The Atlantic

The Hair Dryer, Freedom’s Appliance

For a century, the device has promised more than dry hair. An Object Lesson.
Source: Bettmann / Getty

I used to scandalize my friends with this confession: “I don’t own a hair dryer.”

It was as if I’d told them I ride a horse to work. But their surprise was justified: 90 percent of U.S. homes own a hair dryer. They come standard in most hotel rooms. The hair dryer is tangled up with the history of fashion, the evolution of women’s roles, and the development of gendered social spaces.

In the beginning, the hair dryer wasn’t a home appliance. In 1888, Alexandre-Ferdinand Godefroy debuted his “” in a French salon. It wasn’t pretty: His dryer was a clumsy, seated machine, resembling a vacuum cleaner—essentially a giant hose connected to a heat source. At the time, women wore their hair long and looped, or curled into elaborate . For formal occasions, they might have ribbons, feathers, or flowers woven into their locks. Godefroy’s invention aimed to speed up the labor involved with these creations. But his machine failed

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