This is a story based on one of my own hair adventures. It was the eighties and it seemed everyone was having their hair permed. Hair was big and bold – it was something you made a statement with. It was the time of mousse and spray and in some salons the clippers were being used on women quite frequently. It is not totally true but then it was many years ago but I hope you like it.
The salon seemed quite busy as I walked in and introduced myself to reception. Two of the three stations were occupied. A further lady was waiting just in front of the window for her turn. I had soon exchanged my jacket for one of the salons lemon yellow gowns and took a seat to wait. I watched as my stylist Helen heavily sprayed her client. The second stylist Marie was drying off her client. Both customers had similar short straight wedge cuts. The two stylists were both sporting layered curly perms which just skimmed their shoulders. The short layers on top gave them lift and height. It was definitely big hair. I ran my hand through my neck length bob. I was a little nervous; my appointment was for a perm.
Helen brought her client to reception then smiled at me. I stood and followed her to the still warm chair. We exchanged pleasantries then she asked the million dollar question. “So what are we doing today?” I smiled a little sheepishly.
“Erm, er I, er want it perming please.” She grinned.
“Great, it’s about time too. I’ve been telling you for months this straight hair is so old fashioned and you really had to have it permed..” She began to run a comb through my silky locks. “So are we looking for curls or body?” I looked at her with a puzzled expression.
“Sorry?” She pointed to the pictures above the mirrors. One showed a model with permed curls dried and teased into a full bodied sweeping, voluminous look, the other girl has big round curls.
“Do you want tight full curls or something more structured where we use the perm to lift your hair giving it body?” I looked at the pictures and at her curly hair in the mirror then licking my lips nervously said. “Not too curly…” She smiled again.
“So you want more dressy glamour than curl…” I smiled and nodded and she whisked me away for a shampoo.
I returned to the mirror to stare at my reflection. Helen smiled as she removed the towel and began to comb through my hair once more. “Now you realise that the perm will make your hair seem shorter.” I hadn’t but even so I still meekly nodded. “And to get the sort of fullness you want we are going to have to give you some layers.” Again I nodded. I think its best if we aim for a sort of bob shape?” I looked up at the picture on the wall and nodded a third time. Helen wasted no more though as she immediately began to section my hair. “I’m going to layer your hair so we can perm it then cut to shape afterwards “she said as she combed up a tress from the top. Schnick. I stared in horror as six inches fell away. I must have gasped because she paused to smile at me in the mirror. “Don’t worry, it’s a lot from the top because we need short layers here for the height.” She pulled up a section from the top of her own hair.
I could see it was only three to four inches long so I relaxed. I watched as Helen carefully layered through all of my hair. It was disconcerting to see sheets being chopped through but overall the length did not seem to be affected. In the next chair Marie began to section and cut her next client (the lady who had been waiting) whilst the third stylist Lisa had had her client brought from under the dryers to the front station. I listened to the radio and watched the three girls working swiftly and expertly. Helen pressed my head gently forwards and combed my hair down flat to my neck.
Schnick. I felt the scissors on my neck about halfway between my collar and my nape. As I looked down I noticed a longish chopped tress lying in the towel over my breasts. “Just cutting in the bob shape for you…” Helen offered as she worked.
Satisfied at last Helen stepped back and called for the assistant Paula. Paula smiled as she stood behind me. “Perm wind please” Helen instructed. “White rods and a standard wind, all going back from Karen’s face on top and down at the sides.” Paula nodded and lifted one of the damp layers from my head. She then stepped away to return pushing the perm trolley. Paula worked in silence as she began to section each tress, cover the ends with a paper then wind it down, locking it in place. She worked quickly and skilfully and a cluster of white plastic rods was soon clinging to my scalp imprisoning my soft tresses. It was some years since my first perm and that had been a mixed experience. I noted though that all five of the girls working in the salon, including the receptionist, sported permed hair. I would soon be joining them. At last my head was fully wound. I looked at the odd reflection in the mirror. It didn’t look like me. Paula positioned cotton wool around the perimeter of the rods – this looked even stranger. Helen returned with a bottle and handed it to Paula. She smiled at me in the mirror. “Ready to be a curly girl?” I licked my lips then nodded nervously. “Yes, please.” It was Paula who snipped the tip from the bottle then began to methodically run it along the rods. The lotion was icy cold as it reached my scalp. This was it, no turning back my hair was going to be curly. I looked at Paula’s short curly bob as she worked trying to imagine how my curls would look, of course my hair was longer than hers.
Paula doused all of my hair then brought over a heat lamp array which she positioned around my head. I had nothing else to do then but simply sit and watch myself in the mirror as the chemicals worked to curl my hair. As I waited Marie finished the short wedge cut she had been doing on her client then another blonde lady was brought to the chair. Helen walked away to the gentleman's side of the salon where she did a couple of clipper cuts for two young boys who had come in with their mum.
At last I was declared “processed” and was taken over to the sink where my hair was rinsed. It felt very odd to have water running over my head whilst it was still tightly wound with curlers. Paula then doused my hair in neutraliser solution. I sat up at the sink and watched as Marie worked to cut a bob on her blonde client.
She worked to create a perfect blunt bob on a dead level with the woman’s earlobes. I was surprised however when she asked Paula to get the clippers for her. She plugged them in and proceeded to clipper the client’s nape, undercutting the hair as closely as the clippers would allow. As I watched Helen came over to me. “I’m really sorry Karen but I have got to collect my little girl from school. Marie will finish you…Is that alright?” Well with my hair wound on perm rods I could hardly get up and walk out so I muttered a few platitudes and watched her leave. Paula came over and unwound the curlers into the sink. Then she patted at my hair with the towel. I watched Marie show the woman her really severe little bob before she was lead over to reception.
Paula seated me in the newly vacated styling chair. I forced down my nerves and sat looking at the towel on my head. I folded my hands in my lap.
Marie returned and said hello. She rubbed at my hair with the towel then said “Ready?” She didn’t wait for an answer but removed the towel, laying it on my shoulders to leave me staring at wet curls. I smiled at myself. Perhaps a little embarrassed? Helen had been right my hair did look shorter than my sleek silky collar bone length bob. “Well the perm’s taken really well” Marie said as she fluffed at my hair with her fingers. “Now Helen says you want it drying for body rather than curls? A nice structured bob?” I nodded.
“Y-yes please.” She began to section my hair and then reached for her scissors. “Erm Helen cut my hair before the perm….” I stuttered. She combed the now obviously curled layer to its full four inch length on top of my head.
“I know but we always do the style cut once the hair has been permed in case the chemicals cause spilt ends.” Marie answered then schnick I watched an inch fall from the tress she had prepared. She combed up another layer then schnick. Another inch fell. Schnick, schnick, she worked all over my cut then down towards the nape. She combed my hair forwards at the sides then I felt her flatten the damp hair over my neck. Schnick, schnick. I felt the scissors hard and cold high on my nape, on a level with my earlobes. She combed the hair down flat once more then schnick, schnick, schnick carefully cut across my neck. She combed the side hair back then continued to work. At last a final section. Schnick, schnick. She cut across then set the scissors down. She stepped away and collected a large can of mousse then splurged a blob into her hand. Starting at the front she pulled it through my hair, drawing all of the curls back from my face, coating it with the white mousse. She scooshed a little more into her hand then pulled it through the back hair then wiped her hands on a towel. The assistant Paula brought over the dryer and a vent brush. Weaaaii. The dryer began to whine and she began to lift and pull at my hair with the brush as she blasted it dry. I noted with a little satisfaction that the dryer blasted some of the curl out of my hair so what I had been afraid would be tight curls became full bodied volume. She pulled each section with the brush and the damp tight curls eased into fluffiness. Marie worked quickly and I was able to watch as she created a sort of bouffant style for me. She swapped the vent brush for a round barrelled blow drying brush and began to twist it into my hair at the back vertically. This was nothing like I expected. I had thought I might have curls like the hairdressers or Dallas style glamour like the picture but instead I was getting a harsh frumpy bouffant bob. My hair was at least five inches shorter – it had reached almost my shoulders now it stopped precisely at the bottom of my earlobes. Marie then worked on the front creating some bouffant round curls turning all of the hair back.. At last she was done and she set down the dryer. To my amazement and dismay though she picked up the heavy clippers from the counter where they had been since the last client. Clack bzzzzzz they sounded really loud behind me. She couldn’t be serious, she wasn’t going to use them on me? She gently pressed my head forwards and I stared down past my court shoes. Bzzzzzz I felt the clippers buzzing gently on my neck then bzzzzz they swept up pressed to my nape. I felt her lift my hair with her left hand then bzzzzz, bzzzzz, bzzzz. She sheared away all over my nape. Finally blissful silence as she clicked the clippers off. I was able to see the back of my head in the mirror behind me and stared at the bob which had replaced my long tresses.
I stared into the mirror hardly daring to move. The heavy clippers on the counter in front of me. Snip, snip, snip. Marie carefully and precisely clipped along the back, once more I felt the scissors cold on my neck right up high. How short had she cut it? My neck seemed to go on forever from the towel up to my shortened hair.
Marie picked up the large can of hairspray. “Design Freedom – Ultimate Hold” I noted as she brought it close to my head. Ssss, sssss. She spritzed the front then pulled at sections with her fingers. Sssiss. Another section on top. Sss. A further curl. Carefully and meticulously spraying and dressing in my tortured tresses. Sssss. Sssss. She worked all over my head, coaxing curls into place. Finally she was satisfied. Sssssssssssssssssssss – she began at the front. I closed my eyes. Sssssssssssssssssss over and over the top then walking around the side, soaking the back, I felt the hairspray fall damp and sticky on my newly exposed neck. Sssssssssss she moved to the left side, the nozzle still depressed, and the spray just pouring out. Ssssssss back around the back then two sweeps over the top. For fifteen seconds she soaked my hair then stopped. I opened my eyes to stare through a cloud of dissipating spray. It seemed I was finished. She stepped away to get the small mirror and I took the chance to experimentally pull at a curl at the side. It was stiff, sticky with spray and mousse and obviously wanted to remain immobile. I could walk out of the salon into a brisk wind and this bouffant balloon of hair would remain unmoved. I looked so different. My silky straight collar bone length hair was now curled and coaxed into a harsh fluffy earlobe length bob and thanks to the perm was destined to remain that way for some time. Marie stepped to where I could see her in the mirror. She lifted the small mirror. “How’s that for you?” she asked. I studied my reflection hardly recognised my transformed visage. I forced a timid smile and nodded. I noted my hair did not move. She dropped the small mirror in behind me and I couldn’t contain a gasp as at last I could see how she had cropped my hair away leaving the harshest of blunt finishes dead level with my earlobes. The small mirror revealed how the clippers had shaved away my hairline – I could just make out shadow where there had been hair – leaving a severe short bob. “Do you like the back?” she asked. I stared then lied…
“Er yes, very nice thank you.”
“These really neat little bobs are really really trendy.” She said as she ran a fingernail over my neck. “It’s very fashionable to have it cut really high here so the bob is dead level and doesn’t drop down over the neck at all…” I stared at my harsh new hairdo and found myself smiling.
“Its very nice thank you, a bit different….” Marie smiled.
“Now the hair at the back will grow out quickly, if you want to pop in next time you are passing, say in a couple of weeks, I zip the back off for you and keep it neat – no charge. Of course you could always get someone to shave it for you…” I forced a timid smile and nod.
“It really suits you. It’s a really big change but you will find a perm so practical you’ll wonder why you didn’t have one ages ago. Now trims every four weeks. Next time you come in though you must have some more highlights, full head cap lights….platinum for contrast. Your perm should last around 12 to sixteen weeks before you really need it redoing. With the structure and short lengths on top I’d suggest closer to twelve than sixteen OK?”
She removed the towel and dusted me off. I stood up and followed her to the reception desk. I noticed that I was walking through snipped locks of hair on the floor – my hair. I couldn’t resist and ran my hand over my freshly denuded neck – it felt so strange.
To my surprise I noticed Patricia, a colleague of mine waiting at reception. She did a double take then smiled as she recognised me. “Karen, is that really you?” She almost shrieked. I smiled bashfully. Marie interjected.
“Doesn’t she look great and isn’t she brave going shorter and having it permed at the same time?”
“That’s so different” Patricia said. “I didn’t realise it was you…I didn’t expect you to go for short hair and the perm is a confident step. You look really nice Karen.”
“What are you having done?” I asked.
“Oh just a trim…” Patricia’s hair was short, clear of her ears. The top was permed into round curls – it was quite a strong look and I remembered when she had had it cut and permed. Marie gently touched my shoulder and turned me around so Pat could see the back of my new style. “It’s all cut on a dead level and the back is clippered to get this strong neckline” She ran a fingernail across my neck. “Oh wow that’s amazing, very brave…” Pat said as she admired my tortured hair. We said our goodbyes and she walked into the salon following Paula. I noted with some disgust that her hair at the back was much longer than mine.
I paid the receptionist and made sure I left a tip even though I was far from delighted with my transformation. I exchanged the smock for my jacket. Marie stepped forwards and pulled at a wayward curl. “Pass me a can of spray please…” she told the receptionist who complied. Ssssssssssssssssss she soaked my hair once more. I closed my eyes as I disappeared in a cloud of spray. “Make sure you use plenty of lacquer” she said. I nodded meekly… “Now no washing it for at least three days. If you wash it and leave it, it will go curly. Blow dry it to get this sort of look OK. I’m very pleased with it, I think you look really good…Now you will need a trim in about five or six weeks – same day and time?” I nodded meekly and she completed an appointment card which she handed to me. I smiled and babbled my thanks before pulling open the door. I stepped outside in a cloud of scents – shampoo, perming solution, mousse and spray. I pulled the door behind me sunshine on my face, the air still, no wind to try and disturb my concrete hairdo. I began to walk down the street aware that it was obvious I had just had my hair done and wondering how my friends would react.
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