Hairdentity Exhibit Shows Hairstyles as Statements

Objects from Historic Newton's Collection on Display at Newton Free Library

From decorative combs to Afro picks, the “Combs and Curls: Hairstyles as Statements” exhibit at the Newton Free Library throughout October shows examples from Historic Newton's collection that reflect how people have styled their hair as a personal and political statement. Our time frame goes from the 1840s to the 1970s.

The objects illustrate not only the evolution of hairstyles, but the evolution of hair care and related accoutrements. Trace the progression of hair curlers from metal rods to the more efficient (and comfortable) metal and plastic rollers of the 20th century. The exhibit also looks into some of the oddities of the past. Take, for example, the antimacassar, a cloth that would go over furniture to prevent it from being damaged by the copious amounts of oil that men used to grease their hair in the days before pomade. Another novelty is the mustache cup, a teacup designed to shield men's mustaches from getting wet (and melting the mustache wax) while men were drinking.

At one time, hair was a big business in Newton. The 1887 city directory lists 13 salons and hairdressers in the city, and the 1901 directory lists 26. By 1934, Newton was home to 45 barbers and 35 beauty shops scattered throughout the 13 villages, with large concentrations in Newton Corner and West Newton. Photos in the exhibit show some of the styles that these shops helped to create.

The exhibit is open during regular library hours at the Newton Free Library, 330 Homer Street, throughout the month of October.