Thursday, 21 January 2010

London Hair Trends Redux

Miss Brown, about to pop out for a pint of milk
(photo by Miss Diyah Pera. Dress by Cathy Mann)

by Miss Justine Brown

Those who are in the habit of dividing the world in two sometimes say that there are two kinds of women: those who wouldn't think of dashing out for milk without lipstick on, and those who would. As the above picture suggests, dear reader, Miss Brown is firmly in the first camp. Lipstick is only the beginning. There is so much else to consider, not least one's hair. And now that big, puffy, "done" hair has made a dramatic comeback, those of us who take fashion SERIOUSLY would rather remain shut indoors than venture out to the convenience store (or, as we call it in our neighborhood, the inconvenience store, for it is strictly a 9-to-5 business) without proper preparation.

No doubt about it, fashion is really an event in London towne (and, for some reason Miss Brown cannot quite fathom, this spectator sport comes complete with jeering and sniggering). The 18th century is back. As you may recall from an earlier post, silver gray hair is all the rage. Just after that post, no less than the Sunday Times Style Supplement ran a piece featuring a number of bright young things-- celebrities and socialites-- camouflaged as old ladies with fabulous skin. 

Pixie Geldof at the height of fashion

Weekly "blowouts" (professional blowdries) are back. Hot rollers and backcombing are part of the deal. But since everyone is still feeling broke, they try to make these last as long as possible. So shower caps are selling briskly, as well as something called "hair perfume." More to the point, every hair product company has added some form of dry shampoo, the likes of which have not been seen since the 1970s, when ladies still went for weekly sets. Well, the whole kit and caboodle is back.

Miss Brown is grateful to a friendly reader who, in a recent letter, mentioned "Pssst", an aerosol dry shampoo quite widely promoted circa 1978. Pssst, whispered Miss Brown's inner something, you used that stuff when you were thirteen. As the reader implied, dry shampoo is a bit of a misnomer. Basically the product just mops up oil with powder and adds scent-- sometimes a rather strange one. It's all terribly aristocratic! (Does that help?) Anyone who saw Sofia Coppola's film Marie Antoinette, which presents the doomed 18th Century Queen of France as a sort of punk chick in Versailles, complete with a rock 'n' roll soundtrack and Sex Pistols-style typography, will notice that underlings often seem to be spritzing her with perfume. As many of you will know, aristocrats of the time seldom bathed, believing the practice to be actively bad for their health. Neither did the rest of the populace, but they didn't have great lashings of perfume.

Right. So, to get down to brass tacks, teenage Miss Brown had a fair bit of oil to contend with. Oily hair, oily skin-- a nasty enchantment that could be broken only with powder. The powder didn't completely sort out the skin, but let us leave that aside for now. Talcum powder works well with blond hair (as does corn starch, though when it rains one fears one's hair will glisten and perhaps smell like a stir-fry) but gives a gray tinge to dark hair. As we have seen, that may be just the ticket if you're going for that look. Many aren't-- but read on to hear of recent developments in dry shampoo "technology."

Miss Brown actually found her first dry shampoo on her mother's shelf. The name of this brand is elusive, but it had a chemical odor. Now Miss Brown's mother does not suffer from oily hair. She likes to set her hair a bit with rollers, and the dry shampoo gave her hair a good texture. This is the thing. With the right curling and powdering, a girl can get quite a big head of hair going. The sky's the limit-- have another look at the photo above. If you are really committed, like Miss Brown, you too can have fantastic hair.

Bumble and Bumble ( make dry shampoo in four colours-- blond, which works well with silver hair; red, brunette and black. The packaging is excellent: it features line drawings of 18th century ladies and getting powdered by their maids in the small chambers built for the purpose, hence the term "powder room." 

A gent in the powder room with a cunningly devised mask

Gentlemen wore powdered wigs, while ladies tended to powder their own hair, though they did use hair pieces to big it all up. Our Rococo predecessors experimented with other colours, like pink, blue and lavender. So did some of our grandmothers, aka "the blue-haired set", but still one begins to see why Vivienne Westwood, doyenne of punk and an immensely successful couture designer today, is obsessed with the 18th century and often incorporates its imagery and forms into her designs. 

A lady at her vanity table

The Bumble and Bumble product is ingenious, but overall Miss Brown favours Stila Hair Refresher ( in "creme bouquet", mainly because it smells good. Now, you will have to excuse her. We are out of milk, and there's some work to be done in milady's boudoir if she is to catch the inconvenience store before it closes in two or three hours. 

Barbie, as fashionable as ever

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