Thursday, 12 November 2009

Going to Extremes

by Miss Justine Brown
How far we will go in our quest for beauty? Pretty darn far, as anyone who has seen photos of poor Mrs. Wildenstein, the so-called "cat woman",
and other plastic surgery victims can attest. The painter above, more cautious, is trying out new looks on the household pet instead of trying to resemble it! Either that or it's the cat wielding the lipstick, flip a coin.

Anyway, back to our heroine's chopped, bleached-out hair (see "Punk Rock Hair" and the pic in "So White She's Blue (with Cold)" for the story so far). There's Miss Brown, 14 years old and none too rich-- plus she shuns conventional hairdressers anyway, as we have seen. Dark roots look styley up to a point, and that point is when your dark roots are longer than your blond bits. At that juncture you are no longer a Blonde, with the whole web of meaning that that designation carries. (This has always intrigued me. You may get highlights, one way down that shining path, but it doesn't necessarily make you a Blonde. A certain minimum number of highlights, a certain ratio, and in the right places, do the trick. But determining that number is no mean feat.) What to do? How low will she go to find help? By the way, the simplest solution was offered by punk rock goddess Debbie Harry-- do the front part yourself and let the back take care of itself. But it took Miss Brown a while to work this out.

So Miss Brown needed someone to bleach her roots. For you hair colour virgins (as rare as unicorns these days), you can't just bleach the whole thing, shampoo style, over and over. Your hair would literally melt like the Wicked Witch of the West. Miss Brown had seen it happen, and she was determined to avoid disasters. (So operatically miserable are these tales that they cry out for a posting of their own.) So here's how far she was prepared to go. Wait for it--our Miss Brown became a reluctant but regular Ouija board partner in exchange for bleach jobs.

Now this home hairstylist was a rare hothouse flower, nothing garden-variety about her. Her name...will be Cassandra for our purposes. She was a regular at punk rock gigs herself, and was dating Jim Cummins (aka I, Braineater), the artist, singer, and dandy about town. Cassandra herself was an artist and lived in a large Edwardian apartment in Vancouver's West End. Miss Brown had sat for both Jim and Cassandra, actually, and the results flattered her and tickled her vanity. (Miss Brown's frequently absurd adventures as an artist's model merit another post.)  Cassandra was a talented artist in her twenties. She had about three feet of beautiful, natural dark blond hair and otherworldly eyes. The other worlds that her eyes reflected were beyond the horizon of death. She read about seances in books featuring a spirit called Seth and written by Seth's "channeler". Yes, Cassandra wanted to speak to the dead, and she had bought a Ouija board for the purpose.

At some point, young Miss Brown had spoken to her of some childhood adventures with the mystifying board. That pointer (see the item on the left?), for whatever reasons, did appear to work. Miss Brown never faked it, as she revealed to Cassandra, and her ten-year-old partner friend would have been hard-pressed to push it all around the board with one solitary index finger-- for Miss Brown, testing her, would barely touch the thing. Go figure.

So: dark roots in need of blonding, Cassandra's years in hairdressing school, and her desire to commune with the dead...all added up to hours on the sofa, followed by a brilliant bleach job (with professional products, I should add!). Miss Brown was leery of the whole inexplicable enterprise. But punk rock hair won the day. (As I write this, deep in South London, I can hear foxes keening. They sound like babies crying; it's just how foxes sound. And fireworks sound throughout the night during the time of All Souls, of Guy Fawkes Day. Fawkes' foxes. All the sounds seem to chime in with these memories.)

Yes, punk rock hair won the day. It sounds trivial, but hair is anything but trivial to a teenager. So Miss Brown overcame her fears and scruples, the Ouija board answered Cassandra's questions-- well, it gave answers, anyway-- and Miss Brown emerged with perfectly peroxide blond spikes. No brassiness. Her hair was almost silver. Eventually, Cassandra no longer needed Miss Brown. She was last seen crouched over the Ouija board, gripping the pointer as it whizzed chattily around the arc of the alphabet. And what of Miss Brown's all-important hair? She dyed it black. So much more manageable.

Moving on to more everyday territory, Miss Brown has noticed of late that silver--even gray-- has become a popular hair colour choice among teenage London hipsters. It is having a moment. The young do not fear being mistaken for old ladies. She remembers going for a very similar look at age 14 or 15, and used old lady-hair products like Roux fearlessly--plus, they had great Fifties-designed bottles. Incidentally, Miss Brown and pal Eve once dressed up in old lady costumes in an effort to get into the Smilin' Buddha Cabaret without ID, during one of their clampdowns. The doorman, the legendary Igor, was not fooled.

In tandem with this youthful trend, magazines for older women are turning out articles on the desirability of chucking the brown dye and letting the gray come in. There is at least one prominent blog devoted to this very undertaking. The phrase "gray is the new blond" has been bandied about.

Now, Miss Brown is not young enough to pull off silver gray hair; nor is she old enough to have a full head of gray to grow in and silverize. But she definitely likes the sound of a violet shampoo, something designed to chase away the brassy bogies.  Miss Brown has located two promising-sounding lines: L'Oreal White Violet Shampoo and Conditioner (seems to be available through various websites like, rather than the mothership), and a similar line from Joico, Colour Endure Violet Shampoo and Conditioner ( Both are recommended for gray and blond hair. And there's something so charming about violet, especially this season. Dahling.

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