Jenny Diski

At 17 I was (let me be bold, let me put it on record) gorgeous, and gorgeous in exactly the way a person was supposed to be in 1964. Thin as a leaf, a Biba size eight, hips that held hipsters perfectly in place, and legs that were perfectly designed for emerging from skirts that were little more than a pelmet. But – oh what a waste of temporary good fortune – none of that mattered. My 17th birthday present was a haircut at Evansky’s, as stylish a hairdresser as Vidal Sassoon at the time; the place where hair was cut into the essential knife-sharp meticulous geometric shapes that swung like chain mail as you walked. I sat in the chair while behind me Robert, the senior stylist, cast his professional eye over me, lifting hanks of my long hair with a comb and letting them drop, flicking sections this way and that to see how they fell, examining its possibilities. Finally, he pocketed his comb and with a sigh that would have broken a Mock Turtle’s heart intoned to my mirror image: ‘Every mother prays that their daughter will have straight hair.’ I shrank down in my chair with shame, but I didn’t need to be told. I knew my case was hopeless. My hair curled, it was thick and wiry; in a million years and with all the hairdressing talents in the universe I could never have that sleek hair that fell of its own accord straight and shiny into an immaculate bob as soon as I got out of bed in the morning. Hair then, as Vidal explains in the current edition of the Hairdressers’ Journal International, had to ‘make a statement rather than just make someone look pretty’. All my hair ever said was ‘sorry’. Robert did what he could, he cut it as if I had the right kind of hair and then blow-dried it with agonising tugs of the brush, pulling it away from my scalp to straighten it. I didn’t mind, I deserved the pain. I used an iron and ironing-board myself. He made it look wonderful, right, just like those women who had been blessed with proper hair. I had the style, it made the statement. I looked as I was supposed to look when I left, but then it rained, and by the time I got home my hopeless hair had sprung back into frizz, the knife edges serrated, the weighty slab of fringe cork-screwed. What ever else was right about me didn’t count. My hair was wrong, and in the 1960s if your hair was wrong, nothing could be right.

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[*] Hairstyles and Fashion: A Hairdresser’s History of Paris 1910-20, edited by Steven Zdatny (Berg, 224 pp., £39.99, 10 April 1999, 1 85973 2178).