Sunday, February 20, 2011

My Pal, Vidal

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I was listening to the radio one day recently. Someone was interviewing Vidal Sassoon. Remember him?

It was the mid sixties. America was fighting in Vietnam. Twiggy was making emaciation so sexy that curvy women were jumping off tall buildings [well, thinking about it, anyway.] Hairstyles ran to flips and bee hives, teasing [back-combing] and lots and lots of hair spray. Looking natural was considered un-natural! Instead, we were supposed to torture ourselves by "setting" our hair in "curlers" every time we washed it. These were cylindrical torture devices with prickly bits to catch and hold the hair. I'm pretty sure sleeping in them caused brain damage as well as painful dents in the scalp. Rebellion was frowned upon. What? Go out without setting your hair? As soon as I washed my hair my mother would miraculously appear, all business, ready to set it for me. She was probably afraid I'd just comb it and go, and how would she ever live with the shame? Arguing with one's mother was not encouraged back then so I would grit my teeth, groan inwardly and submit.

My mother was petite. And stylish. It was a penance for her to have string bean daughters instead of dainty persons who enjoyed wearing make-up and letting her "beautify" them. Looking back, I realize the problem was that I was born either too late or too early. I would have fit right in had I been born a hundred years earlier, in my grand mother's day. Likewise if I'd been born when my sister was. But, I was born when I was born and so had to submit to my mother's plans for the perplexing question of how to turn her duckling into a swan.

I hated it! After every last hair had been tightly wound onto rollers I'd have to sit under another instrument of torture---the hairdryer. After my head cooked for half an hour and I began to think it would surely catch on fire, my mother would reappear brandishing combs and brushes and the dreaded hair spray. Taking the curlers out was torture in itself, as those prickly rollers did not easily release their prisoners. Some hairs inevitably got yanked out by the roots. Ouch! Then she would brush vigorously, but the hair promptly "boinged" back to sausage shapes. She was not a woman to give up easily. There were ways to make my hair do what she wanted it to. Teasing, or backcombing, for instance. Lord, how I hated that!

"Only a little," she'd coax. "Just to give it a little height."

Additional height was the last thing I needed. I was already taller than I was comfortable being, I didn't need six more inches of fluffed up hair! And besides, why would you tear perfectly healthy hair like that? And then, to add insult to injury, she'd spray the whole lot with hair spray. Because everyone knows that Prince Charming, when he finally shows up [and it could be any minute now,] will be longing to run his fingers through my helmet! Finally satisfied that I looked presentable she'd encourage me to go look in the mirror, hoping each time that this time I'd love it. Poor woman. Her efforts were wasted. I was an unappreciative ingrate, but would manage a sickly smile so as not to hurt her feelings. Though now I have to wonder why my feelings weren't taken into consideration? Considering it was my hair.

My sister [aka Rise, the unblogger!] was only six years younger than me but we seemed to belong to different generations. By the time she came along, rebellion was all the rage. "Teenagers" were beginning to be looked upon as a breed apart, in need of special handling. I don't think her glossy mane was ever wound up in curlers. If anyone had tried they'd have had to catch her first!

And then, one day, Mum sent me off to town for a haircut. And didn't come along to dictate how it should be done. Vidal Sassoon had just exploded onto the hair style scene with his radical ideas.

No teasing.

No hair spray.

It was all about the cut.

This was my kind of guy! I went, in one short half hour, from a boring school girl haircut to the very latest sculptured hairstyle. Vidal, he said in the interview, would like to have been an architect if he had not been cutting hair. Not such a stretch. In the past I'd come away from the hair dresser's feeling naked, as though I'd been scalped. [My hair was wavy and it was my mother's considered opinion that it looked better short. My considered opinion didn't get a look in]

From this haircut I came away feeling gorgeous! Me! And it wasn't because of any artifice. It wasn't because my hair had been teased to within an inch of its life, or sprayed until it was stiff as a board! I couldn't stop smiling. I felt beautiful. For the first time in my life.

Next day, of course, I had to go to school. And face the nuns. Amazingly, the haircut looked just as good after I'd slept on it. My friends were wildly enthusiastic. The unassuming MB had gone and done something daring! There were some raised eyebrows and pursed lips, notably from the Mag, to whom this new haircut looked alarmingly unsuitable for a convent recruit [she was still entertaining hopes for me at that stage!] The Mag was the squirmmeisterin, but this time she didn't succeed. I just tossed my newly glamorous head and refused to feel bad about looking good!

Vidal came along just in time to save me. If growing up was to be about masochistic hair setting rituals, I wasn't sure I wanted to have anything to do with it. His architectural approach was perfect for the way I thought. A good cut every 4-6 weeks and the rest of the time just comb and go! Maybe growing up wouldn't be so bad if you could do it your way!


patty said...

what memories you brought back! strange thing is I'm wearing my hair, something like it was in the 60's (but no back combing) and i've met those rollers again but only for 20 minutes while getting dressed for work. couldn't imagine sleeping in them all night. thanks for the memories

Stomper Girl said...

I wish you had a few photos with this post. Would love to have seen the before and after shots! But that is not to say that you haven't painted a fine picture with your words, mind.

ChrisB said...

Brilliant post! Yes I loved the look but had wavy hair so much as I tried it would never work. Straighteners hadn't been invented then!!

Pauline said...

Oh that glamourous cut! And do you still wear your hair that way? I remember when Barbara Streisand made a version of that cut all the rage in the 60s and I wore my hair just so until I turned hippy and let it grow to my waist!

And the punishment of being presentable way back when! My mother did not attack my hair with rollers and hairspray but she did give me home permanents - oh the smell and the weirdness of growing it out when the top came in bone straight while the the ends turned to frizz.

Thimbleanna said...

Ha -- what memories. Wait -- I'm still doing my hair that way. I looked like an Amish Bowl haircut when I had short hair. I guess old habits die hard.

And btw -- Loved the disappearing spider video!

dianne said...

when i was little, my mother tortured me with perms and spoolies - when i was about six, i ran from her when i saw the perm papers and smelled that smell ... she chased me till my dad came home ... and then she was mad at HIM cuz he wouldn't spank me for being disrespectful ... good times, eh?

secret agent woman said...

I'm suddenly thankful I was born a little later than that. Although I did have some pretty hideous "pixie cuts" early on.

(Believe it or not, word verification is "sperm")

secret agent woman said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Meggie said...

Ah, the wonderful liberation of a Great Haircut! You were born at exactly the correct time, if you think about it now. Finally, it was all about the CUT, and natural hair!

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

As one who alternates between Shetland pony and skinhead , I'm almost ready to embrace rollers , hairspray , extensions , blue rinses and a wig .
Almost .... but not quite .
I'm willing to buy a season ticket to Ireland .... where exactly is your magic hairdresser ?

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I do remember Sassoon and his innovative cuts, of course. My mother never "fixed" my hair, but she mightily disapproved of my style, which was to let it grow forever, completely natural, uncurled, unsprayed, and unfussy. To this day, I despise the smell and concept of hair spray. And long, clean but unstyled hair is still my default setting because although I'm certainly old enough to be a "lady," I never wanted to be other than a natural woman, like the Aretha Franklin song. But you, Missy, I've seen your picture and you ARE beautiful, even now.

mimi'sdarlins said...

Molly, I could have written this article myself! Funny, sometimes painful, and so true!! Only instead of coming out of the salon w/ my new Sassoon cut, my best GF was giving me a 'trim', which she'd done many times before...we always trimmed each other's tresses. I trusted her this time too, even though she'd been nagging me to let her give me the new Sassoon cut. And SLIP went the scissors...oops! (or so she claimed), and I had my new haircut. At first upset with her, by the following day I was loving it. I kept that half short, half long, sassy cut for most of my senior year. Thanks for the trip down memory lane :-)

Kerry O'Gorman said...

Holy Cow Molly! Another kindred spirit found in the blogosphere! I absoloutely hated my thick wavy hair growing up. Luckily I grew up in the '70s but unluckily 'Marcia Brady' hair was 'in'. She had super straight, thin hair. My tangled helmet of a hairdo never did what I wanted and THEN Farah Fawcett came along! Say no more. Feathered bangs were not part of my hair's vocabulary. Thanks so much for visiting my blog. I never lived in Ireland, but after travelling there for 3 weeks, and learning more of my roots, I too am homesick and can't wait to go back to stay for a while. By the way, these rambling comments may have something to do with the Guinness I am sipping on! Cheers!

Meggie said...

Such a great post! I was lucky enough to choose for myself.