Thursday, 29 October 2009

Hallowe'en: Strangest Day of the Punk Rock Calendar
a cat gilds the lily

by Miss Justine Brown

Well, I do declare (below: Dracula [Chuck Biscuits] holds mrs tami thirlwell-nicol in his clutches [Bev Davies])

Hallowe'en was the most unsettling night in the punk rock calendar. Why? Well, for one thing, all year long we were assailed by JOCK NIFTIES (see Miss Brown's last post) in Camaros who would drive by screaming at us. One of their favourite taunts went like this: "Hallowe'en is OVER!" Nice one. But for one starry night each year, Hallowe'en was not over, and no-one would reproach punk rockers for wearing hairstyles better suited to parrots, and outfits which suggested undertakers losing it after one too many Bloody Marys at the Vegas conference (black suits in disarray, white shirts hanging free, ties askew...).

Inevitably there was a gig to attend, and the audience swelled by several hundred. What shall we do on Hallowe'en, Troy? Why, get dressed up as punk rockers and go see D.O.A. at the Oddfellows Hall, of course--even though we hate them and all their followers. So there they were, easily detectable in their "punk" get-ups. Sometimes they even wore, say, a rainbow afro wig. Any old weird thing would do. Most of them just turned up in their usual elephant flares and hockey hair, with a few safety pins and black eyeliner-- perhaps even an old tie-- as their costume.

To be a real punk and not a poser you had to be unable to camouflage yourself on Monday morning. You had to make yourself unemployable, in short, because almost no-one would hire someone with short purple hair.

Now Miss Brown knew she had really become a punk when she was failed to to look conventionally presentable even when it really mattered-- like on the occasion of a big family wedding. She tried, but nothing worked! Miss Brown normally enjoys puttin' on the ritz, but you can see the misery in her eyes and bearing in the snapshots on that occasion. With her poor grandmother's help she had picked out a yellow shirt dress (to match her bleached yellow hair), white panty hose, and, the most spine-chilling of all, a pair of white vinyl old-lady slip-on shoes. The kind that come folded up in a transparent plastic purse! She looked like someone who had been yarded out of the loony bin on a day-pass for this important family event. (Not so far from the truth, really.) That is what I mean when I say in earlier posts that there was nothing for us to buy, not even in the whole Hudson's Bay department store. Nothing! Miss Brown could have gone to a vintage store like Cabbages and Kinks (which unfortunately burnt down a few years ago) for a 50s prom dress, let us say, but Grandma was not going to come along and foot the bill at some bizarro vintage store.

But I digress. At those Hallowe'en gigs we were the languid experts, in our element while the posers struggled to fit in. Interestingly, some of them were converted on those nights and came back the next weekend with lawn-mower haircuts. They had found their circle at last-- a big bunch of people who had also been outcast at school.

The following day was bad, though. That's when the Camaros would roar by, some wag hanging out the passenger window and  screaming triumphantly: "Hey! Goof! Hallowe'en was YESTERDAY !!"

Now, I cannot leave you without a word about products. As autumn intensifies and winter looms, I have seen my mortifying sunspots disappear with help from, as I mentioned in my last post, Olay's fantabulous ProX SPF 30 day cream. I think it time to change creams with the seasons, so I am using Dr. Nick Lowe's offering. What's that, you say? You didn't know that Nick Lowe had traded music for dermatology? I thought EVERYONE knew that. Ho ho. Anyway, Dr. Lowe's line of ten or so items is being distributed by Boots, my favourite pharmacy on earth, not the least because they do exclusive products with interesting people. Bliss founder Marcia Kilgore's delicious Soap and Glory line --of which more later-- is another example. Boots the Chemist is a UK chain, but much of their stuff available worldwide--and online of course at

Dr Nick Lowe's recently amped-up The Secret is Out SPF 15 Lifting Day Cream has got it all: a pretty frosted blue glass container, sunscreen which blocks UV A and B rays (very important), a lovely consistency, and a cornucopia of anti-aging ingredients like pomegranate, raspberry, melon and ferulic acid. It's perfect for cooler climes-- creamy without being greasy, with a mild scent and just the right kind of protection and nourishment. Also available online at

next Friday: the alluring mrs. tami thirlwell-nicol presents "Cosmetic Counterculture"                               

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

So White She's Blue (With Cold): Punk Rock Skin

by Miss Justine Brown

ALERT! A fascinating interview about beauty's magical powers with girl genius Dame Darcy, author of Meatcake, the most original underground comic book on the stands, is in the Beauty Skool pipeline. 

The 19th century poetess Emily Dickinson insisted upon modesty. When, after she had been his patient for many years, her doctor insisted upon examining her, she made this one concession: he could remain seated in his doctorly leather armchair while she ran past the open door in her floor-length white petticoats. How right she was!

One day a 15-year-old Miss Brown and a group of pals piled into someone's wheels (always someone's wheels, since she never got Drivers Ed at the Skool) and motored down to Kitsilano ("Kits") Beach. How healthy and well-adjusted, you say! "Kits" is Vancouver's muscle beach---as opposed to say, its sick-making nude beach-- crammed with people eager to justify their gym memberships. The lawns are as manicured as the patrons.

Miss Brown emerged from the car in a long-sleeved t-shirt, pleated tartan wool mini skirt, thick black tights, and vintage Keds.
Miss Brown in a bathing costume photo Bev Davies

She ran to the shoreline and plunged in. As she swam about, an crowd was assembling like angry wasps. Someone had been using their nest as a pinata. When eventually she was compelled to emerge (her fingers resembled tiny white prunes), Miss Brown, dripping-- those tights were particularly sodden and heavy-- had to run the gauntlet as the tanned and near-naked villagers waved their pitchforks. Now, the squares hated us. And we, in turn, for some reason disdainfully dubbed them "jock niftys." But there was something about this refusal to wear a conventional bathing suits that REALLY enraged them. Our Miss Brown was lucky to get back to the car without a black eye.

She was determined to avoid the sun. Part of this derived from the general importance of sporting Sid Vicious-style white skin. But there was another reason. Miss Brown had grown up thinking, like everyone else since Coco Chanel made her fatal mistake and introduced the tan to high society, that tans were "healthy" and "glamorous" (Try telling that to a 17th century farmer! Or to the ladies who used to paint blue veins on their decolletage to make it seem paler). Miss Brown remembers her mother slathering herself with Johnson's Baby Oil; she remembers sunbathers holding tin foil before their faces to intensify the light.

On an August trip to Louisiana, Miss Brown did the sensible thing and stayed indoors for a full month. Her father and his new family drove her to Dallas to catch the plane north. They spent the last day camping at a lake north of Austin, a lake which seemed to offer respite from the mind-boggling heat and light. Our pale heroine spent the whole day in the water.

Horrors! The next day she woke to find herself transformed into a space alien. Her face was puffed up like a pillow, especially the forehead, which was also covered with blisters. Her eyes were reproachful slits.  That glassy lake, so cool and refreshing, had acted like a massive piece of tin foil. Miss Brown felt that she had spent several days in a microwave oven. Then she flew to Vancouver. Instead of going to hospital, she combed her bangs even more firmly over her face and toughed it out. It would be crude to tell you of how that forehead hardened, cracked, and fell off in great chunks over the next miserable days. It would be maudlin to recount how she cried bitterly, certain her face would never be returned to normal.

But Miss Brown's policy was the right one, it turns out (apart from those long hours in the perfidious lake). Since her early 20s she has been wearing a moisturizer-- Neutrogena, for instance-- with minimum SPF 15 EVERY DAY OF THE YEAR. An article in Allure assured her that not only would sunscreen protect her from wrinkles and worse, it could reverse past damage.  A visit to (click on "What's New") is never a bad idea. For the past few weeks she has been using their admirable ProX Age Protection Lotion with SPF 30, for Miss Brown has noticed some hyperpigmentation of late. Time to wheel out bigger guns. This weaponry, while a tad expensive, is light, creamy and quickly absorbed. It also seems to be seeing off those dreaded brown spots. Of course, a big, fabulous hat would be preferable to sunscreen, which-- who knows-- may turn out to have some bad long-term side effects. But Miss Brown does not possess a hat head. It's a shame, for the Regency ladies pictured below seem to have the right idea entirely.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Hairstylist's Hell

by Miss Amy Modahl

I once dabbled in hairstyling. I had a pair of fine scissors and was sure I could cut bangs perfectly to curl under with a hot iron and roll up loosely, light as air, just grazing the eyebrows. I worked diligently on my own bangs. I learned where to cut to make that perfect length. You see, I was a small-town girl. I knew punk from the music and tv, but I loved rock-n-roll. I loved big hair and Bad Company concert t-shirts, Van Halen, Aerosmith.
Name this 1980s hair band.

I would never have touched my natural brown with bottle colour. There would never be shaving one side, shaving both sides, a flat, plastered down bob. I wanted full. The fuller the better.
A big-haired rocker chick gives us the goods.

I was just 13, but I had the hair of a 16-year-old. My sister, being four years older, was of course, much cooler and had much cooler friends, so when they visited one day and admired my hair, I felt older, more important, dare I say beautiful. I was on top of the world. I took iron to lock and rolled under, rolled back, the heat close to my scalp, a spray of Aquanet, flip forward, spray, flip to the side, spray, spray, spray, bigger, bigger, lighter, fluffier. And when one friend asked if I would cut her bangs just like mine, I was more than happy to oblige. Sure Kim, no problem. The thing was, she had a big date that night, a big date right after a big performance center court half time with pom poms and little skirt. Sure, I said-- I'll get my scissors.

Kim was gorgeous. She had olive skin that tanned perfectly, tanned now from a booth and bottle. Her hair was light brown with natural curl and natural body, so full I couldn't hope to reach its heights; yet here she was admiring my do and requesting a bang trim. Of course, I said. Sure, Kim! and we went into the bathroom. She pulled her bangs down straight and said she really needed them shorter. So crunch crunch crunch, I chopped straight across, right at the spot where I would cut mine, just below the eyebrows, just so the bangs could pop up with that perfect curl. And after the snip, after it was too late to turn back, after, but just before the big game and the big date, after, but just before all eyes would be on her, before his special eyes would be on her at Ted's Pizza, her bangs went boing, flying so high up into the air that they exposed her whole forehead.

Mouth agape. This wasn't at all what I had expected. I grabbed like a drowning swimmer at a life raft, pulled the bangs back down, tried to dowse them with water, but no cure would work. There was no fix to tame the wirey curl in her hair, that spring so unlike mine. That hair I had admired turned against me. I had to face the facts. It was the time of reckoning. Now and forever, I had ruined her perfect look for her big night. Sorry Kim.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Belgrade Beauty Shop

by Miss Justine Brown

You have read "Blonde for Ex-Goths" by Miss Oliver, and now you need evidence, hard evidence that that melancholy schoolgirl (have you ever read Edward Gorey's "The Deranged Cousins"? Look at that first photo again) has indeed become a blonde. This is an account of a recent trip to Belgrade, Serbia, where Miss Oliver and Miss Brown spent one fun-filled day.

It started in the beauty salon, as such days often do. Miss Oliver (below) asked for a Veronica Lake without the blinding one-eyed effect, I asked for a Marilyn Monroe-just-before-she-died. Well, not JUST before-- in the year or so before. (It's my unshakable view that MM was at her most luminous in the early 1960s, when she was well past 30. Look at those Bert Stern pics if you don't believe me! But more on Miss Monroe in a later post.) The Serb hairdressers were absolutely unfazed by our criteria. I guess they know their classic flicks. Instead of using curlers, they filled our hair with hairbrushes. WARNING: do NOT try this at home. I did. I rolled one measly brush in as an experiment, and it all ended it tears. It had to be snipped out, and I have the short bits on my crown to prove it.

We emerged happy, and here are the pics to prove it-- otherwise who could ever believe that bouncing blond curls could make that morbid teenage pair happy, albeit some years later? We rambled down Belgrade's main shopping concourse, taking note of the fine mix of local-brand shops and the old familiars. We visited the Nivea Shop (, where we bought the cream in the traditional tin (supposedly superior, as is the German-made stuff vs. the Mexican. And then there's the rumour that Nivea has the same basic formula as Creme de la Mer). Apparently the product didn't take off until this design was launched in 1925. Back on my hobby horse-- Marilyn Monroe cited Nivea as her favourite face cream.

Miss Oliver took me to The Question Mark, Belgrade's oldest restaurant. It's across from a splendid Serbian Orthodox church, and is frequented by actors and priests resplendent in their Eastern rite beards. We started our meal with a shot of apricot rakia, slivovitz to you. Cheers! Givoli! And my memory gets a little hazy after that.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009


by Miss Alexandra Oliver

Like my beloved bosom pal, Miss Brown, I am a blonde. It was not always so. Had you told me, back in 1990, say, that by 2004 I would be a blonde, I would have shot you a withering glance or, at worst, smacked you lightly with whatever lace parasol I happened to be carrying that day. 
Miss Oliver revels on a school biology camping trip.

My decision to emigrate to the sunny shores of wheat, amber and caramel came in 2000, after a particularly sad breakup and subsequent cross-Atlantic move. The gals who wrought this sea-change were the stylists at Vancouver’s wonderful Beehive Hair Lounge (, amazing colourists all. How I miss the Beehive! Here, in Burlington, I console myself by either going to Jen at Teo’s Hair and Bodyworks (, or by taking the train into Toronto. There, I avail myself of the services of the students at the Aveda Institute ( It takes forever (they are students, after all, and need to bounce their work off teachers during the process), but the price is right, the products are aces, and the outcome is invariably excellent. When visiting my in-laws in Belgrade, Serbia, I go to a tiny, hole-in-the-wall salon called Miss at 300 Bulevar Kralja Aleksandra. They do a great job and also give great retro blowouts. I wish they’d get a website.

One thing that links all gals (and chaps for that matter) who are, or who have been Gothic in persuasion at one time or another, is a particular outlook. It’s not outright gloom per se, but it’s a kind of dark romanticism tempered with good old-fashioned gallows humour. You, dark ones, may be asking: how can I remain myself once I have essentially been transformed into Barbie? As a mother in a suburb outside of Toronto, I have faced this painful dilemma many times. On going to the park or the library or to pick my son up from the Y, I am besieged on all sides by blonde-bobbed Alpha Mums who drive Cayennes and greet one with the glass-cracking cry of “Oh hi-yeeeeeeeeeeeee! I was going to CALL you!” Please don’t call me, I silently beg. 
Play Spot the Goth (check out the trio of blondes above. Alpha Mums in training.)

But back to the topic at hand. If you are a) interested in going blonde and b) unwilling to let the side down, it is useful to have some handy blonde role models in the back of your head. Emulate them and no-one will ever mistake you for the babystteresque Jennifer Aniston or that terrifying perkpot Meg Ryan. Here are my top five Moody Blondes:

  1. Catherine Deneuve:
Crazed in Repulsion! Operatically swooning in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg! Bloodlessly servicing Parisian businessmen in Belle du Jour! And, of course, we love her in The Hunger. What other woman could transform the great Bowie into a despairing raisin?

  1. Eva Peron
Don’t cry for me, indeed. Did she have it or what? Note: I mean Evita as Evita—not Madonna as Evita.

  1. Hertha Thiele
She played an unstable, passion-crazed schoolgirl in Leontine Sagan’s seminal 1931 lesbian drama Madchen in Uniform. But enough about that. She was doomy, gloomy and luminous. Look at that great haircut, too!
Here’s another great picture:

  1. Dominique Sanda

Another great brooding blonde of mystery. Threw herself out of a window in Bresson’s Une Femme Douce, danced the tango with Stefania Sandrelli in Bertolucci’s The Conformist and fell to the brutality of the Nazis in The Garden of the Finzi Continis. Even today she still looks great, trust me.

  1. Lee Miller

Man Ray took her photo over and over and over again. Hmmmm.
Also a stellar photographer in her own right. Go, Lee!

Whenever I’m feeling even the slightest bit suburban and perky, I invoke these mysterious, flaxen muses and am restored to normalcy.

Upkeep: there are so many great products out there now—I love Kerastase, but it takes a bank robbery or a Russian oligarch to keep you flush in that line. I’m actually using two European drugstore products right now: Schwarzkopf Gliss Hair Repair Shampoo + Intensive Treatment and L’Oreal Elseve Nutri-Gloss conditioner for colour-treated hair. Both very decent. I also love the John Frieda line for blond hair. For flyaways I always reach for MOP Shine Drops. Silkening, ungreasy and silicone-free! Wouldn’t be surprised if Deneuve uses them too.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Punk Rock Hair

by Miss Justine Brown

Miss Brown and her pals had one friend who actually had her hair done in a salon. Eve had nicked her mother's collection of early 60s Vogue magazines, and she wanted the Vidal Sassoon Cleopatra look-- shiny, black and perfectly slanted down to points at the chin-- and well outside of our sphere of expertise. Lynn and Miss Brown accompanied her, magazine in hand, to see the flashy new wave hairstylists one day. The place was called Suki's, and it was run by a blunt Japanese woman who seldom emerged from her office.

The punks were sitting in the lobby waiting for Eve, reading trade magazines, when a flock of haircuts descended, clucking, cawing, squawking and shaking their polished geometric hairstyles: the staff. Even La Suki herself appeared to get a good look at our horrific hair. They wanted to fix it. Their hands were trembling. Lynn's was short, spiky and backcombed (perfect), and Miss Brown's new asymmetrical haircut was platinum blond (heaven). Granted, it had taken about two weeks to achieve that colour-- that's the way bleach was in 1979, even if the product was called Super Blondissima.

Miss Brown was a honey-type blonde until age eight and has naturally medium brown hair. She smeared on the drugstore stuff, which was bright blue and had fumes that made her eyes sting. Within 15 minutes her scalp started to burn! Her eyes watered in the cloud of fumes! But she persevered, leaving the hellish substance on for an hour before leaping into the shower almost crazed with relief. The result? Perfectly white at the roots, where body heat speeds up the process. The rest was brassy as all get-out, pretty much red. And she had to wait at least a week before trying again (see final result above: Miss Brown pictured with Grade 8 pal Andrew Miller).

The tricky part going to school and convincing her classmates she did it on purpose.

A week later she bought another kit and this time got the right result. This kind of bleach--stripping-- is meant to work on the watercolour principle. You get a white piece of "paper" and add colour to it (toner). We mostly avoided toner, although she quite liked silver and a pale lavender varieties favoured by old ladies. All the drugstore girls say the same thing: dark-haired girls come in and buy the toner only, say Harvest Moon or Sunlit Wheatfield. They wind up in tears with dark, slightly brassified hair (there's only a little peroxide in a toner). Some of them, the poor ones, brazen it out; the rich ones bolt to the hairdressers and vow never to do DIY hair again.

Home haircolour has been getting stronger, faster, and easier on the hair shaft since Miss Brown was 14. Miss Brown ought to to know, because she's been alternately bleaching and dyeing (darkening) her hair the whole time. But when Allure ( magazine (the best and only beauty magazine worth reading) included Clairol's Perfect 10  in a shortlist of beauty advances for 2009, she sensed a sea-change in the wonderful world of hair colour.

The product uses new technology to achieve an accurate, even and gentle-on-the-locks result in TEN MINUTES. It doesn't sting or smell like rotten eggs; it's mild. Miss Brown hates brassy blond, and feels the time for platinum may be past. She put Perfect 10 over highlighted hair. Now she's got a light, neutral hue. Sunlit Wheatfield, in fact! 1940s still from genius animatrix Lotte Reiniger shows Helen of Troy. Was it really her hair, and not her face, that launched a thousand ships?) 

To give the hairdressers at Suki's their due, our Eve emerged with a perfectly tapered bob as blue-black as Veronica Lodge's, a look she enhanced with Egyptian-style liquid eyeliner. Elizabeth Taylor's Cleopatra had nothing on hers.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Punk Rock Preening

by Miss Justine Brown

These days we have a plethora of products. Cosmetics firms are wheeling out tantalizing new items all the time, and they cater to all sorts of skin tones and styles. Prescriptives offers foundation in porcelain, ebony, and all hues in between, and affordable lines like L'Oreal's True Match have popped up in its wake-- to take the example of Miss Brown's personal obsession-- FOUNDATION.

Not so in 1978. There was no Mac; there was no Benefit, with its witty Vargas-girl packaging and inventive items. Unthinkable! The palest foundations available had names like Golden Beige and Deep Honey. Everyone was supposed to want a tan. On the other hand, this sorry state of affairs obliged punks and goths to be inventive. For all our makeup needs, we haunted the following spots:

1. theatrical supply stores
2. Little India, for kohl
3. Chinatown, for this amazing little white cake with a delicate Asian beauty printed on top
4. dusty drugstores with stock left over from the 50s and 60s. Vintage makeup, you might say.

We lived in hope of finding virtually anything from the 1950s. Following this dream, we took interminable bus rides to visit suburban thrift shops. If someone happened to have a car, typically a Valiant or Rambler, we would drive around the whole region hitting thrift shops in small towns. British Columbia, then over the border to Washington, Oregon, northern California...questing for that treasure trove in mint condition.

Miss Brown's Punk Rock Beauty Routine

It started with some anti-acne lotion which never seemed to work, including the fancy Helena Rubenstein stuff. Next came Erace concealer in Light, a holdover from years gone by, which looked like a lipstick. Then came chalk white pancake makeup designed for Hallowe'en vampires and mimes (ouch), which you wet with a sponge and daubed on your face like watercolour-- or plaster, in some cases. The pancake makeup camouflaged teenage spots-- somewhat-- and gave Miss Brown the ghostly pallor she loved then and still loves now (though she's made some concessions to the realms of realism). Then out came the Maybelline eye-pencil in Black. The pencils themselves were bright red.

A 1950s journalist tries to drum some sense into the female population

Mostly they were used by elderly ladies to draw in doll-style brows, since they had plucked out the real ones in the 1930s, and these had never grown back. Miss Brown ringed her eyes in black, focusing on the lower lid, and finished off the look with points at the outer corners. These slanted down somewhat, like her eyes. Sounds all topsy-turvy, doesn't it? She didn't wear lipstick in those days, just relied on the oldest trick in the book-- lip-biting. But no cheek-pinching, no blush of any kind. Grandmother Brown warned of anemia.

And that was it. These days, however, we are overwhelmed by the number of beautiful foundations, and Miss Brown likes it like that. Currently she is using Bobbi Brown Oil-Free Even Finish SPF15 ( (UK customers go to in Porcelain-- still trying for that pale, luminous look. It comes with a pump and smells like watercolour paint, something she loves. It goes on smoothly, especially with the use of a foundation brush, and with a little help from brilliant anti-aging ingredient-filled Time Balm concealer from The Balm ( (UK customers try, covers up post-summer discolouration (YES, Miss Brown wears sunscreen devotedly, but...?). She would definitely buy both items again.

All this writing has put Miss Brown in the mood-- for makeup. Gather ye brushes while ye may.

Next time: punk rock hair stories!

Monday, 5 October 2009

"Good Morning, Class, and Welcome..."

by Miss Justine Brown

Here at the Beauty Skool, we don't know if we are students or teachers. All we know is that school's in for summer and every other season of the year! When Miss Brown became a punk at 13 years old, the program was pretty unconventional. It was 1978 in Vancouver, Canada, a time and place when you could still shock people with makeup, hair and clothes. 99% of teenagers had carefully feathered hair (Farrah was their idol, and the big handles of their combs stuck out of their tight flared pants) and everyone seemed to own a curling iron. Hair colour was unheard of. Makeup consisted of tan foundation, blue eyeshadow, stripey blusher and glossy lips. "Your hair would feather really nicely," was their constant refrain.

Miss Brown's (at right, with pal Lynn) conversion to punk rock started to manifest itself when she safety-pinned her jeans down the legs to make stovepipes. That simple gesture provoked howls of disgust from passing Camaros and Firebirds ("PUNK ROCK SUCKS!"). Imagine what happened when she hacked off her hair with nail scissors, leaving one side short and the other shorter.