Groomed?

Following are some questions to be considered in judging whether or not one is well groomed. How many of them can you answer satisfactorily? Talk them over with others in your group and compare opinions. Perhaps you will want to show these questions to your mother or to some older girl or woman and get her opinion as to how well you are groomed. List suggestions of ways by which better grooming can be attained.

Body Cleanliness.
1. Do you take a bath or shower every day?
2. Do you use a deodorant?
3. Do you keep the armpits free of hair?
4. Are you free from body odor?
5. If perfume is used, is it fresh, faint, and not cheap?

Face and neck.
1. Is your complexion good, your skin clear?
2. Are your face, neck, and ears clean?
3. Do you use the right shade of powder? Is it entirely invisible?
4. If rouge is used, what principles for selection and use are you trying to follow?
5. What bathing, eating, exercising, and other routines are you following to create an attractive complexion? Mention several of the “facial allies” to personality, such as clean teeth, interested manner, etc.

Eyebrows and eyes.
1. Are your eyebrows natural and brushed smooth?
2. Are your eyes natural, not exaggerated with make-up?
3. Are your eyes bright, healthy? Do you look straight into the eyes of others as you talk to them?

1. Are your hands clean?
2. Are they smooth and white, not red and rough?
3. Are your fingers a good color?
4. Are the nails manicured artistically, so that they are pleasing in shape, not too long, too short, too pointed, too square, too vivid, or too shiny?

1. Does your hair make a becoming frame about your face?
2. Is it tidy?
3. Does it look healthy, alive, well cared for?
4. Is the color natural, not bleached?
5. Is your hair free from dandruff?
6. Do you shampoo it at least once in two weeks?
7. Do you massage your scalp at least once a week?

Teeth and mouth.
1. Are your teeth attractive? That is, do they appear to be in a healthy condition?
2. Are your lips attractive, soft, not dry and cracked?
3. Do you promote a good natural color in your lips and cheeks by adequate sleep and exercise, and by medical attention if you are anemic?
4. Is your breath free from bad odors?
5. Do you clean your teeth at least twice a day?
6. Do you have them cleaned by the dentist one or more times a year, or often enough to keep them attractive?
7. Do you have them regularly examined by the dentist and cared for when needed?

Outer Garments.
1. Are your clothes clean, without spots and odor?
2. Are they neatly mended where necessary?
3. If you wear light-colored or white scarfs, collars and cuffs, or flowers, are they clean and neat?
4. Are your clothes well dressed, without undue wrinkles?
5. Are they well brushed, without dust, dandruff and stray hairs? If necessary, do you have a brush in your locker to freshen your garments?

Shoes and hose.
1. Are your shoes clean and well polished? Do you wipe them off every night? If not, how often? How often do you polish them? Have you a cleaning kit in your room?
2. Do you keep your heels clean and straight? When you polish shoes, do you polish the backs?
3. Are your hose clean? Do you wear a clean pair of stockings every day? Do you wash your own as most business and college girls do?
4. Do you adjust your stockings straight at the back seam without wrinkles at the ankles?
5. Are they neatly mended, if necessary?
6. Is your hat clean and well brushed?

1. Is your jewelry clean?
2. Are your gloves clean?
3. Are they neatly mended, if necessary?
4. Is your purse clean and in good condition?
5. Are your handkerchief, powder puff, and comb clean?
6. Are they kept out of sight?

1. Is your slip the right length for your dress?
2. Do your shoulder straps show?
3. Are your undergarments clean? That is, do you change them three or four times a week?

Health routines.
1. Do you get out in the sunlight every day?
2. Do you walk enough daily to stimulate circulation?
3. Do you play games once or twice a week hard enough to cause perspiration? And follow it with a cleansing bath?
4. Are you interested in acquiring a natural “peaches and cream” complexion from outdoor life, exposure to sun and wind, vigorous games, and adequate sleep?
5. Do you drink six to eight glasses of water daily? Have daily elimination?
6. Can you find among your friends those in whom good health practices are the cause of their natural attractiveness and good spirits?
7. What health practices can you add to the routines here suggested to increase personal fitness and wholesome attractiveness?

Mental health and personal appearance.
1. Do you consistently maintain a friendly attitude toward others? A person friendly to others never lacks friends.
2. Do you harbor resentments or quickly forget them? Do you allow yourself to be easily provoked and continue to feel put out? “A good forgetter of trifling disappointments is a good looker.”
3. Have you a complaining voice and unpleasant ways at home? Cosmetics will not cover faults that pull down the corners of your mouth and put crow’s feet around your eyes.
4. Whatever your religious faith, do you maintain a daily contact with the spiritual resources of life:
By reading something inspiring and worthwhile?
By reflecting on the widening of helpful relationships in your own town, nation, and the world and what you can do to enlarge the rule of good will at home, in business, and between nations?
5. Do you subscribe to the friendly code:
“Come on, let’s live and let’s help others to live, with richer lives, wider interests, fuller opportunities, for young and old, rich and poor, American and foreigner!” If you do, then you will have a personality worth grooming a bit in private; but after grooming in private, forget the art and go out with a friendly smile. The world has a place for every such person!

Source: Van Duzer, Adelaide Laura, et. al. Everyday Living for Girls. Chicago: J. B. Lippincott Company,1936.
~ p. 108-10 ~


Thursday, August 12th, 2010

place a man under your feminine powerSo much can be learned from the dedications of books. I quote Mr. Lelord Kordel, author of this selection (from Lady, Be Loved):

I do not believe that the American woman is as desirable as she can be, although I will grant that she excels the women of other nations in almost all points of outward attractiveness. Yet, the American sweetheart, and the American wife, does not make the most of her sex possibilities for happiness in marriage. And so I dedicate this book to the American woman . . . lovely as she is, supremely desirable as she can become.

Upon reading this small excerpt, however, I believe that Mr. Kordel was actually using this book to rant and rave about a specific woman who obviously annoyed the heck out of him, rather than the “American woman.” But I guess we’ll never know. . . .

1953: Daintiness

There is a feminine charm which goes beyond mere cleanliness ~ it is daintiness. Or, if you prefer, femininity.

A buxom lass in overalls, with a mannish haircut, rolling a cigarette and handling sacks of fertilizer may be scrupulously scrubbed and as clean as a freshly bathed infant. But is she dainty? Is she “feminine”? Definitely not. Why? Because she does not appear to masculine eyes as a woman. To a man, the word “woman” conjures up the vision of a feminine body, soft and fragrant.

Let me go on record right at this point that men do not desire masculine women. Does an effeminate, powdered, rouged, delicately scented man appeal to the woman in you? You may feel an urge to mother him, or to be a sister to him, but he does not appeal to you as a mate. There is no better way for me to describe how a masculine woman affects a man than to say that the appeal is similar; he may think that such a woman is a “heck of a swell fellow,” or a “darn good sport,” but she does not arouse the male in him to desire her!

And while on this subject, let me remind some of you that ultra-smart, mannish suits and hats, plus “slicked back” hairdos, may make other women think you are the last word in fashion. But the man in your life ~ or the man you would like in your life ~ would much prefer you in something soft and clinging, preferably in color with dainty touches of white or other light colors here and there ~ and with your hair soft and fluffy around your face. Oh, I know that perhaps there are some men who claim to admire the ultra-smart woman who imitates masculine attire to the nth degree. But mostly they are men who either have an interest in designing and selling such attire to women, or who are afraid to “speak out in meeting” to voice their true opinions about their preference in woman’s clothes.

So if there is a special date coming up, or a sentimental anniversary to celebrate, for the sake of your sex appeal, do not go out and buy that severely mannish-cut outfit which will cost a fractional part of the national debt, and do not have the hairdresser pull your hair atop your head in a small imitation of an atom-bomb cloud.

Remember that soft, revealing lines, dainty colors and curls are what place a man under your feminine power! These are things which help make him desire you.

Source: Kordel, Lelord. Lady, Be Loved!. Cleveland, Ohio: World Publishing Company, 1953.
~ pp. 48-49 ~