The beauty parlours that sprung up in Dublin in the early 1900s were the product of an extraordinary experiment, the story goes.
It was the summer of 1893 when a group of Irish women from the south-east decided to build a small, self-sufficient beauty salon, a venture that would serve as a model for their entire industry.
The idea was to produce high quality, affordable products, with the sole purpose of helping to feed the starving Irish people.
“There was this great opportunity that was out there for women to get some good-quality products for a good price,” said Margaret MacLaughlin, author of the book Beauty Parlsours.
She was a former teacher of beauty who has been researching the history of the beauty parlor industry in the Republic since the 1960s.
“It was just a very unusual thing, and I think it was something that just struck a chord with the women of Ireland, because it was this little idea that was very different to anything else,” Ms MacLaughlan said.
“The women were quite passionate about it, and there was a lot of interest in it.”
After a decade of study and experimentation, Ms MacLeod said the women started to have success with the product, and by the 1920s, the salon was producing over one million bottles a month.
“We had an enormous growth in volume in the following year, and we went into a period of prosperity, but we also got a lot more attention from the press,” she said.
The success of the salon allowed for a new market to emerge in Dublin, with businesses opening across the city and even across the country.
“By the mid-1930s, a lot had been developed in Dublin and it was really starting to catch on with the people, and people started coming to us for advice,” Ms McLeod said.
But by the mid 1940s, demand for beauty parlsours in Ireland had peaked, and the salon industry was shut down.
“At that point, there were no jobs, and you had a lot fewer people wanting to come to us because there were only so many jobs in the country,” Ms McLaughlin said.
By the 1950s, Dublin was in the midst of a recession and a number of the smaller beauty parLours closed, leaving the area with one-third of its workforce.
But the beauty salons of today were born, and Ms MacGlann said the salon movement was a good way to grow and support small businesses.
“People didn’t know that there was such a large beauty industry here, and it had been happening for a long time,” she explained.
“I think people really thought that there were very few opportunities in Ireland and I was just doing something for the people in my area.”
Ms MacGlannes book, Beauty ParLours, is an exploration of the history and development of beauty parliaments in Ireland, focusing on the beauty trade in the city of Dublin and its surrounding area.