Hair-do's through the ages*


Assuming that grooming practices were pre-tested on people before they were used on our Poodles, here's a quick (and very incomplete) review of the history of our grooming tools:

  • "Razor, 20,000 years ago, Asia and Africa....archaeologists have evidence that men shaved their faces as far back as twenty thousand years ago. Cave drawings clearly depict bearded and beardless men, and gravesites have yielded sharpened flints and shells that were the first razors. And as soon as man mastered working with iron and bronze, razors were hammered from these metals....
  • "Safety Razor: 1762, France....
  • "Electric Razor: 1931, United States....
  • "Soap: 600 B.C., Phoenicia....
  • "Shampoo: 1890s, Germany....
  • "Cosmetics: 8,000 Years Ago, Middle East....
  • "Hair Styling: 1500 B.C., Assyria....the Assyrians...were the first true hair stylists. Their skills at cutting, curling, layering, and dyeing hair were known throughout the Middle East as nonpareil. Their craft grew out of an obsession with hair....In 303 B.C., the first professional barbers, having formed into guilds, opened shops in Rome....
  • "Hair Dryer: 1920, [Racine] Wisconsin. The modern electric hair dryer was the offspring of two unrelated inventions, the vacuum cleaner and the blender.... [NB: "The New York Public Library Desk Reference...p. 102...first direct current electric motor dates to 1873, and the first commercial electric fan (a direct ancestor of the electric hair drier, one would think) to 1882. I could find no specific reference to electric hair dryers, but the same source dates the first electric toaster to 1893, so all the technological elements required for an electric-powered hair drier were in place by that date." (KF, 10 Sept. '99)]
  • "Comb: Pre-4000 B.C., Asia and Africa. The most primitive comb is thought to be the dried backbone of a large fish....the earliest man-made combs were discovered in six-thousand-year-old Egyptian tombs....Archaeologists claim that virtually all early cultures independently developed and made frequent use of combs--all, that is, except the Britons....these early peoples wore their hair unkempt (even during occupation by the Romans, themselves skilled barbers). They are believed to have adopted the comb only after the Danish invasions, in 789." Charles Panati, Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things (New York: Harper & Row, 1987), pp. 214-38. (Also of interest: "Knife: 1.5 Million Years Ago, Africa and Asia"; and "Vacuum cleaner, 1901, England." Panati, pp. 80; 138.)
  • Scissors. Definition, 2-volume OED (1933)--"A cutting instrument consisting of a pair of handled blades, so pivoted on a pin in the centre that the instrument can be opened to a shape resembling that of the letter X, and the handles then brought together again so as to cause the edges of the blades to close on the object to be cut." The Roman word for scissors--forfex (forfices, um, f. pl.; the verb to shear: tondeo; a shearer: tonsor, m, etc.): "The comb was all the more necessary since the haircut was performed with a pair of iron scissors (forfex) whose two blades were as innocent of a common pivot as their base was of rings for the operator's fingers. Its efficiency, therefore left much to be desired, and it would not avoid the irregularities which we call 'steps' and which according to Horace's Epistles exposed the victim to public derision... (Jérôme Carcopino, translated by E.O. Lorimer, Daily Life in Ancient Rome (Harmondworth, England: Penguin, 1956), p. 177. The Columbia Encyclopedia (1947) refers "scissors" and "shears" to "cutlery": "The history of cutlery begins with the shell and the sharp flint used for cutting before man made tools. The beginning of the primitive craft of chipping flint was the improving of naturally sharp edges. The chipped flint knives of the New Stone Age show great skill and taste. Knives were made of copper and bronze when these metals came into use. Finally steel and alloys of steel have displaced other materials for the blades of instruments for cutting....The Toledo blade was famous when the sword was an important weapon. Solingen, in Germany, and Sheffield, in England, are widely and favorably known for their cutlery, as they were in the Middle Ages. Kropotkin's Fields, Factories, and Workshops includes a good account of the making of cutlery." World Book Encyclopedia (1997), scissors were developed shortly after sharp (presumably metal) knives; sturdy, sharp scissors developed in late 1200s.
  • The Columbia Encyclopedia (1947): " of the first animals to be domesticated by man, its care and pasturing leading primitive man to adopt a pastoral type of existence....As early as 200 B.C. the Romans had begun to breed sheep for fine wool; descendants of their flocks were used to improve the sheep of other countries, especially Spain....Most of the other modern domestic breeds originated in England....The herding of sheep is one of the first occupations mentioned in the Bible."
  • Michael Partridge, Farm Tools through the Ages (Boston: Promentory Books, 1973), chapter 8: "Tools for use with livestock", (sheep) pp. 192-4. Notes: sheep first washed, then allowed to dry for a week. Hand shearing, experienced man could complete 50 in a day. Shearer took animal between his knees, placed it on its rump with its back against him, and clipped with a pair of spring shears with blunt ends, around the body in a circular pattern, clipping as close as possible because the pile was closer near the bottom. The first mechanical device for cutting wool fleece was invented by an Australian, James Higham, in 1868 and after that developed by Australians. Using this device, the operator had simply to guide the clipper over the fleece.
  • "The poor Romans...they often fail to get proper credit for their engineering accomplishments, which include concrete roads and public structures (principal among the latter being the Coliseum), indoor plumbing, municipal water and sewer systems, central heating, artillery, and surgical staples, to mention only a few. (There are Roman roads and bridges that are still in use today, BTW. Those Romans built to last.) Roman barbering...'scissors'...I never said they were Geibs, only that they were true scissors." (KF, 9 Sept. 1999). Go to facsimiles of Roman surgical instruments held by the University of Virginia to see Roman surgical scissors, which are "spring shears" (i.e. without a pivot: the handle doubles as a spring to open the shears; hand-pressure closes them), and Roman forceps, which operate by a pivot, similar to the locking forceps with which many of us pluck our modern Poodles' ear-hair. We need not assume that Roman barbers required scissors to cut hair; hair stylists commonly used straight razors to cut hair within our living memory.
  • Hairspray. Of course, since hair spray is "illegal" in relation to the conformation ring, the subject doesn't belong in this section, but it is nevertheless perhaps worth noting that the editor of the Poodle History Project remembers when a beer rinse was used (at least by teenagers) for a stiffening effect similar to that of modern hair-sprays.

    Conclusion: those grooming tools (comb; scissors) which are essential to keep a Poodle in good health and safety pre-date even proto-Poodles. However, those grooming tools (shampoos, electric clippers, and force driers) which are now considered essential to create the sculptured finish, which many admire in today's conformation ring, post-date the initiation and early development of the dog-show movement in the last quarter of the 19th century (see Conformation exhibition): in the conformation ring, technology has driven style. However, it's dangerous to underestimate our ancestors: the late-15th century dog in a Continental clip in a painting by the Master of Frankfurt (1460-1520-c.1533), Virgin and Child..., c. 1496 (Aukland City Art Gallery; see "Gordon's Poodle Visuals") one might take straight off the canvas and into a modern conformation ring without causing the judge to wonder if the revolution had finally come to pass.

    Essentials of grooming for good health and safety

    It is logical to suppose that the essentials of preserving those dogs who possess tightly-curled ever-growing coats in good health and safety have remained the same since the first such dog lived a long and happy life with the first person responsible for him or her. Here are the essentials:

  • Keep hair long enough to provide warmth and protection;
  • Short enough so as not to trap, or weigh the dog down;
  • Free of sizeable mats (felting) at the skin;
  • Free of vermin.

    Traditional clips (until approximately 1900)

    "Gordon's Poodle Visuals" contains references to a wealth of images of Poodle clips prior to 1900, all but a tiny proportion of which we can't present here without permission from the museums which hold the works of art in which the dogs appear--let alone the books in which the various museums allowed these images to be reproduced. However, old woodcuts and wood engravings are generally "out of copyright" along with the books in which they appeared, and some are reproduced here.

    In the same section are references to several images of urban European outdoor grooming establishments, for example, this one from the turn of the 19th century: "A Riverside Industry: Poodle-Barbers in Paris," The Graphic, October 1904, and the two better-known engravings, "Les Tondeuses de Chien" (1820) by J. J. Chalon, and Horace Harral's wood engraving, "Rome--shaving dogs on the steps of the Trinita de' Monti" The Graphic, June 8, 1872 and republished as "Shaving Dogs on the Spanish Steps in Rome," in Harper's Weekly, July 6, 1872; an earlier political cartoon "...coupe chien et chat et son mari va t'en ville" shows a French street scene ca. 1780 in which a depressed-looking (discouraged because of too-small scissors?) woman wearing a Martha-Washington-era cap clips a white Poodle who's holding hind legs straight up and head dangles down hopelessly; sign overhead; two men in knee-britches stand behind. We can confidently speculate that outdoor grooming in public spaces atrophied as electric clippers came into general use; also that outdoor urban dog-grooming never caught on in Great Britain, perhaps because of the damp weather; every Poodle-owner knows how relatively difficult it is to clip a damp dog.

    Corded. The earliest images the Poodle History Project possesses (at the moment) are of the corded coat; these include pre-historic statues and an image on an Attic vase (of particular interest to Pulik-fanciers).

    Working Continental in days of yore The headpiece for Poodle Lit. 101 (far left; please see that section for the source) probably comes from a Roman gravestone (stele). A similar clip is worn by a small dog in a wall-painting at Pompii and also by a small Poodle/proto-Poodle in a late-medieval bas-relief in the cathedral at Amiens in France (see "...Visuals"), and in the headpiece for the Main Menu page of the Poodle History Project (1621; near left; please see that section for source). For an early 17th-century grooming manual for retriever work, see Markham.

    Historically-correct working-Continental today: Miles Wicket of Wide Water AKC UDT, JH, AX, NAJ; PCA & LRC WCX at the Poodle Club of America's National Specialty, June 2001, having taken second place in the second year of PCA's conformation class limited to AKC-retriever-titled dogs. Wick is owned and handled by Tom Reese, who wrote: "Wick was groomed by Joyce E. Carelli (who thereby qualified for sainthood), starting with a dog that was not trained to be groomed and had not been brushed or washed for over a year. From a double shampoo to a finished dog took four hours. Jacqueline Taylor and I helped the whole time because this Poodle was wild...." (TR, July 2001)

    The editor of the Poodle History Project has found that this historically-correct working-Continental is the most practical clip for field-training, hunt tests, and so on: the dog's legs don't cake with heavy mud, yet the hair is long enough in the short parts to protect against brambles (but doesn't pick them up as hitch-hikers), the dog can swim easily, yet has enough hair in the moderate jacket to keep dry and warm at the skin in cold water and brisk wet windy weather. By contrast, the modern Sporting Clip leaves longer hair on the legs where it gathers heavy mud, and, when wet, the shorter hair on the body curls tightly, leaving skin exposed to cold wind.

    On Monday, 27 September 1999, "Castor" CKC CD, JH, WCI, PCA WCX (with his owner, who is also editor and co-ordinator of the Poodle History Project, and with Dr. Stanley Coren, who is author of Why We Love the Dogs We Do -- see Companions to genius...), was a guest on CBC Radio One THIS MORNING and interviewed by famous and venerable CBC host Michael Enright. The subject of the interview was peoples' strong feelings (pro and con) about Poodles and their hair do's. Castor wore his historically-correct Continental clip, the comfortable and functional 2,000-years-old working clip. To buy a tape of this approximately 20-minute interview, please contact Jane Farrow, Producer, THIS MORNING,

    Historically-correct Working-"Sporting Clip". Markham (1621) warned our ancestors against clipping a dog down in winter weather (our ancestors were not restricted by seasons on waterfowl: see Duck dogs--guns and Duck dogs--traps). The headpiece for Ships... (at left; please see that section for source) is a late-18th century dog in an historically-correct "Sporting Clip". Since how-to's of keeping small flocks of sheep was then common knowledge (just as how to keep hens was common knowledge in the editor's own childhood), clipping a dog with a sheep-like coat may have seemed a routine matter. A 17th century dog in an historically-correct working "Sporting Clip" is shown in the headpiece for Duck dogs--traps. (Incidentally, the possibility of keeping a dog year-round in the modern Sporting Clip is quasi-dependent on the technology of central heating.)

    Entertainment (performance) Continental (with pompons). Dorothy Macdonald ("Poodles: Past, Present & Future", Poodle Club of America seminar, 1997; PCA videotape) states that pompons in quantity (fancy do's) are a legacy of use of Poodles as entertainment dogs. Ms Macdonald's thesis seems very likely. However, Markham's Water Dogge is wearing a pompon, while Munito, one of the most famous performance Poodles who ever lived (early 19th century), at left and the headpiece for Circus dogs (for a source, please see that section) appears not to be wearing his full share: not many pompons on Munito! Furthermore, John Wooton (1682-1764), in his painting, Dancing Dogs, shows the diminutive performers, perhaps those very same who danced before Queen Anne, in an historically-correct working Sporting Clip, and many of the hunting Poodles sport whimsical poms, for example, Richard Ramsey Reinagle, in his Poodle and Wildcat (1793), painted the parti-coloured SP with two bracelets on each front leg, and one each at the hock behind, plus a pom on the end of the tail, but no hip-poms. Hip poms are, however, worn in J. Jack's 1867 painting, Parti-Coloured Poodle on the Beach with a Man's Hat (see "...Visuals").

    Evidence in the Poodle History Project's files suggests that hair-do's which preclude accomplishment by the dog, and are, instead, extreme exhibitions of the groomers' skills, are technology-driven rather than performance-driven. This makes sense because dogs who make their families' livings (even comfortable livings) through performance, are not subjected to grooming practices which prohibit this activity. In fact, the exaggerated show-coat which precludes performance is a travesty in relation to historical integrity. Travesty or not, these "grand-opera-clothes" hair-do's are a triumph of skill and, the widespread conviction is, give a good dog the winning edge in the modern conformation ring.

    Professional dog groomers

    If the first (human) barbers' guild was organized in ancient Rome (see above), we await, with confidence, references to professional dog groomers among those enlightened dog-lovers.

    Meanwhile, the earliest image of a professional dog groomer in the Poodle History Project's collection of references is a cartoon: "...coupe chien et chat et son mari..." ("clip dog and cat and her husband"; the cartoon is, almost without doubt, political). Street scene, France ca. 1776, depressed-looking woman, wearing Martha Washington-era clothes, clipping, with scissors, a white Poodle who's holding hind legs straight up and head dangles down hopelessly; sign overhead; two men in knee-britches stand behind (see "...Visuals"). (We have two 19th century images of dog-groomers working on a street; and one of a dog-groomer working indoors.)

    See: Frank Foulsham, "A Dogs' Toilet Club" (The Royal Magazine, 1900), pp. 320-4:

    See: Mary Elizabeth Thurston, The Lost History of the Canine Race: Our 15,000 year love affair with dogs (Kansas City: Andrews and McMeel, A Universal Press Syndicate Company, 1996), 300 pp. Although lacking annotation (a serious absence, in the opinion of those of us who nearly always like endnotes and footnotes better than the text!), this book contains a modicum of material about proto-Poodle and Poodle grooming, p. 212; the author also mentions 18th century canine stylists; outdoor groomers in post-Revolution France.

    More recent styles and their elaborations

    1962. Waldschmidt, Kay (pseud. Miss Cameo), The Poodle Clipping Book, over 50 Poodle Styles with Step-By-Step Instructions by Miss Cameo (Jersey City: TFH, 1962). "Most of the Poodles have mustaches. Dedication states: 'This book has been written for, and dedicated to, the Professional Poodle Stylists all over the country, in the hope that it will contribute to the art of styling the Poodle.' There are all kinds of really funny clips here (this is what the book calls them, not patterns, but clips), and includes instructions on coloring your Poodle, and several ways to trim heads and mustaches. The instructions are very thorough, although in some cases out of date, and are indeed, step by step, with lots of illustrations to show what is intended. I was intrigued to read the instructions on coloring the Poodle ('Easter time., orchid, green, etc.'). the section [RE] implements for grooming: 'If you have an electric hair drier this is fine for drying your Poodle after bathing. Otherwise, bath towels can be used but your Poodle's coat won't be as fluffy as with a hair dryer.'" (E.LaG., 3/98)

    Here's a good beginners' book on Poodle grooming: Shirlee Kalstone, The Complete Poodle Clipping and Grooming Book, 2nd edition (NY: Howell, 1981; first edition, 1968). Unfortunately, the easiest Poodle-clip, the historically-correct working-clothes Continental is not shown except in Markham's 1621 illustration (p. 7 and above).

    Headpiece: This English Saddle clip is "legal" in conformation rings in Canada and the United States, although the exaggerated technology-driven Continental clip is most often seen. Here, AKC Ch Litilann's Absotivly Rosie is shown winning Best of Variety at the Westminister Kennel Club's show (widely televised annually) in February, 1996. All dogs exhibited at Westminster are "Specials" and the specials coat is very much so! Rosie was Breeder-Owner-Handled to this big win by Ann Rairigh. The English Saddle is a more difficult trim than the Continental. Nevertheless, just as the Continental's "historically-correct working-clothes" version is permissable in today's conformation ring, the English Saddle can be rendered in a workaday version which is allowed. You may wish to experiment to see if the English Saddle becomes your Poodle. A third clip is permitted: puppies under a year also may be shown in a puppy-clip (the most difficult clip of all--so if you're an entire newcomer with a yen to practice...). A knowledge of Poodle history will give you the courage to groom your own dog just as Poodle and proto-Poodle owners have done for many hundreds of years (with less equipment than's available to you!). Don't be intimidated by modern "big hair" fashion which is not required by the breed standards. Along the way, don't miss the fun of exhibiting your dog in the conformation ring; start with a match. Set your goal: by doing, to learn as much as possible about conformation and its exhibition; that way, you're guaranteed to win, albeit on your own terms.

    The photograph of a recumbent Swiss Standard Poodle enjoying a hand-dryer in 1925 was contributed by Rosa Engler, 3 February 2003.

    *Prove the rule: It is a policy of the Poodle History Project to check all references. (Which is not to say that if you are writing an article or a book about Poodles that you're off the hook checking our sources! We make mistakes, too!) The value of this practice was proved when The Daily Telegraph published on 1 April 2008 (sports supplement, page 15, central column), that day's item in a countdown to the Beijing Olympics by Christopher Lyles which had to do with one Avril Lafoule who won a Poodle grooming contest related to the Paris Olympics on 1 April 1900. During the course of our checking this reference, it was, alas, retracted in The Daily Telegraph on Saturday, 16 August 2008, Sports, page 23, right-hand column: "It's barking mad as spoof takes on a life of its own" and on line by Andrew Hooper, Deputy Editor, Digital Sport, telegraphmediagroup on 18 August 2008 (...Olympic poodle-clipping gold...) as follows: "'128 days to go . . . 128: The number of competitors who participated in the poodle- clipping event at the 1900 Olympics in Paris. The event was held in the leafy environs of the Bois de Boulogne and it was the only occasion that it featured as an Olympic discipline....The gold medal was won by Avril Lafoule, a 37-year-old farmer's wife from the Auvergne region of France, who successfully clipped 17 poodles in the allotted two-hour time frame. The poodle-clipping competition, held on April 1, was watched by 6,000 spectators, one of the larger audiences at the most chaotic Olympic Games of all.' The curious case of Olympic poodle-clipping is a classic web tale. Cut from the original Telegraph countdown and pasted into the blogosphere, it took on a life of its own, losing all its original context and .... now garners almost 25,000 Google search results."

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