Despite what it might look like at first glance, this isn’t some sort of archaic torture device or early attempt at mind control—it’s a perm machine used to give straight-haired women of the 1930s natural-looking wavy locks. To achieve the desired look, hair was first treated with a chemical and then wound around electrically heated clamps, sometimes resulting in perfect cascading waves. (Unlucky beauty buffs instead suffered scalp burns or hair loss.) Regardless of the risks, perm machines of the sort were all the rage, even making a mark on the 1930s zeitgeist when one was featured in the 1932 comedy The Greeks Had a Word for Them.
Saratoga, which at the time was well on its way to becoming a bona fide wellness hot spot because of its healing mineral springs, stayed right on the beauty trends of the era. The destination spa town boasted at least one such contraption (pictured here), at 344 Broadway, a salon operated by hairdresser Kathryn M. Conley. While you won’t find one of these machines at Complexions—and the perm trend has given way to textured, beachy waves—one thing hasn’t changed: Saratoga’s women still aren’t afraid to go to great lengths for the next hot hairstyle.