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Rag Dolls

June 2024
1min read


The sweetness and head-to-toe immaculateness of these two young ladies belie the effort behind the perfect image. Helen Cabrera, who sent us this 1945 picture of herself with her younger sister, reports on “how complicated it was to be cute,” especially when it came to creating those corkscrew curls:

“It was a process I shall never forget. Your hair was washed in the kitchen sink, and you had to sit and wait for it to air-dry. It had to be just the right wetness for the rags that would make the curls. The rags, which were stored in a special bag, came from dresses we had outgrown or sometimes from worn sheets. After using the rags, you had to be sure they were completely dry before storing them. I was only privy to that mildew smell once, and that was enough.

“They were 3 inches wide and 18 inches long. The hair was sectioned and then wound around the rag (clockwise or counterclockwise, but all the curls had to go in the same direction). After the hair was wound, the rag was wrapped close to the scalp and the ends tied in a knot. Time for bed. Now came the fun. How do you get comfortable enough to sleep? You gather as many pillows as you can find, propping yourself up so your head touches nothing. You instruct your sister, who shares your bed, to stay on her side and not disturb your pillow fortress.

“During the night one curl fought for its freedom. But we were able to pin it up, and the photograph was a success.”

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