25 June 2014

Dyed and Gone to Heaven

When I was in college I was very high-minded. I wore no make-up (and never would) and I didn't dye my hair (and never would). I don't think I even registered other possibilities. I still wore outfits my mother sewed for me. Well, things have changed. As it turns out, Nice 'n Easy and I have been together for longer than I was married. 

Malcolm Gladwell's 1999 essay 'True Colors', a really great read, is in large measure about advertising hair dye. 'Between the fifties and the seventies, women entered the workplace, fought for social emancipation, got the Pill, and changed what they did with their hair. To examine the hair-color campaigns of the period is to see, quite unexpectedly, all these things as bound up together, the profound with the seemingly trivial. In writing the history of the postwar era, did we forget something? Did we leave out hair?' The slogan 'Does she or doesn't she?' was written in 1956 by Shirley Polykoff for a ground breaking Clairol D.I.Y. hair colour product, Miss Clairol. About this, Gladwell says, 'The question "Does she or doesn't she?" wasn't just about how no one could ever really know what you were doing. It was about how no one could ever know who you were. It really meant not "Does she?" but "Is she?" It really meant "Is she a contented homemaker or feminist, a Jew or a Gentile - or isn't she?' It was all about self-invention.

A couple of decades on, a woman called Ilon Specht was working on a campaign for Preference by  L'Oreal. In an angry response to the rather traditional ideas her male colleagues were coming up with, she wrote a commercial ending in the now famous words 'Because I'm worth it'. Sprecht is quoted as saying, by way of explanation, 'It meant I know you don't think I'm worth it (Preference was a little more expensive than Nice 'n Easy), because that's what it was with the guys in the room. They were going to take a woman and make her the object. I was defensive and defiant. I thought, I'll fight you. Don't you tell me what I am. You've been telling me what I am for generations.' L'Oreal later turned the phrase into a slogan for the whole company. (For arcane reasons of consumer psychology, it was eventually changed to 'Because we're worth it'.)

Shirley Polykoff also coined 'The closer he gets, the better you look' for Nice 'n Easy. I just checked the box in my bathroom cabinet to see if the phrase is still in use. It seems not to be. These days it's all about technology.

18 June 2014

Light and Cool as Your Own Hair

The original advert from which my illustrative hair was taken. Such a wonderful clip, it apparently dates from 1987, although I don't think the styles can have changed since the inauguration of Franklin Fashions Corp in 1960. Every detail is a delight, from the Stepford Wives females on display, to the promise of a 'valuable free gift' (box of matches?), to the great copy. Made of 'miracle modacrylic fiber.. (which) behaves better than real hair', dog, children or possibly even husband. Hormone and indeed life-free, this fiber is on a par with the kitchen table as far as behaviour goes. 'Packs in your purse', something I have yet to achieve with my own hair, even with a larger Louis Vuitton at my disposal. 'Crush resistant' (great for public transport). And the coup-de-grace, the capless stretch wig 'looks and feels like real hair- you'll mistake it for your own', which might cause a mild panic attack when you open up that handbag.

12 June 2014

Permanently Disappointed

There is an Alice Munro story in which she describes a woman as having let everything go except for her hair, which remained an elaborate pile of teased, curled, coloured and sprayed blonde locks, years after the rest of her had gone to the dogs. She may have been a brunette. I'll let you know if I ever find that story again.
When I was around twelve or thirteen, my mother took me with her to the hairdressers for my first perm. It was, I think, an attempt to bond in girly activity. She was not a vain woman, but she maintained her hair pretty rigorously with regular perms and sets. I, on the other hand, was the sort of girl who needed to be told to brush hair and wash face before setting off for school. Somewhere in our family archive is the photo my father took of us on our return from the salon- and if I ever find that, you'll never hear about it. I imagine my mother had thought I would be delighted by the change (improvement!) in my appearance- more grown-up, more womanly, etc. Instead, I was just acutely uncomfortable with my new hair, as though an alien had taken up residence on my head and was waving at passersby. I whined about it enough over the next few hours that she eventually smacked me over the head, shutting me up, but not doing half enough damage to that indestructible hairdo, as I recall. Well deserved, I should emphasise, and the end of grooming for some months. 

One of the above might be a close representation of myself, but I'm not letting on which.