To Dye For

Features - March 3rd, 2005

Bad hair day? Tell me about it, says Jo Bainbridge

IT ALL BEGAN with Toyah. I thought the British punkstress with her peacock hued hair of many colors was a living goddess, an otherworldly prin­cess who could do whatever she wanted, and with no-one telling her off — now that was my kind of woman. Upon discovering that she was going to be on the Terry Wogan show, I begged my parents to get our color TV fixed. I was dolefully making do with a portable black and white set that had been recently repatriated from the garage as we waited interminably for our box of many colors to be repaired.

Alas, as the fateful hour of La Bella Toyah’s appearance loomed closer I realized that my impas­sioned ministrations and histrionic protestations were falling on the most fallow of ground. Toyah was watched that night in monochrome through puffy pre-pubescent eyes and I thought that the people who had generously given me the gift of life were the crudest in the world. An urge galvanized in my heart at that moment to devote myself to an overly long and motley career in trying to make my hair as different as possible from the shiny chestnut brown plaits I currently sported, which regularly won coos of approval — yuck! — from friends and family alike.

Later, aged ten, my hairstyle and fashion idol was a highly feared neighborhood punk wannabe with a thrillingly terrible and dark reputation — his living arrangements rumouredly alternated between his Mam and Dad’s house down the road and a tent that he had pitched up on the moors. My father gleefully enjoyed shattering said punk’s bad boy mystique, revealing that “That Punk,” as he was locally known, used to sit for hours in his bedroom and cut out strips of fun fur to stick on his head, which sounded to me disappointingly like something I would do during craft time at my elementary school.

The inevitable manifestation of all this juvenile suburban punk-worship was that I became a goth. I used to smear huge quivering gobs of gel onto my hair and then clamp crimpers, heated to boiling point, onto the terrified strands. It hissed like butter sizzling on a hot-plate as the follicles were mercilessly incinerated, leaving behind perfectly petrified cherry red hair, zigzagged like crinkle-cut chips. The next move was to get a comb and razor through the hair at lightning speed until the strands were the texture of candy-floss and standing to attention in a cerise shock. Lock up your sons? You bet.

University kick-started my clubbing days and blonde acrylic hair extensions seemed like a fabulous idea. Exiting the salon, the fake hair was so heavy that it dragged my head down backwards, a wig-like alba­tross. “What have you done to yourself?” exclaimed my grandmother, never one to mince words, on a subsequent visit. “You’ve put on loads of weight, and,” she added helpfully, ” you look like a pig” (the last was a reference to my new nose ring). Not my best look ever, then.

Studying shortly after in Paris I couldn’t stand the frazzled fire-hazard any longer so I went to a hair­dresser to ask for help. “I’ve never seen anything like this in my life!” he intoned and promptly got all the stylists in his chic salon to drop what they were doing and come fluttering round me to witness the full car-crash horror of exhibit A, my head.

Regardless of my extensive hair trauma back catalogue, I still love the idea of transforming myself with a new-do, and all the allure of another self that scissors and dye promise. Under Lili’s capable hands at Sin Den I watched myself be transformed from a raven-haired, miserably under-made up, sleep deprived creature of the night into a vivaciously vibrant red head with a cut so sharp that scraping it back into anonymity under a hyaku yen hair band would truly be a moral crime.

When I stepped outside, carmine barnet radiat­ing majestically in the crisp winter sunshine, I felt a strange emotion creeping over me. It took me a while to identify that this pleasant, rather foreign sensa­tion was one of post-salon well-being. Well, it had only taken just the few decades for me to grasp that maybe just by being more selective about who and what I chose to let loose on my crowning glory, I too could inhabit this lush, mythical land of hairdressing Shangri-la.