A trip to the hairdressers can be one of two things. It’s either going to be a relaxing treat, which has the potential to rejuvenate a person by beautifying their crowning glory. Or it can be a nightmare scenario where you can wake up one morning and look adequate but go to bed at the end of the day wearing the worst follicular mistake in Christendom on your head.
Hair is a funny thing. In practical terms, it really is just a type of long ‘fur’ on the top of your head to keep it warm. But since fashion-consciousness began, hair has been the fundamental accessory in keeping one as aesthetically pleasing as possible. Your hair is your pride and joy. And unlike a bad outfit, you can’t take it off.
I fall into the camp of one of those people who enjoys my eight-weekly trip to the hairdressers. But it wasn’t always that way. When I had long, curly tresses that cascaded down my back, the hairdresser had the power to make me ravishing or completely destroy me. I’d say most people reading this know that awful sinking feeling you get in the very pit of your stomach when you see the scissors chopping haphazardly away and you just know something very, very bad is about to happen. You go home, usually in tears, re-wash it and use every tool in your arsenal to make the best of it; hair-dryer, diffuser, straighteners. Nothing works. Then you go to bed, cry yourself to sleep and wake up in the morning, forgetting the horror of yesterday. But as you regain full consciousness, you feel an unusual draft about your neck and ears and remember all over again what that evil stylist has done to you. And I have known that mortifying feeling more times than I’d like to remember. So I have a couple of tricks up my sleeve which I’d like to share with you.
Firstly, you need to rehearse your ‘patter’. Do not under any circumstances attend an appointment without knowing in your mind exactly what it is you want. I’ve tried bringing in photo from a magazine in the past but the hairdresser always gives me that withering look that says, ‘you simply don’t have that type of hair’ or ‘you’re kidding yourself if you think this haircut will look good on you’. So I don’t bother with the magazine pictures anymore. But what I do is practice in my head exactly what I’m going to say. I will even stare at a ruler to see how much hair I actually mean when I say ‘I want an inch off’. And you can’t forget that the hairdresser’s inch is often very different to the true mathematical definition of an inch. But there isn’t much you can do about that. Never find yourself in the ‘black chair of doom’ using the words, ‘I don’t really know, what do you think?’. Be firm. Be clear. You are the boss. This is life and death stuff we are talking about here.
My second tip is to have your hair cut regularly – every eight weeks is optimal. Let’s say you have a haircut and it’s just right (wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles!). If your hair grows half an inch every month, it stands to reason that if you go again at the eight week period and say, ‘I want an inch off’, your hair should look exactly the same as the last successful cut, right? This principle doesn’t always work but it’s the best advice I can give you.
Like I say, I’ve had my fair share of disasters, I can tell you. I once had my hair dyed so badly that at the roots it was one colour and at the ends it was completely different. And that was in the days when that new-fangled, graduated ‘ombre’ look wasn’t in fashion! I didn’t notice the mistake until I got home but the next morning I scurried with a hoody over my head back to the hairdressers to politely ask that they put it right. The stylist gave me a bit of attitude and said that it was fine and that she was too busy. But never cross a woman scorned (or with bad hair). I marched her outside into the sunlight and assured her in no uncertain terms that she would find time to correct a mistake she shouldn’t have made in the first place. She meekly agreed and did indeed manage to find time to dye my hair one uniform colour. Honestly, I’m the nicest person in the world, but I’m a she-devil if you mess with my hair.
If you’re a bald man, you’re probably wondering why I’m making such a big song-and-dance about something that could be seen as a fundamentally shallow issue. But you’re kidding yourself. When you started to lose your hair, I bet it broke your heart. You’ve come to terms with it now, but at the time, it must have been agony. Some men are lucky and actually look better without hair. And that’s fine if you cut the remaining hair you have extremely short – just don’t grow that leftover hair long in any way; and in no event put it in a ponytail or attempt the ‘comb-over’. For a woman to lose her hair through something like alopecia or due to chemotherapy must be a devastating thing. When my sister was diagnosed with cancer, she did mourn the loss of her hair (once into her second course of therapy). She made her peace with it and reminded herself that the treatment was for the greater good; she was such a beautiful girl that she could carry off a bald head better than any woman I know. But it must have been a real wrench. I don’t know how I would have dealt with that.
These days, my aspirations when I step over the threshold of a salon are very different to the twenty-year-old me. Back then, my biggest fear was having my pride and joy cut too short. But once I hit forty, my hair started to thin out; that once-tumbling hair spilling down my back now made me look more like a lacklustre spaniel. The long hair had to go. So now when I go to the hairdressers, my main worry is that she won’t cut enough off! I have to be really strict with my stylist or I end up going home looking pretty much the same way as I did when I walked in. My hairdresser is a little on the reticent side (which is fine. She really makes sure that you and she are clear on exactly what you want and if it’s feasible). The trouble is, she went off on maternity leave about two years ago (I know, selfish). And I was forced to sample other salons that systematically got it wrong. When my former stylist came back from maternity leave, it was like winning the lottery. Finding the right hairdresser is no mean feat. I know people that have a regular stylist but get itchy feet and try a new one. This invariably ends in disaster and they have to go back to their former stylist and hope she won’t notice any changes since their last visit. It’s like being unfaithful to your hairdresser!
I particularly enjoy the names that hairdressers come up with to call their businesses. There is the old favourite, ‘Curl Up and Dye’ that I’ve *cleverly* used for my title (which is apt, because after a bad haircut, sometimes you do want to curl up and die…). But the most imaginatively titled salon is one not too far from where I used to live called, ‘It Will Grow Back’. Every time I drove by, I would laugh out loud. But I never deigned to have my hair cut there. Why would I? Basically, they were suggesting that they may make a completely botch-job of your hair, but never fear; your hair will grow again! So ‘It Will Grow Back’ didn’t really instil a great deal of confidence in me.
Other than a few highlights, I’ve never done this next thing before; but my next radical change is to go completely blonde! But I’m putting it off until I reach the big 5-0. As you age, your skin colour changes and dark hair just makes you look washed-out and unwell (or like you’ve accidentally dyed your hair too dark). But I imagine I will again find myself weeping and rocking in a foetal position in the corner once it’s gone spectacularly wrong. Still, I’ve a few years to psyche myself up for that disaster so we’ll cross that rickety bridge when we come to it…