Looking back, I realise I’ve had quite a few different hairstyles over the years. And now it’s clear to me that each change of style signified a momentous shift in my life. So, as well as I can remember, this is what happened to my hair.
Of all the styles I’ve had in my life thus far, my beloved Afro was the most labour-intensive. I spent at least an hour each night plaiting my hair and then a good twenty minutes each morning undoing it. All, so I could maintain its’ softness and shape. I wore my Joan Armatrading sized ‘fro’ almost perfect in its’ roundness with great pride for about six years, through secondary school to my third year at Poly.
Mum finally said yes to an Afro when I was in my fourth year at school. Until then, I’d had it straightened with a hot comb every week and then braided.
So, growing, up in the late 70s, in the Medway Towns, I then had to hunt down a hairdresser who was both able and prepared to cut it. And here I must say, ‘thank you, Chris,’ you took some finding, and I still remember the look of panic on your face when I first walked into your salon.
Mum had offered her services, but after seeing her use the green salad bowl to shape my sister’s Afro, I politely declined. I was determined to find a professional, though to be fair, my sister’s style didn’t turn out too badly.
Then, of course, I had to get the first morning of school out of the way. To say my appearance in the changing room, on Monday morning caused an uproar is putting it mildly. Friends and enemies alike had grown used to my shoulder-length braids. And I spent the next two years extracting, pens, pencils, rulers and various other bits and pieces from my hair.
Much the same happened when I left to go to college.
The Wet Look Perm
From the mid-to-late eighties, when I was in my early twenties, my style of choice was the wet look perm, the most expensive and time-consuming of all. I spent hours, days, months sitting around in my local hairdressers waiting to get my head seen to.
With each treatment, a cocktail of chemicals was applied to straighten, perm and then set my hair, so I may well have shortened my life with the stuff I inhaled during this process. Mind you the same can probably be said of the two years I spent sniffing at the various chemicals as part of my Chemistry A’ level. I couldn’t always be bothered to traipse across to a fume cupboard or dip a bit of litmus paper into a tube.
But no matter, I always felt great when I finally emerged with shoulder-length wavy hair, kind of Rita Hayworth like. Until of course, my natural hair grew back, and then I’d have to go through the whole bloody rigmarole again. Not to mention all the potions needed to maintain the texture. I had bottles of ‘Sta, Sof, Fro’ permanently stacked on my shelves.
I also spent a lot of time changing pillowcases.
Not too much to say about this one, I don’t think it lasted too long. I ended up with shoulder-length braids that were a mixture of nylon and my hair. All I can remember is it took at least eight hours to put them in and even longer to take them out. Still, there were no chemicals involved, and they lasted longer than the perms.
I opted for ‘the weave’ in the early 90s while travelling around Australia for three months. I had my natural hair plaited in concentric circles around my head, and then a curtain of synthetic hair sewn onto it. The effect was shoulder-length straightish hair that I hoped would be easier to manage in the heat and humidity of Australia. It wasn’t a complete success.
The short perm
At the age of thirty, I decide enough is enough and march into my hairdressers, demanding she cut it all off. Seeing my shoulder-length natural hair, she refuses, and after some negotiation, we agree on a short perm. I can’t tell you how much lighter I felt when I left that evening with a head of hair that was the shortest I’d had in years. Despite the chemicals, I loved it; and I said goodbye to Rita Hayworth, forever.
And this was the style I chose to wear on my wedding day.
The Number One
I lost patience again and perhaps a bit of sanity when I became a mother in my late thirties and decided hair was mostly overrated. I didn’t have the will to bother. So, I bought myself a pair of clippers and had a few attempts at cutting it myself, with mixed results. I even persuaded my husband to have a go, which was even worse.
When we eventually moved to Brighton in the early 2000s, I found a local barber, who could cut it how I liked. And I oscillated between a number one and number two for almost ten years.
The Unloved Hedge
My hair stayed short much to the chagrin of mum until she died and then, of course, I couldn’t bring myself to cut it. The unloved hedge is how my daughter chose to describe my hair for her English homework. By this time, it was not quite a full-blown Afro. I’d left it to grow a couple of inches, but without the benefit of nightly plaiting to keep it soft and manageable, it had become a bit unloved.
Things might well have continued in this vein had I not holidayed in Jamaica, where our housekeeper offered to ‘tidy up my head.’ She plaited it up for a reasonable fee and assured me that if I left them, they would, over time lock and I’d end up with dreadlocks. In the meantime, and to the relief of my aunt, I had a headful of neat and tiny plaits. Jamaican women don’t do tatty heads, especially when visiting relatives.
Today, I am the proud owner of a head of shoulder-length locks just as the housekeeper predicted.
Though I strongly suspect if mum were alive today, she might see my dreadlocks as being a bit too ‘Rasta’ ;).
So, there you have it until next time.