In 1901 when the earliest pioneering Foochow women came to Sibu with Wong Nai Siong, they were mainly poor farming people who needed to find work and food. Hair style was not top priority for them . They were accompanying their husbands and only very few were young girls accompanying their parents.
Like most Chinese from the rural areas of China, these women kept their hair long and straight. Perming of hair was not even heard of yet.
According to Foochow tradition then, girls could wear their hair in plaitsm or tie in two little pony tails while married women kept their hair in buns, ie. tied up in a knot at the back. If the married women could afford it, they could have a pretty hair pin, or a gold pin. Flowers like Bai Yu Lan would be the most natural decoration for the the elderly's hair.
Whether some women kept their hair short is hard to tell now as there is no record but in the 1920's, widespread news came that women were not allowed to cut their hair short!!
( Sichuan Warlords forbade women to cut their hair short, July 1921)
But according to some sources, many progressive women, especially in Chengdu and Chongqing cut their hair short in protest.
|Madam Soon Ching Ling's bun|
|Pioneering Foochow Woman with hair tied into a bun at the back.|
But hairstyles in the the 1930's of Sibu definitely changed, for one generation later, the Foochow women were educated and they had cut their hair short. Under the influence of Mrs. Mary Hoover, the educated Yuk Ing School graduates were well groomed and had already abandoned the stress of keeping their hair long in the hot climate.
|1930's Sibu - Girls in Yuk Ing Girls' School sported short hair|
|A 1930 Shanghai Magazine showing short straight hair and pretty cheongsam|
By the late 1930's , Sibu Foochow girls were already planning to go for college education in China, Singapore, and Hong Kong. However very few did go, although the young men had already be educated in China at college and even university levels.
The permanent wave "appeared in large cities such as Shanghai, Beiing and Nanjing. Female fashion salves swarmed to the hairdressers to have their hair waved!!"
|Model with permed hair appeared on Beer Advertisement.|
Calendars published in Shanghai mostly had paintings of fashionable beauties in the waved hairstyle. One of the reasons that Shanghai's Meily cigarettes sold better than Tianjin's Qianmen-brand cigarettes was because its packages all bore paintings of fashionable beauties sporting a permanent wave.
Interestingly in 1934, the Kuomintang's National Government initiated the New Life Movement, aiming to reform people's daily life with the principle of "tidy, clear, simple, plain, fast and realistic." The government in Nanjing issued a circular to the whole nation, which strictly prohibited women from having permanent waves. Helplessly, the curls began disappearing from the modern women in Nanjing. Nevertheless, the perm business was still brisk in Shanghai and Beijing, which shows those women's strong pursuit of beauty.
Post War years -
Many Foochow , China born ladies who came to Singapore to teach were already quite fashionable with permed hair according to my maternal grandmother who was in Singapore for a short stay immediately after the Second World War.
|1949 hairstyle, Sibu|
My second aunt, on my mother's side, being Fuzhou city born, was very fashionable and she was one of the first in Nang Chong to have permed hair!! Several other ladies who were well educated also had their hair permed and after that, it was really quite common to have hair "done" in Sibu.
My grandmother never had her hair permed until she died.
Since the 1950's permed hair has become a permanent fashion trend in Sibu. Some women also kept their hair straight and cut short like men's. A few hair salons were started, namely by Madam Lu Ai Ding and Madam Pearl Tiong Chuo Sieng amongst others.
|1950's hair style. A little longer at shoulder length.|
Hair fashions in Sibu can be as varied as the photos made available in the hair salons. If you have the money, you can do anything you like with your hair. One can even go bald.
|The Brazilian Perm - a fashionable curly hairstyle in the 21st century.|
On a more serious note,today Malaysia does not control how long or how short women's hair can be but Islam recommends Muslim women to have their hair covered, while non Muslim women can do whatever they like with their hair.