The Life of Hair
Hair. We brush it, blow-dry it, iron it, style it, shampoo it, condition it, color it, straighten it, curl it, perm it, pull it back, braid it, part it, section it, and subject it to salt water, chlorine, smoke, pollution, heat, humidity, and sweat. It is an integral part of our daily routine and we are constantly doing something to affect it.
To sustain our obsession with hair, there are thousands of hair salons around the world, making it a multibillion-dollar business. At some of New York City's top salons, like Elizabeth Arden and Frédéric Fekkai, women schedule appointments weeks in advance to see the stylist of their choice and pay hundreds of dollars to get the look they want. But regular cut and color visits are just the beginning of the maintenance process. More and more specialty clinics, where individualized hair care is the focus, are replacing traditional salons. A visit to the Philip Kingsley Trichological Clinic begins with an analysis and case history, nutrition advice, and a discussion of hair care, treatments, product lines, and follow-up counseling sessions via the phone. Physicians are consulted if a medical problem occurs. Why are we so concerned with our hair? Because it frames the face and it makes a strong first impression. It can embody beauty, power, attraction, age, grace, and health. Perhaps the most compelling characteristic of hair is that it is one of the few "accessories" that is attached to us on such a visible plane. Since our hair is such an obvious component of our appearance, it instantly becomes a statement of how well we take care of and how we view ourselves. People assume that our hair looks the way we want it to look or that we don't care how it looks. So others can pretty accurately assess the state of our confidence, organization, and well-being from the state of our hair.
Different hairstyles and colors represent a range of personality traits. A recent Yale University study, commissioned by Physique Hair Care, rated 300 images of men and women. The results were telling: Hair pulled back conveys intelligence, long dark curly hair is seen as outgoing, people with medium-length casual styles are deemed good-natured, and short hair signals confidence. Sexiness is associated with long, straight blond hair. The stigmas and character traits people match with hair have blossomed over time and remain with us wherever we go. Even further, women have proven that hair is one of the single most important aspects of their appearance due to its malleability. It can be changed quickly to help us accomplish a number of feats: starting over in a job or relationship, making it look as if we're on top of things, and temporarily covering other physical or emotional issues we don't want people to notice. For thousands of years, hair has been a powerful tool for our instant self-confidence, as well as a strong contributor to our lack thereof.
A History of Hair
Some of the first references to hair care appear as early as 4000
B.C., when Egyptians crafted combs out of dried fish bones. In 2000 B.C., Egyptians mixed water and citrus juice to make shampoo, and they applied animal fats and plant oils to their hair for conditioning. In 1800 B.C., Babylonian men powdered their hair with gold dust, and in 1500 B.C., Assyrian slaves curled the hair of kings and other nobles with heated iron bars. In 500 B.C., hair styling was born in western Africa, where sticks and clay were used as early versions of curlers and setting gel. Accessories and color were introduced in 35 B.C., when Cleopatra wore jewel-studded ivory pins in her hair and Roman prostitutes were forced to dye their hair blond. In the first century A.D., hair color became even more prominent. Women attended Roman feasts showing off their dark, shiny tresses, thanks to dyes, which were created from boiled walnuts and leeks. Saxon men charged on the battlefield toward their enemies with their hair blazing in threatening hues of blue, green, and orange, in the year 100. In Rome, circa 200, sculptors began to attach marble wigs to their artwork to update them in accordance with the hairstyles of the times. And in the fourth century, there was an emphatic show of hairnets and scarves.
Fast-forward a millennium: If you think that permanent solution now smells awful, empathize with European women in the 1300s who conditioned their hair with dead lizards boiled in olive oil. And that's not all they had to endure; they also shaved their hairlines to show off high foreheads and piled hair high on their heads to make their necks look longer. We find it difficult today to meet society's physical ideals as projected by television, magazines, and other forms of media. Imagine the challenge women had in the 1400s, when the somewhat devious theoretician Machiavelli announced the standard for appealing locks, claiming that a woman should be crowned by hair that is "loose and blond, sometimes the color of gold, at other times honey, shiny as the rays of the sun, wavy, thick and long, scattered in long curls, and fluttering on the shoulders." Women who strictly adhere to the doctrines of some religions may relate to the married women of 16th-century Italy, who were expected to cover or braid their hair in the interest of modesty. Around the same time, French women frizzed their hair with heat and then sculpted it to towering heights. Red hair and wigs were made fashionable in England by Queen Elizabeth, and "blonding" was a hit, with a homespun dye composed of wine, spices, and herbs.
Finally, an entrepreneur capitalized on hair's phenomenal importance, paving the way for the Vidal Sassoons and Bumble and Bumbles of our times. In 1635, the very first ladies' hair salon, appropriately named Champagne, opened in Paris, France. Extra-firm-hold hair gel would have been an essential commodity in the 18th century, when stiff pompadours -- masses of hair combed high, frizzed above the forehead, and held in place with paste and glue -- were the rage. The entire period marked the origins of hairdressing as a true art form. Hairdressers constructed monuments out of hair as fashion statements, and even further, as statements about current events and deep emotions. The masterpieces were so elaborate that ladies reportedly had to crouch on their knees to fit the huge 'dos into their carriages as they traveled. Hundreds of years before the punk rock era as we know it, hair was powdered in blue, violet, white, pink, and yellow pastels.
Eventually, the rigidity gave way to a historic form of "bedhead." These elegantly neglected styles featured disarrayed locks whimsically arranged and loosely tied, with overflows of curls in chocolate brown hues. Hair was also crimped, tousled, and caught up in chignons, with locks framing the face, much like today's special-occasion updo. Women also wore their hair knotted low in heavy chignons and accented with flowers. Late in the century, the French Revolution called for shorter, less elaborate styles. During the early 19th century, hats, hoods, and headdresses became popular in France. Plain and plaited hair made waves in England in the 1850s. The "'60s" were a different kind of groovy, with clip-on hair and big hair marking another change from the norm. In the 1870s, beauty parlors opened in the United States, featuring centennial chignons and dainty bunches of curls. In the 1880s, women charted the course for Crystal Gayle, wearing their hair all the way down their backs, even to the ankles.
The first signs of consumer distress with less tress came in 1900, right alongside a public striving to achieve the "ideal" figure. While corsets were drawn tighter than ever, chignon fillers like braids and swatches were wrapped around thin hair coils to resemble fuller heads of hair. Creative invention didn't stop there; it only flourished. As in many other fields, the 20th century brought invention to the hair industry that dramatically changed everything. In 1907, the first chemical hair color formula was born -- named Aureole by its originator, Eugene Schueller, and then later re-christened L'Oréal. Charles Nestle invented the first permanent-wave machine in 1905. Madame C.J. Walker began selling hair care products for African-Americans in 1906, which later became a multimillion-dollar business. In 1917, the double-process blonding technique was invented, giving blondes worldwide more fun than ever!
Inspired by the vacuum-cleaner hose, the first hair dryer was invented in 1920, blowing away the old air-drying methods. By 1925, there were already 25,000 beauty parlors in the United States ! Breck International set up shop in the 1930s. Sisters Maria and Rosie Carita opened a beauty salon in Paris in the 1940s. Present-day conditioner was created in the 1950s, when chemists discovered that ingredients used in fabric softeners could also soften hair.
The aerosol spray can was invented in 1956, making hair spray possible -- and, therefore, probable. Redken popularized pH-balanced and
protein-enriched shampoos for better conditioning in the 1960s. In 1971, the first hand-held blow-dryer limited trips to the salon by making it easy to simply "blow and go," and a special iron was invented in 1972 by Geri Cusenza that crimped -- but did not cramp -- anyone's style.
Hairstyles underwent rapid changes in the 20th century as well. Styles of the times reflected what was happening socially and were most often worn by icons of popular culture, which epitomized our ideals and our dreams.
Until, and through, the early 1900s, wealthy women had set the standard, donning hair jewels, bone combs, and veiled hats with lace, flowers, and feathers by day, and dusting their hair with silver and gold powders by night. A new look, created by Antoine of Paris, showcased hair parted in the middle and swept back in smooth bands over the ears. Edith Wharton sported a loose, wavy, poufy feminine look that also turned heads. In 1907, Josephine Baker's sleek style and the Marcel wave cascaded over the United States and Europe. By 1910, American nurses in Europe had fed a copycat trend back home. They had cut their hair short to protect themselves from flea infestation and women in America began to do the same for fashion.
Louise Brooks's 1917 bob became the most popular hair trend of the 1920s as women strove to express their freedom, shedding their corsets and entering the work force. The 1930s and 1940s found wartime citizens ogling the glamorous life. In 1931, Jean Harlow starred in Platinum Blonde and a hair color craze soon swept the nation and beyond. Also in the 1930s, child star Shirley Temple's tight curls had grown women pinning their hair into ringlets. During the war, when the feminine ideal was largely expressed through movies and film magazines, women copied Hollywood hairdos. In the 1940s, Rita Hayworth made side-parted finger waves the sexiest style of her time, and Veronica Lake's cascading blond hair redefined glamour.
By the 1950s, highlighting was the driving trend and so was Lucille Ball's flaming mane. Doris Day's helmet-hair inspired her fans, and Audrey Hepburn's role in Roman Holiday mobilized the modern pixie cut. Brigitte Bardot's "sauerkraut" (a.k.a. choucroute), a structured yet wavy 'do, was the one to emulate. Clairol's "Does She or Doesn't She?" advertising campaign reassured women that it was acceptable to color their hair. Housewives had a staid role in our 1950s and '60s society, and their hairstyles revealed that fact. In the '50s, the homemaker's hairdo was conservative, and in the '60s, women wore stiff Dynel wigs and toyed with the idea of wearing falls for Supremes-inspired styles. Toward the end of the era, beehives and bouffants became popular with the availability of hair spray and the trend toward a more carefree lifestyle.
The freedom of the 1960s was expressed even in popular hairstyles. People let their hair down and there was a distinct movement toward trading gender norms in hairstyles. British rock sensations the Beatles wore their hair long, a style generally out of fashion since the 19th century. Female model Twiggy wore hers short and boyish in a no-fuss fashion that abruptly ended the harsher '50s styles.
In 1963, Vidal Sassoon started issuing easy, wash-and-dry looks. Nearing the end of the decade, hair was also worn naturally long with little or no preparation, symbolizing liberation on many fronts for men and women.
In the 1970s, the musical Hair hearkened back to the rebellious lifestyle and sexual revolution of the late 1960s and early '70s, and Angela Davis's Afro became a symbol of black pride. Extremes like Grace Jones's forceful box cut and frosted wings defined the disco look, while Gloria Steinem's simple straight hair with a center part offered an anti-style statement. In 1974, the feathered hair of Charlie's Angels star Farrah Fawcett was the decade's most copied 'do. Variations of African-American braids were popularized in 1975, and Dorothy Hamill's short, layered wedge became a sporty trademark in 1976 after she won the Olympic gold medal for figure skating. But even as Dorothy spun, punk rock brought purple, blue, green, and orange Mohawks into focus. Cornrows were a "10" in 1979, à la Bo Derek.
In the 1980s, those newly prosperous from the economic boom opted for mall bangs, poodle perms, and voluminous hair. But Melanie Griffith showed that the first step on the woman's career ladder involved the shortening and taming of such "big" hair in the hit '80s movie Working Girl. Lady Diana's 1981 wedding made commoners around the world realize that dreams do come true if you have a short, elegantly layered head of hair. In 1988, Sinead O'Connor's shaved head, combined with her soft features, paved the way for all quiet, modern renegades, and dreads went glam as singer Lauryn Hill hit the charts that same year. Superstar Madonna started a revolutionary career with her controversial lyrics and stage moves and her wild, long, sometimes choppy, highlighted, root-infested tresses. The pop star exemplified a woman's right and capability to change her appearance as often as she liked, as was evident in the endless hair colors and styles she sported throughout the decade and beyond.
Change was the mantra of supermodel Linda Evangelista in the early 1990s. Because she constantly varied her hair's hue, length, and style, Linda's pictures in national women's magazines and her struts down designer catwalks were always anticipated. Anti-pop became popular itself in the 1990s, and grunge rocker Courtney Love's dark-rooted platinum look started the 1990s off with a screaming rant. By 1994, more conservative masses had found their "friend" in Jennifer Aniston's layered, angled shag cut. In the late '90s, middle-parted, quick-styled, long, straight, pale blond hair rose to stardom on the heads of Carolyn Bessette Kennedy and Gwyneth Paltrow, perhaps in response to the 1995 international agreement to eliminate the production of chlorofluorocarbons found in aerosols, such as hair spray cans. At the turn of yet another millennium, actress Sarah Jessica Parker graced the small screen in an award-winning show, prompting a widespread adoption of her flowing, curly locks.
What Your Hair Says About Your Personality
From work to play, hair reveals a lot about how we perceive ourselves and how others view us. The right haircut, color, and style can take us to the top of the career ladder or to the altar, or can help us accomplish any of our professional and personal goals.
"Hair has two roles in the workplace," says Paula Jaye, principal partner, Esposito/Jaye Associates, a New York-based management consulting firm. "First, it should project the image you want to achieve. If you work in a conservative environment, your hair should not draw attention to itself but blend in with the rest of your style. Go for a clean, crisp, well-put- together hairdo. If you work in the arts, media, or advertising, you can take more leeway and let your hair make more of a statement. Secondly, hair is directly connected to self-confidence. When hair is in good shape, beautifully cut, correctly colored, and you feel good about it, you will project confidence and grace. If your work is people-based and you are continuously meeting new clients, interacting with internal clients, and going to meetings, then having the right hairstyle can make you feel more confident." Adds Jaye, "Keep in mind, however, that great-looking hair is just icing on the cake. It's no substitute for having competence, skills, and the right technological background. But if all of these factors are in place, great hair will allow you to project more confidence as you deliver your message."
"No one ever has a bad makeup day, only a bad hair day," says Kathy Pomerantz, a New York City-based makeup designer. "And because hair is such a major factor in how we present ourselves, it's the first thing we change when we're ready for a new look." We change our hair when we start a new job, end a relationship, or attend a special event. We even change our hair when we want to showcase a different part of our personality. And sometimes the way our hair looks changes our personality without our realizing it. "The emotional relationship we have with our hair and the way in which it ties in with our personality is fascinating," says Ouidad, a New York City curly hair specialist. "Sometimes our hair is tamed, controlled, elegant, or easy, but sometimes it's wild and uncontrollable. If we are uncomfortable with its appearance, we can exude a sense of insecurity." Ouidad explains that unruly hair can cause subconscious mental discomfort, something that is obvious with curly hair that needs a lot of maintenance to control. She says even top lawyers feel they can't argue a case if their hair isn't done, and she cites a professor at Harvard who wears her hair pulled back while lecturing so students don't get distracted by her curls. Ouidad believes curly haired women have an advantage since they can change their hair from curly to straight with a simple blow-dry and therefore change their entire personality. Yet, interestingly enough, most women turn a cold shoulder to the concept of utilizing modern technology to permanently straighten their curly locks. "Once you take away a woman's right to constantly fight her hair, she feels like she has nothing to fight for anymore," explains the stylist. "Women won't part with their curly hair because they are afraid they will lose part of their personality and a sense of who they are in the process."
Hair color also plays a role in defining a woman's personality, according to a 1997 university research paper by experimental psychologist Dr. Tony Fallone, as cited in the Vogue Book of Blondes. The study indicates that blondes are more likely to be outgoing and lively and are perceived as more feminine than their brunette or redhead counterparts. Blond is not a color but a state of mind. The study continues that brunettes know allure because mystery is their secret weapon, but blond sexuality incorporates innocence and naiveté. Gentlemen, says Dr. Fallone, prefer blondes but marry brunettes.
"Hair is crucial to our state of mind," says Aleta St. James, emotional healer in New York City. "And color is a tremendous indicator of energy. If our hair is the wrong color, or a shade that doesn't complement our skin tone, we can feel uncomfortable about ourselves and not know why. When it's the right color and complements skin tone, we feel a sense of buoyancy and lightness that can lift our self-esteem. Any woman who's been through a situation where her hair colorist messed up on the formula, or her stylist has given her a bad haircut, understands this."
According to St. James, brunettes who change to red can feel livelier, and redheads who opt for deeper shades of brown can feel more subdued. "While sometimes red hair needs to be toned down and less flamboyant, turning a redhead into a brunette can make her feel like her light went out," explains St. James. The same applies to blondes. Darkening naturally blond hair can make a woman feel constricted, just as turning a brunette who wants to remain understated into a blonde can make her uncomfortable.
"Hair color should enhance a person's inner spirit and complement their color palate, which very decisively determines mood," says St. James. The same holds true for hair's cut and style. "When hair gets too heavy and starts dragging, it's easy to feel like we are dragging or feel droopy. And cutting hair really short can upset a lot of women. If a hair stylist isn't listening to what we're saying, it can really be upsetting. A bad haircut can also make us feel like staying home or wearing a hat until our hair grows out. Hair is an essential way in which we present ourselves, especially since it frames our face where most of self-expression takes place and where we communicate from."
None of us can imagine the impact that hair has on our self-perception and self-esteem until it doesn't live up to our expectations. A Yale University study conducted in the year 2000 showed that self-esteem and sociability of both men and women suffer when their hair is not at its best. According to the results, people feel less intelligent, less capable, more embarrassed, and less sociable. Men are more likely to be affected by a bad hair day than women are.
Jeffrey Paul, founder of Beautiful Hair Institute in Cleveland, Ohio, works with cancer patients and women who have lost hair due to other
factors, says research shows that one out of every five women has hair problems that are not resolvable in the salon. In most cases, he believes women feel the loss of hair is greater than the disease itself. "Media projects what beautiful hair should look like, and women who don't achieve it will sense their emotional levels drop," says Paul. "This type of cosmetic stress affects women's hormones, which in turn affects hair loss. Her immune system drops, and she can become weak, depressed, and more vulnerable to acne and other sicknesses. When put into perspective, it's easy to recognize that it's only hair we're talking about. But it's really not. Hair defines a woman's frame, femininity, sexuality, and personality, and when pieced together properly in the overall image puzzle, it can make someone feel complete, whole, beautiful. People who are concerned with their hair constantly struggle with stress and spend tons of money trying to adjust. After all, one can't achieve inner beauty until she feels comfortable on the outside."
The quality and appearance of hair is influenced by overall health and diet as would be expected. Anorexics who starve themselves often have very fine, brittle hair, deficient in various minerals. Hair conveys information about a person and their state of health; further analysis of the hair can also tell what drugs they have taken. Long hair obviously suggests at least a recent history of good health.
"When I put people on diets one of first things they notice is the change in the quality of their hair," says Sally Kravich, a certified natural health expert who has traveled around the world studying longevity. "There is a certain sheen and quality of thickness to it. The typical American diet of foods with little or no nutritional value directly affects hair, skin, and nails. We don't get enough vegetables, whole grains, or good oils like avocado and olive oil, which can really make a difference. Instead, we load up on artificial sweeteners and diet sodas, which are some of the first products to make our hair fall out. And people think good hair is sexy, so if it looks bad, it's really noticeable."
MYTH: Keeping hair clean on a daily basis is all that's required for healthy hair.
FACT: Washing hair daily isn't enough for most adults. Proper conditioning, brushing and combing, styling, and other treatments do help hair maintain its health and appearance. Knowing the right treatments and techniques makes the difference.
"Once hair is damaged," says Kravich, "there is no quick-fix pill, only combinations of the right vitamins and a proper diet that will restore hair's natural health, volume, and luster." Just like an animal's coat, which looks healthier if the animal eats foods that are high in nutrients, minerals, and oils, basic things that will help hair include B-complex vitamins, minerals, and calcium to add thickness and shine. "Hair problems can also result from an unbalanced thyroid or hormonal changes, as in pregnant women," says Kravich. "Pregnant women are advised to take prenatal vitamins, but they don't always offer enough of what we need, such as folic acid."
The fitness craze that has been booming since the '80s has brought about a demand for a woman's hairstyle to complement her lifestyle. Whether a woman is an avid exerciser or continually on-the-go, her haircut needs to be low maintenance and still look great. "Women are always in search of carefree hair," says stylist and salon owner Paul Labrecque, who operates his salon under the roof of New York's Reebok Fitness Club. "They want something that looks fabulous when you wash it, regardless of whether or not you roller-set it or blow-dry it."
To give women what they want, Labrecque cuts wavy hair to accentuate the wave and to make it the feature of the hair instead of trying to pull the wave out and straighten hair. He cuts straight hair into a swingy line so that the straightness shows. Fitness fanatics, he says, can either go short or wear stretch bands to hold hair back. Adds Labrecque, "If you have a haircut that needs a lot of maintenance, it can slow down your lifestyle. You won't be able to work out then go to dinner afterward because you will have to get ready for the second time that day. Women who live in cities move quite rapidly and don't have time for this. They go from work into workout mode to play mode all within two hours. They have to make sure they're not spending a lot of time changing their look." He adds, "When hair looks healthy, you feel more beautiful. When you look your best, others perceive you that way."
This is exactly why women make such a big deal over their hair on their wedding day. With a booming bridal business under her belt, Laura Geller, owner of Laura Geller Makeup Studio, New York City, knows the importance of wedding hair only too well. "Every bride sees her wedding day as a once-in-a-lifetime event, something she has thought and dreamed about all of her life," says Geller. "The last thing she wants is a bad hair day on her wedding day when she's in the spotlight. Hair is the first thing people see and it is the focus of the eye, especially if the bride wears a headpiece or veil." Geller explains that the combination of the texture, color, length, and style all create the finished look, so it is understandable that many brides go through a number of trials until they get it right. "When hair is sloppy, it doesn't sit well with the headpiece, or if the cut is bad, it shows in every picture," says Geller. "People always compliment the bride when her hair is done right, far more often than commenting on a beautiful makeup job."
The truth of the matter is, however, the groom will most likely still say "I do" whether or not every hair on his bride's head is perfectly in place. It's the guys who aren't roped in yet that could have a problem with the cut or color of a woman's coif. "If a woman has a gorgeous, striking head of hair, a guy will notice it right away," says Susan Rabin, M.A., who has a master's in counseling, and is the author of 101 Ways to Flirt and the director of School of Flirting and www.schoolofflirting.com. "Men like long hair better than short hair because it has a more teasing, sexual look. Hair is a flirting device, especially if you flip it, twirl it, toss it, stroke it, put your hand through it, and give off a more sensual vibe."
Rabin, who cites Julia Roberts for her volume and Kim Delaney for her sometimes-curly, sometimes-straight locks as having head-turning tresses, explains that tousled hair can be sexier than hair that's set in its place. "Guys see this as a turnoff," she says, "a sign that a girl is high-maintenance and that she is too concerned with her appearance and not enough about what's going on in the relationship." Of course, adds Rabin, a certain amount of sexiness is obtained by good grooming -- no one wants hair that's dirty or too messy. "Women change their hair color all the time to attract different guys," adds Rabin. "And if you get a bad haircut and don't feel good about yourself, you won't flirt as well."
Your sex life can also be at stake. "Men say hair can be really arousing," says Linda Banner, Ph.D., head of the Sexual Health and Medicine Program at UCSF and Stanford University, which focuses on identifying the effect of sexual arousal on the brain. "If a woman has long hair and it droops down creating a privacy veil that envelops the couple, intimacy can be more profound. Hair color can make a difference, too. Some men are turned on by redheads, some blondes, and others brunettes." What doesn't work: "Women who promote the don't-touch-me attitude, or are so absolutely proper they always have every hair in place. Sex is all about touch, so the fresh-out-of-bed look is important. Men and women want to run their fingers through their partner's hair. But if you're untouchable, your whole sexual experience can be inhibited. Sex is supposed to be spontaneous, plea-surable, fun, playful."
Some cultures consider women's long hair to be so sexually provocative that it has to be covered up. Tightly controlled hair, which has been rolled, curled, and sprayed, suggests a controlled woman, specifically one who controls her sexuality. "The more confident you are in general, the more self-esteem you will have," says Banner, "thereby enhancing your level of sexual pleasure and arousal."
Hair will continue to shape culture, as we strive to emulate the latest pop icons and celebrity style. But what if our hair just isn't conducive to the cut of the moment? What if it's too thin, thick, curly, or straight to make it do whatever is "in" at the moment? There are many tools of the trade that will help your hair to behave. After all, maintaining healthy hair is the most important aspect to achieving beautiful hair that works for you.
Copyright © 2001 by LifeTime Media, Inc.