Tag Archives: TheFifties




That’s this blog. It is enough to curl your toes. Fry your brain. Crimp your resolve. Its roots go deep into our psyches . . . and it ends with . . . well, it ends with split ends. Yes, dear reader. This is about home permanents.

Who on earth invented these? And why-oh-why did they ever call them permanents? Any woman who has ever suffered through these will tell you that home perms are actually “home temps.” Enough said. Every woman was deluded into thinking that she could achieve beauty shop results with this box of chemicals. What we dreamed about and the reality of the “do” is nicely illustrated below.

Better yet, which twin is Lily Tomlin’s mother?


I’ve alluded more than once to my mother’s proclivity for the Miss Toni permanents that she forced upon me during my grade school years. THE formative years, I might add. No wonder. This explains a lot about my growing up into an unsure woman, always paranoid about my looks. Too fat, too freckled, too toothy, too red-haired, too brown-eyed all the way to not enough eyelashes, not enough neck, not enough boobs (the early years anyway), not enough, not enough, not enough. And I lay it all at the altar of the dreaded, punitive Miss Toni. In researching for this blog, I discovered that I have mistakenly called this “Miss Toni” when it was actually a “Tonette” perm . . . which was a kid’s version of the adult “Toni” perm. It sat on the shelf next to the Party Curl and the Richard Hudnet (a cousin to Richard Wingnut).


Tonette sounds French, oui? Or perhaps like a member of a backup group for the Shirelles. French, my eye! If anything, I felt tribal in an African-sort of way. And speaking of international issues, another finding during my research phase is the realization that this trend was not limited to the United States. Behold the product from the Land Down Under!


Curly Pet? Really? And I thought Tonette was demeaning. My mother, who actually had a diploma from beauty school, deserves my forgiveness. After all, she was only trying to get me to look more like Shirley Temple. I think the only term that could describe my transformation into a Shirley Temple look-alike could be epic failure. The Terri Lee doll that was so popular in the Fifties had a mop of curls and could get a new perm right alongside her “mommy.” Of course I had a Terri Lee. I suppose this was also intended to make the child feel more inclined to “lean in” to the permanent (thank you, Sheryl Sandberg, although this is probably nowhere in your best-seller). But the perms persisted.

How much did mom pay that boy to be in that picture with all those Terri Lee dolls?

Hope dies hard in the hearts of mothers who are hoping to mold their unlikely daughters into beauty queens. One advantage: I am easily spotted in all my grade school pictures. I was usually one of the tallest kids in class AND I had that mop of hair. [Yes, Mother. Wherever you are, I forgive you. Sort of.]


In addition to the hair, my mother bought clothes for me called “Chubbies” and “Chubbettes,” another a la Francaise attempt to put glitter on a turd. (Phrase I’m borrowing from my daughter since it truly describes this like nothing else I can dream up.) This would be another entire blog.

Chubettes                  Chubbies

Truthfully, I’m not sure how I can even hold my mother mildly accountable when I perpetuated the torture by giving my daughter a home perm right before Junior Camp at Romoca (campground located in Palmer Lake, Colorado). She was angry and humiliated, with good reason. Her head was the size of a regulation basketball with all that fluff flying out from the roots. She reluctantly went to camp, knowing she would be the target of a number of jokes, many of those revolving around disparaging comments regarding the Fiji Islands. She was even more distressed when she discovered that the president of our church (Wallace B. Smith) would be paying a visit to the camp. Stacy still claims to be scarred from this entire debacle.

1989, The Summer of Her Discontent. Pictured with her sleek-haired cousins, Amy and Tyler
Stacy’s First Permanent (and my nomination for 1983 Mommie Dearest)

One final note. I seem to be an equal opportunity family member. “Back in the day” when Bob and I were newly married, everyone-but-everyone wanted an Afro hair-do. Bob and I were no exception to that cultural nuance and both succumbed to the chemical home perms to achieve the look. A canny friend (who was herself a beautician) gave Bob a perm and thoughtfully (tee-hee) took his picture which she presented in a sweet little frame. She gave me a perm as well.

You know this is a beautician’s house by the handy broom. Thanks, Sue Cox!

If the family that perms together stays together has merit, then we are the poster children. After forty years, I believe I can state with some certainty that Bob and I are permanent, like peanut butter and jelly, England and the Beatles, love and kisses, and of course, glamour and Tonette. Sigh. Those WERE the good old days, huh sweetheart?

Foo Manchu and his favorite squeeze