I have no idea how to pin down Mary Pickford simply. She was one of the first huge film actors in the earliest days of cinema when the actors were not even credited. Pickford (who played a child until well into her thirties) was diminutive in stature, but a behemoth in the industry, and she owes a lot of her success to her hair.
A quote from Sex in the Movies, a book written in the 1960s by Alexander Walker, regarding Pickford: “Before she became known to them by name, people recognised her by her cascade of ringlets. They were the first thing that made her talked about. She literally got a head start on her career.”
A lot of things about Mary Pickford are fascinating, but to the general public she was first and foremost, The Girl with the Curls.
I’m going to teach you how to be the girl with the curls, or even the boy with the curls--I don’t judge. I’m moving soon, so my brain is very frantic. I might be all over the place with this. Plus! I made a video. Let’s begin.
These are curls made with rags, so I cut an old shirt into eight pieces, for eight curls. I tried to cut fabric that is twice as long as my hair, but ultimately I cut them very haphazardly.
In the Edwardian era (which I swear is not my only interest) and probably even later than that, women used a lot of different things for “setting lotion” in order to hold the curls. I used sugar water. Obviously, we’ve invented gels and mousses and whatever else--I would suggest you use one of those things over sugar, but I’m trying to be as authentic as possible.
I separated the hair into eight sections: four front sections and four back sections. I laid a pencil on top of the rag strip, and laid those two things next to a section of hair. The pencil helps to keep the width of the curls even.
I wrapped the hair around the rag and pencil both. The most important thing in doing this is to wrap the hair without twisting it. Twisting the hair changes the shape and makes it less... sausage-y.
Then I wrapped back up around going the other direction, slid out the pencil, and tied the ends up.
The curls are generally to be slept on overnight, but I dried mine with a blowdryer.
It’s fairly obvious that I have long hair, and it’s not always easy for everyone to see how it could be adapted on short hair, so I also set my boyfriend’s hair. In the early 20th century, mothers really did set their young son’s hair in sausage curls. Robert did not like having his hair set in curls. He squirmed a lot. I called him “Little Lord Fauntle-rob” several times.
When setting his hair, I did it differently. I wrapped his curls around the rag without the pencil, and I folded paper over the ends of his hair to keep them neat.
Robert’s curls did not turn out particularly neat--I should have done smaller curls, and he refused to sit under the dryer for a long time. I apologize for this. We are both kind of manic right now.