Split Ends: A Woman's Life with Her Hair by Richard Stein

Hair and Glamour

Richard Stein

t's fairly safe to say that what is considered glamorous in both hair and clothing in the 2000’s is something of a crapshoot. If there was ever a time of "anything goes," it's now. Ever since the 1960s there has been an extraordinary acceleration in the beauty and fashion world; styles have changed with dizzying velocity, evolving as rapidly as the insatiable media has expanded to chronicle them. Inevitably, this has led to mass confusion, as well as an uncertainty about what style really is.

Each period has its own brand of glamour -the Egyptians and their hennaed coifs, the Greeks with their carefully arranged curls, the Persians with their oiled and glossy ringlets. In 18th century France on the eve of Revolution, some of the towering wigs worn by the aristocracy had birdcages, cunningly concealed within where charming linnets twittered the nights away. And, in London, that ardent Whig and fashion arbiter, the Duchess of Devonshire, boldly sported three, three-foot ostrich feathers, the emblem of her lover, the Prince of Wales. All through history, hair has reflected the times. The Puritans fanatically anti-glamour -shunned all artifice, hence hair was usually cropped, covered, and hidden. Clearly, they knew the fierce temptation of the toss of a saucy curl. Certainly the flapper bobs of the 1920s helped liberate a lot of women to raise hell and their hemlines, in direct defiance of the primly prurient Victorian era that went before.

My own ideas of glamour grew out of my admiration for the hairstyles of the very silent movies on up until the mid-1940s. My work methods are a homage to the way great stars like Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Gloria Swanson and others wore their hair. They were innovators of classic and timeless effects, with their "looks" that celebrated the independent, feminine woman. They lived at a time when an actor created a special look for each role played, unlike today when armies of stylists follow a star's every move, ready to fluff, advise and critique at the drop of a comb. These women were in a continual process of self-invention and reinvention, active participants in their own styles. They were glamour personified.

Whatever the elements are that conspire to create the illusion called glamour, in today's world "hair rules." Understanding its dynamics and the effect it has on us and the world at large is crucial. A woman's visual statement starts at the top. One’s hair is what is seen first, so the head should always feel in balance and harmony with its hairstyle, whether the body is dressed in a relaxed and casual mode or in glittering haute couture. A quick glance at any nearby mirror is infinitely more reassuring if one’s hair has a sense of order, whether the style is high tousle or cutting-edge geometric. Glamour can be in the swing of the hair, or the shine or the natural quality of the cut. Not all hair needs to be conditioned or moussed or colored, despite the siren call of the giddy profusion of hair products on the market today. It should always feel good to the wearer's touch, and when it doesn't is when it's time to move on to a newer look.

I believe a woman's quest for glamour begins in the morning and builds throughout the day, as she anticipates the evening with its demand for high style and high excitement. Maybe one artful flick of a curl can change a mood and a mode and prepare her for the nighttime drama ahead. A friend recently confided to me that, just taking an extra twenty minutes a day to work with her hair in different ways, frees her from the need for makeup! Having found a new confidence in her hair craft, may also provide her the courage to try a new wardrobe or fragrance.

Glamour is ultimately in the eye of the beholder, and it has no single, accessible secret. It is allure, charm, fascination, with just a hint of witchery. It is art and artifice and alchemy. No "glamour.com" site exists to guide the novice in its wily ways. Acquiring it takes personal daring and the connivance of inspired and sympathetic experts. It's the whole package -makeup, clothing, accessories and, of course in my view, a brilliant hairstyle. And, quintessentially, it's the attitude of the woman who wears them.

Richard Stein Hair Salon, New York City

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