Monday, 23 May 2016
A Civilised Ritual
The Decline and Fall of Double-Brushing Hair
A reader writes: 'If you take the time to watch Brideshead Revisited you will eventually see Charles Ryder brushing his hair with a matching pair of brushes (sans handles I think) which he deftly swirls about his head, one in each hand, coaxing his follicles into place. Such was the morning and evening routine of an English gentleman up until very recently; my late grandfather used brushes of that very sort until the day he died.'
Wishing to resurrect the art of double-brushing hair, our reader asks where is it possible to purchase a pair of such and how should they be used properly. He wishes to find answers to these questions before 'the decline of [his] hairline exceeds that of the brushes themselves'.
Naturally, I recommended Kent brushes for this type of no-handled, oval-shaped hair brush. Two-brush sets were common at the turn of the last century and standard kit bag inclusions — hence 'officer' or military' brush set — in the First World War, like the set in the top photo. You will also see them called palm brushes in our squeamish age. Sometimes they come with a strap to hold your hand in place.
You might sometimes come across vintage military brush sets with wood, sterling silver, pewter or ivory backs; and you can still find new brushes with silver and pewter backs, but these are often presented as christening presents.
Brushes to do the Job
We want brushes that will do the job. Kent has a wood-backed range offering a range of backs and bristles, with a varied amount of hand work involved in making them. The MHS18 below, handmade in England, has a satinwood back with pure white Indian bristle that is hand drawn and stitched into the brush — a quality object.
Of course, to get the Brideshead effect you would need two of these, which you can leave stacked bristle-on-bristle in your bathroom for swirling at any given moment.
How to Double-Brush
In the right hands — yours, to be precise — you can wield the two brushes to smooth the hair and stimulate the scalp. The brush is good for creating a slicked-back style without leaving separations from the teeth of a comb. If the hair is resistant, try adding a dab of Yardley English Lavender Brilliantine.
Why use two brushes? Our readers might offer a fuller (better) explanation, but it obviously gets the job done quicker and you get into a kind of balanced, harmonious movement similar to when you're swinging your Indian clubs for your daily dozen; each brush taking care of its side to make the outcome — a slicker hairdo — more likely. In any event, as we see from the Charles Ryder scene, it adds a little drama and civility to the daily ritual.