Although I focus on medical advertising here at The Quack Doctor, I do like to feature the occasional beauty product when it catches my eye. I stumbled on this mid-20th-century Australian hair lotion while failing to find something else I was looking for.
Curlypet’s heyday was the 1930s to the 1960s, though it was still around until at least the early 70s. It was sometimes advertised as a setting lotion for ladies hairstyles, but what makes it unusual is that its main targets were children – or rather, their mothers. The advertising set out to persuade mothers that they wanted a curly-haired cherub who would take first prize in baby shows and go on to possess advantages over its straight-haired friends.
My mum remembers having foul-smelling Tweeny Twink perms inflicted upon her in the 1950s by my grandma (I don’t recommend googling Tweeny Twink, by the way), so I wondered if this was something similar, but it appears to have required a lot more perseverance. Six to nine months of use should start to create a permanent change in the way the hair grew.
Curlypet arrived in concentrated form in a tube, and one had to dilute it before rubbing the solution through baby’s straight locks. Unlike with modern hair products, the advertising didn’t go overboard on pseudoscientific claims – but they do creep in occasionally:
[The hair’s] curliness then is due to a different and looser construction of the cells in the hair shaft itself. The Curlypet treatment has been perfected by scientific investigators to influence the growth of hair in this way by a process which they know as “osmosis.”
Early Curlypet ads attribute the fashion for curls to the impressive heads of hair sported by Princess Elizabeth and her sister Margaret Rose. One advertorial-style feature presented this before and after picture of young Master Duncan, who appears to have been transformed from a cute little chap into something akin to Beelzebub.
Curlypet created a need by presenting an assumption that the curly-headed child was the epitome of perfection and that mothers would – indeed, should – be unhappy with anything else. In one 1935 testimonial, Mrs. M H. practically signs up her kid for a lifetime of therapy when she announces:
Much to my disappointment, my baby girl was born with straight hair. I used to try and coax it to curl by setting it every day with warm water, but it still remained straight.
Mrs M. H.’s disappointment turn into envy when a friend from Melbourne came over with a beautiful curly-haired four-year-old in tow, but the friend imparted the secret – Curlypet – and little Joan H. soon acquired both a mass of golden ringlets and her mother’s acceptance.
Ambitious parents could even dream of stardom for their Curlypetted young – such children were supposedly in demand in the movie business. According to the product’s promoters, ‘languishing heart-throbbers of eighteen-inch cigarette holders and two-inch eyelashes’ were going out of style, to be replaced in the public’s imagination by ‘something new in the shape of one or two super children’ with ‘the loveliest curly heads of hair.‘
Even at a more local level, Curlypet might increase the tot’s chances of winning prizes, like little Baby Drummond here, who carried off the trophy in the Open Championship at Sydney Baby Show. This ad is from 1938 but Baby Drummond’s example was still being used in 1947, by which time it must have got pretty embarrassing for him (if he were a real person, that is).
Do any of my readers from Australia or New Zealand remember Curlypet? Were you doused in it in your youth and did you end up with a crop of beautiful curls? Are you Baby Drummond or Master Duncan? I would love to hear any reminiscences!
The pictures in this post are from the wonderful site Australia Trove.