The late teen years witnessed the arrival of permanent waves for women, and La Jolla’s own Eliza Virginia Scripps, the eccentric half-sister of the well-known Ellen Browning, is said to have been the first person in town to have one! Hair and beauty salons for women began to appear in La Jolla during the great flapper era of the 1920s, when bobs were the style of the day and socialites such as Dorothy Wooster had their hair cut short and sassy in the manner of silent film stars such as Louise Brooks.
As interest in styles and appearances grew, more and more businesses opened to cater to the beautification of La Jollans. By the late 1930s, La Jolla boasted four barbershops and eight beauty salons, with the Silverado Beauty Salon at 1020 Silverado as the largest, providing “all lines of beauty culture and permanent waving with soft water used exclusively.” Silverado had five beauty operators and a branch at the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club.
No era in American history has been more focused on beauty products and appearances than the 1950s, when the sheath dress demanded a perfect figure and a face perfected with Elizabeth Arden make-up and Revlon “futurama” lipstick. In La Jolla, local drugstores stocked plenty of the “new improved Richard Hudnut home permanent” to “make you look like a million dollars.” The beauty inspirations ranged from the iconic Barbie doll to human Hollywood counterparts: Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield and Dagmar. Ironically, in this 1950s era of great plen-itude, La Jolla witnessed the opening of two beauty and body-related businesses designed to curb excess. A slenderizing salon and Swedish massage parlor began business at 935 Silverado, and a store for diet foods also opened nearby.
The La Jolla Blue Book of 1964-65 lists eight barbershops and 32 beauty salons — but the era of fitness facilities and spas was yet to come. One of the first of this phenomenon of the late 1970s and early ’80s was a Fay Avenue establishment called The Retreat, advertised as “a personal service spa for men and women who care about themselves.” A short time later, Fay Avenue became a sort of strip mall of physical fitness gyms and boutiques as the last traditional men’s barber-shop with the red and white pole disappeared from the same street.
Today, La Jolla’s beauty and fitness business grows in ever-wider and new dimensions. Besides, some still-traditional salons that offer haircuts and styling, it includes specialists in eyebrow arching, ear piercing, body waxing, microdermabrasion, pumpkin peels, plastic surgery and lifts.
Beauty, in fact, may no longer be in the eye of the beholder but what the beholder and the beheld choose to have done.
— “Reflections” is a monthly column written for the La Jolla Village News by the La Jolla Historical Society’s historian Carol Olten. The Society, dedicated to the preservation of La Jolla heritage, is located at 7846 Eads Ave. and is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.