frontier ladies curl hair true west magazine

How did frontier ladies curl their hair?

Carson Mell
Burbank, California

Frontier ladies who curled their hair usually wore Victorian rag curls. They cut soft rags into strips about as long as their hair, separated dampened strands of their hair (usually about six strands) and wrapped each strand around a rag. They clipped the tail end of the rag to the top of their head, then went to bed and unraveled the rags the next morning—resulting in spiral curls.

Finger curling was another way to style hair. Ladies wrapped strands into tight curls and pinned them tight. The next morning, they removed the pins and brushed their curls.

Another method for frontier women was the so-called Marcel wave, created by Francois Marcel in 1882. They heated metal curling tongs on a gas burner and tried it out on a piece of paper prior to applying the heated tongs to their hair. Unlike rag and finger curls, Marcel waves could be styled on dry and combed hair.

Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian and vice president of the Wild West History Association. His latest book is Arizona Outlaws and Lawmen; The History Press, 2015. If you have a question, write: Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or email him at

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