Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Not A Hair Out Of Place

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 5, 2011

The expression not a hair out of place means that an individual’s appearance approaches — if not meets — perfection.  

Mary Cassidy of Bedford Hills, NY wrote an open letter to her fellow commuters that was published in the New York Times newspaper on June 18, 2000.  Her objection was to the many commuters who carried coffees, bagels and newspapers on to the trains but for some inexplicable reason, experienced difficulty when it came to depositing their trash in any of the many receptacles along the commuter route. 

I have seen men in their custom-tailored shirts and Burberry raincoats leave behind a mess of office memos, newspapers and empty beer cans in paper bags under their seat.  I have seen professional-looking women in heels and lipstick, not a hair out of place, shove bags, empty mail envelopes and gum wrappers at their Ferragamos … [snip] … What happens to adults on trains that they think they can act like slobs?

Forty years earlier on March 17, 1960 the Pittsburgh Press ran an article written by Lenore Brudige about the world champion hairstyling competition that had been held earlier that week in New York City.  The winner was reportedly a “broad shouldered 31-year-old father of four children” by the name of Jon Lesko.  Despite winning the competition, reports were that he was modest about his achievements.  Of his well-received hair design aptly named the “Bee-loved” Ms. Brudige wrote:

The designed continued.  “A heart-shaped outline is in front.  That is for the ‘loved look’ theme, so you see it is a Bee-loved style.”  Model Betty Lillie of Irwin was well pleased.  Her tresses, which had been tinted pink chiffon, were still intact since winning the competition three days ago, not a hair out of place.  The reason: it was made clear is because Mr. Lesco arranges hair with the precision of an engineer.  Architecturally, the design is sound.

Back on November 10, 1924 the Chesebrough Manufacturing Company of New York ran an advertisement for Vaseline Hair Tonic in the Cavalier Daily newspaper, a publication  of the University of Virginia.  This product with a registered U.S. patent and made amazing promises to men about its absolute “purity and effectiveness.” 

Not a hair out of place and not a single flake of dandruff.  Big and strong also.   Adonis had nothing on him.  You can gamble he doesn’t say a word about “Vaseline” Hair Tonic.  But he uses it almost religiously.  Nothing like it for mastering unruly hair and keeping the scalp healthy.

On February 9, 1906 the Lewiston Evening Journal ran a story by David Graham Phillips entitled, “The Deluge: A Novel Of Finance.”  The story had been copyrighted the year previous and the following passage was included:

I stood up before him, threw my coat back, thrust my thumbs into my trousers pockets and slowly turned about like a ready-made tailor’s dummy.  “Monson,” said I, “what do you think of me?”

He looked me over as if I were a horse he was about to buy.  “Sound, I’d say,” was his verdict.  “Good wind — uncommon good wind.  A goer, and a stayer.  Not a lump.  Not a hair out of place.”  He laughed.  “Action a bit high perhaps — for the track.  But a grand reach.”

Interestingly enough, the Star newspaper in New Zealand published a story on January 18, 1877 entitled, “A Rich Girl Without A Fortune.”  In this story, the following passage was found:

She possessed this one peculiarity — though they did call her Cinderella; that she was always nice and neat.  Her dresses were of the cheapest materials — cottons, thin stuffs; but somehow she kept them fresh and well.  Not a spot was on her naturally delicate hands this evening as she sat down; not a hair out of place on her pretty head.

Again, it is safe to assume — based on the story in the newspaper of 1877 — that the expression was one that was used often enough to be easily understood back in 1877.  Idiomation ventures to guess that the expression dates back at least another generation to the 1850s.

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2 Responses to “Not A Hair Out Of Place”

  1. You research is impeccable and love reading you posts. Just one question though does this apply to a bald guy like me?

    • Hmmm, that’s a very good question. I would think it does since if you have no hair to be out of place one could surely claim that not a hair is out of place. 😉

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