Millions will attempt to regain control of their appearance following a difficult year with the oppeing of hair salons. What would William Prynne, one of England’s most fearsome Puritans, think of the state of the nation’s hair? It is out of control and running wild. Prynne was horrified by the voluminous hairstyles of 1630s cavaliers. He couldn’t find the words to condemn them. “Odious and immodest, indecent… ungodly, horrid, strange, outlandish, pernicious, offensive, ribblous, foolish, childish.”
The description of the chaos that has been displayed over the past year is horrid, bizarre and outlandish. It is not illegal. It was the law that caused us to be locked down for a whole year. Only the most capable and resourceful survived with some dignity. As the months passed, the roots began to grow out and hair began satirizing faces instead of flatteringly framing them. Hairdressers are often called upon to provide advice by telephone or online, much like doctors and priests. Box dye and cutter sales have .skyrocketed. Many people were faced with the question of whether to go gray or not.
As humans, we have learned to be discreet and tactful. One observes, but does not comment on, the tragic outcome of hair-replacement performed by a competent but loving partner. Many bowl-haired teenagers look like they have joined the 1970s sitcom The Partridge Family. Some women can almost get away with Rapunzel looks. Others stare in despair at the mirror as their faces disappear behind thick curtains of hair. Some middle-aged men of a particular stamp pull an old memory of Top of the Pops 1983 and create a loose fringe to pretend to be Tony Hadley of the Spandau Ballet. Winsome is only for those in their 20s. The year has been a great year for young people, with bright colours and cropping.
The nightmare will end on Monday. Due to the high demand, the national shearing session could take several weeks. In Scotland, where hair salons reopened this week, some were welcoming customers through the doors at 6am. Beauty salons will also be returning. Millions of people will feel the psychological lift. The sociologist Erving Goffman once wrote a book called The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. These presentations have been somewhat of a mess for much of the last year.
Maybe hair can be interesting again, starting next week. Its management has always been political, as the recent school controversies over afro hairstyles have illustrated. In the 1920s, the new assertiveness of women who had done men’s work in the first world war found expression in the daringly short bob. Contrary to the Vietnam-era soldiers’ shorn heads, counterculture hippy hairstyles of the 1960s provided a counterpoint. Hairstyles can be an ornament, but they also reflect our global presence. It’ll be great to have them back.