Curlypet

Curlypet ad from Australian Women's Weekly 17 Jan 1962Australian Women’s Weekly, 17 Jan 1962

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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.

Curlypet, Australian Women's Weekly 10 Oct 1962

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.

Picture of Master Duncan, Curlypet advertorial, The Mercury, Hobart 16 Feb 1935

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).

Curlypet,  Australian Women's Weekly 26 Feb 1938

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!

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The pictures in this post are from the wonderful site Australia Trove.

8 Comments:

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Curlypet | The Quack Doctor -- Topsy.com

  2. Amazing…I thought of this product out of the blue yesterday and decided to look it up to see if anyone remembered it.
    My mother used to use ‘Curlypet’ on my hair when I was young and my hair had lots of curls in photos taken at the time. I don’t know if it was because of Curlypet that I had such curls! (Just like in the pictures above). I’m in my 60’s now…still have a bit of wave/curl in my hair but nothing like when I was a kid and mum was doing my hair and rubbing in Curlypet. As I remember it came in a small jar…a cream…that was rubbed through the hair.

  3. As a matter of fact I remember this product very well came in a yellow bottle with brown writing and a flip connected type lid on the top of bottle the product was Made In England, had a very nice sweet smell and my Mum used it on all of her 5 children and I used it on my son in 1979 so was available till at least 1980. Also was good for the control of cradle cap. I would love to get hold of a bottle but no such luck.

  4. This is fantastic. My father used Curlypet on my hair in the 70’s and I am the only one of my siblings with curly hair. Hair-lairious!

  5. Kathrine & Keith Walsh

    Yes, I also remember my mother using Curlypet on me. My hair had a natural wave. Don’t know if it did much for my hair but I recall it did smell nice. I am now 70. The product was liquid in a bottle I think.

  6. Yes, I remember my mother using it on me, but mostly I remember the lovely smell. I thought it was a green liquid in a screw top glass jar. I’m 57.

  7. I caught a whiff of something in the air this afternoon and it reminded me of Curlypet, thus the reason for the online search. My mother used Curlypet on me in the early 1950s. To my knowledge, conditioners didn’t exist then and I think Mum used it more as a detangler rather than through any belief that it would make my hair curly. I would have kicked up a stink if that was the reason for using it as I most definitely did not want curly hair. I think Mum had to reassure me that it would not make my hair curly. It smelled gorgeous.

    • Yes, my mother used curly pet on me, I didn’t get curls…just a stupid ‘crest of a wave on top of my head’

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