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Hair today, gone tomorrow

October 29, 2009

I’ve decided it’s time. This afternoon I will be picking up pair of scissors and trying to cut my own hair. Why don’t I just go to a hairdresser? Well, because I find the process of having my hair cut increasingly… traumatic. I never come out happy with the result, and always assume this is because the person cutting my hair just doesn’t understand my hair like I do. But then there’s no reason why they should- they haven’t lived with it, they don’t know where it kinks and how it doesn’t lie flat if it’s cut too short. Also, in a city like Oxford, a hair cut (to me at least) seems expensive. Cutting hair well is a skill and deserves remuneration like any other skill. For some people a hair cut is money well spent, but value is such a relative thing. I just come out thinking how many skeins of yarn, vintage patterns, groceries, etc, I could have spend the money on. (Plus I always seem to get sat in the window which means I get peered at by passersby. And I always seem to get blowdryed for half an hour and covered in Product which I will never have the time or inclination to do at home on a daily basis). Asked to make a choice between visiting the hairdresser or the dentist and I’d probably have to think about that decision for quite a while.
So, in short, I’m going to give it a bash myself. Even if I make a total pig’s ear of it, it’s only hair after all. And it’ll grow back.

I dug out a couple of photos from Harpers Bazaar 1938 to illustrate this post and realised that the man in the pic just above is actually hairdressing icon Antoine de Paris. He is said to have invented the shingle bob in 1917. Born Antoni Cierplikowski in Poland, in 1912 he opened his famous “salon Antoine” in Paris at 5 rue Cambon. His success was so spectacular that he opened the first of his American salons at Saks Fifth Avenue in 1925. (Apparently Antoine worked on hair for some MGM movies and was also a bit of a designer. The Central Museum of Textiles in Łódź, Poland has an archive of clothing and accessories he designed.)

Such was Antoine’s influence that the 8th April 1929 issue of Time magazine carried the following statement:

Antoine, famed Parisian hairdresser, last week issued a quasi-dictatorial prophecy: “Hair will remain short.” Hairdresser Antoine has already built his own tomb over which rise the figures of bobbed-haired women, symbolic of a freed soul. His latest inspiration: ancient Greek and Roman coiffures.

In her novel Mistral’s Daughter Judith Krantz sends one of her beautiful heroines, Maggie, to have her hair cut by Antoine in the 1920s. Antoine gives Maggie “the extreme Eton cut which only the most beautiful women could wear” and (of course) transforms her into a raging beauty. Entertainer Josephine Baker sports an Eton crop below:

However, Krantz points out in Mistral’s Daughter that

In this period a haircut could make or break a woman. Women who only ten years before had been considered lovely in their Edwardian draperies and the floating clouds of their elaborately dressed hair, were denuded and exposed to the cruel light of day without any grace or charm left to them all in the name of fashion. Women who would once have been reigning beauties were revealed as scarecrows, with scalped heads perched like knobs on top of unfashionably plump shoulders. A poorly shaped skull could ruin a young woman’s future.

The fun F. Scott Fitzgerald short story “Bernice bobs her hair” has a similar message. (You can read the text here.) I didn’t realise until I googled that Fitzgerald probably named his heroine after Berenice II, wife of the Egyptian Pharoah Ptolemy III. During her husband’s absence on an expedition to Syria in c. 246 BC, Berenice offered her hair to the goddess Aphrodite for his safe return, and placed it in the temple of the goddess when he did indeed return. Then the hair mysteriously disappeared. The astronomer Conon of Samos (who was either a bit of a creep or trying to save the temple priests from being put to death) explained the phenomenon by saying that it had been carried to the heavens and placed among the stars. A constellation became known as Coma Berenices (or Berenice’s Hair). Berenice appears on a coin below (image from Wikipedia Commons):

I won’t be doing anything drastic like bobbing my hair. I’m just going to give it a trim. I must be sure to offer myself a cup of tea and ask myself if I’m going anywhere nice for my holidays this year. Now, where are the scissors…

10 Comments leave one →
  1. October 29, 2009 8:40 pm

    oh, i hear you on the hair cutting trauma. i cut my own hair a month or so ago and it turned out pretty good. i would love to spend a ton of money to get my haircut, but i don’t really have a lot of money to spend on things like haircuts and i’m like you. i always think of other things i could spend my money on…like new shoes or fabric or yarn or patterns… besides, i keep telling myself i need to grow my hair out and hairdressers (well, the cheap places) always cut at least 2 inches off when i tell them i just wanted a trim. :/ good luck! (p.s. i found some helpful youtube videos when i decided to cut my own hair.)

  2. October 30, 2009 12:31 pm

    You are very brave :-) I don’t cut my hair myself, I let my husband cut it *grin*

    Will you let us know how it turned out?

  3. Nathalie permalink
    October 31, 2009 10:15 am

    A lovely piece as usual (trying to steer clear of making the obvious ‘hairpiece’ pun and failing!…). I presume Krantz writing about women being ruined by the shape of their heads, as revealed by their new haircuts, is steeped in fact. I was in France this summer and was lucky to find a whole series of late 20s – early 30s women’s mags (‘Mademoiselle’ for the teenage readers, and ‘La Femme Chez Elle’ for those readers who were now married with children). One of the most fascinating aspects was the overwhelming number of readers’ letters discussing whether they had short hair or long hair (with some women appalled at the very thought of cutting their hair, and everything that it represented) and one poor woman despairing because she had cut her hair and her husband had left her as a result. Reading through those letters is like watching emancipation in the making!

    Anyway, good luck with the haircut! I’ve been cutting my own hair for years now (for very similar reasons to yours). My only recommendation would be to get special hairdresser scissors as they do make a big difference (with tiny little crenellations that help hold the hair on the blade as you cut it).

    • glassoffashion permalink
      November 4, 2009 3:03 pm

      I’m deeply envious of your trove of French mags- they sound ace! I always love readers’ letters sections in old mags and the insight they give into what matters of dress and beauty, etc, were really concerning readers (rather than what the magazine was expounding). Incidentally, I had my hair cut really short (in a bit of an Eton crop) when I was 13. It was totally wrong on me and stuck out all over the place. It took most of my teenage years to grow it out again!

  4. November 3, 2009 3:56 am

    Hairdressers are frightful beasts, as soon as they put that cape around you and you are armless, they just do whatever they want with you! If you have longish curly hair you can just snip away at it yourself and no-one will be able to tell. Good luck!

  5. glassoffashion permalink
    November 4, 2009 2:55 pm

    Thanks so much all of you for your encouragement and advice- I had no idea that DIY haircutting was so popular!

    I think I can say that my own attempt is successful from the perspective that my hair is definitely shorter- so, mission accomplished! I did have to stop myself from getting carried away trying to even bits up until I had no hair left. I keep asking Robin if he’ll straighten up the back for me but he makes a terrified and hasty exit (Karin- what’s your secret?!) :)

  6. Adi permalink
    June 18, 2012 5:02 pm

    Antoine did invent the Bob in 1909 not in 1917. his inspiration for the bob was joan of ark. I have acquire a book sign by Antoine in 1945 depicting his life. WHAT A FIND!!!!

    • June 19, 2012 9:43 am

      Oh, that does sound like a find! Lucky you :) And thanks for this interesting tidbit of info.


  1. Successful Stylists Quotes | “Hair will remain short.” – Antoine de Paris, owner, innovator, and celebrity stylist

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