Past Times

Beauty was big business in North Carolina in the 1930s

In 1956, a tip to the beauty parlor was a weekly event.
In 1956, a tip to the beauty parlor was a weekly event. Daily Reflector (Greenville, N.C.)

A day at the beauty shop was once the definition of luxury for the American housewife. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, as cosmetic services began to move out of the home and into commercial space, the need for regulation became evident.

There are 3,500 people in North Carolina engaged in the business of putting waves in straight locks and roses in pale and sallow cheeks.

And that’s not all. Each year, 12 approved schools in the State give diplomas to 1,000 or so beauty shop operators. One school in Raleigh alone trains 300 a year.

In other words, beautification is a big business in the State. Curls and coiffures and schoolgirl complexions have reached the mass production stage.

Literally tons of massage cream and hundreds of gallons of muscle oil and vats of waveset lotions and stacks of lipstick are distributed by a dozen supply houses and applied by 900 beauty shops in the State.

So large is the annual volume of beauty business that no one ventures an estimate of it. Over $20,000 a year (around $350,000 in 2015 dollars) is invested in beauty shop equipment alone.

So rapidly has the business expanded in the last ten years that the inevitable bargain prices have resulted from competition.

“Eight years ago when I entered the profession,” reminisced Mrs. Annie Laurie Williams, Raleigh beauty shop operator and chairman of the State Board of Cosmetic Arts Examiners, “permanent waves cost up to $25. Now you can get them for a dollar ninety-eight.”

There were only five shops in the city then. Now there are 25. Beauty shops in the State have more than doubled in the past few years, it is estimated by J. G. Shannonhouse, Jr., secretary of the State Board of Cosmetics Arts Examiners. Beauty culture schools have increased from three to 12 in the same period.

Those schools give a minimum course of training which lasts for 480 class hours. Before being licensed, an operator must serve an apprenticeship of six months.…

Not only are the beauticians, or cosmetologists, trained in the subtle art of breeding and enhancing beauty, but they are given short courses in such scientific matters as physiology, dermatology and any number of other subjects with long names.

“The practice of cosmetology is becoming more of a profession instead of the menial work it used to be classed,” said Mr. Shannonhouse.

This fact results partially from the regulation of the profession which has been imposed for two years by a board appointed by the Governor, a type of regulation that has been inevitable when occupations have grown as large and as important as the beauty business.

After the beauticians had done everything but crawl on their hands and knees from Raleigh to Durham to get a regulatory act from the Legislature, the first board appointed by the Governor in 1933 did not please everybody. In fact, it displeased a faction of the cosmetologists so much, by reason of having two so-called barbers on its membership of three, that they carried their objections to the Supreme Court – and had them overruled.

A revised “cosmetology act” and a new board were provided by the last General Assembly after hilarious committee meetings on the subject.…

Under the new law, the board has appointed three inspectors to examine beauty shops and see that they maintain proper sanitary facilities. Beauty and culture schools also are examined and approved – or disapproved – by the board. Only graduates of approved schools who can pass the board’s examinations are allowed to practice cosmetology. The N&O July 14, 1935

Read more stories from local and state history and send us your own stories on the blog Past Times, newsobserver.com/past-times.

Leonard: 919-829-4866 or tleonard@newsobserver.com

  Comments