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Hair Fashion: Brent & the Peaky

When we were kids it was common for mothers to cut their kid’s hair. Maybe that’s still common but no kid would be getting their hair colored or streaked, which is possible today. Haircuts weren’t fancy and involved the most basic; either a shearing like a sheep or a cut across a straight line and that was it. These hairstyles were pretty much pre-teen years because by the age of twelve and up my mother definitely heard some complaints on her skills.

Mothers often cut their children’s hair in a way that’s manageable for mom or for the children: not too long or tangly, not having to deal with frequent groomings, barrettes, clips or getting in the eyes. My own hairstyle was what is known as the pageboy; bangs with a square cut ending around the chin. With my little round face I looked like a pumpkin. I didn’t particularly like it and it sometimes involved some sort of thinning thing that pretty much was a razor blade to cut layers into the hair. By the time I was eleven I was begging my mother to let me wash my own hair (her treatments were brutally painful) and to grow it. I was allowed to as long as I kept it clean and neat. That was the end of short hair forever for me, except for one hairstylist disaster in my early 20s.

My brothers, on the other hand, may have actually had more travails with their hair than I did. And my sister might have escaped it all. I’m not sure as she was older and I believe had long hair even as a child, when there were fewer of us to get in my mother’s hair.

My mother gave my brothers a pretty utilitarian haircut, which involved one of thus buzzers and something shorter than a crew-cut, which is usually long enough on top to stand up like astroturf for an inch. No muss no fuss. However, my mother had the habit of getting into a role when she cut. I don’t know if she’d seen the Bugs Bunny cartoon where he’s doing haircuts to Elmer Fudd and singing Figaro, but  it’s reported that she did sing Figaro while cutting my older brother’s hair. My mother isn’t a singer but she gave it great gusto, her hands getting involved in the emotive piece. And my brother’s buzzcut was so short that he had a pink landing strip down the middle of his noggin. He went to school like this where a teacher commented that he looked like he’d been hit by a low hanging beam.

My younger brother Brent, the youngest of four, the monkey, that kid who threw caution to the wind, had a slightly different style. It involved the short back cut but for some reason, maybe even it was the fashion for little boys at that point, he had a swath of hair that came from midcrown to a point on his forehead. Brent was probably four or five when this style began and he named it his peaky. I think he quite loved that peaky and it served to help in the future when he had a little mishap.

Brent was always the one most likely to break something, whether himself or in the house. He liked to chase my sister and me around the house, when he was about three or four, with a stick in his hand, calling out that he was going to beat us and make us cry like babies. Brent was quite adventuresome as a child. One night Brent went to bed, but instead of just sleeping he fell asleep chewing gum.

One’s mouth does tend to relax during sleep and the gum went walkabout, ending up stuck to Brent’s very short hair, missing his peaky. However, instead of alerting my mother to the problem, my brother surreptitiously clawed the gum out of his hair, leaving a nice clear-cut patch of pink on the side of his head. He was quite a sensitive kid and luckily for him it was winter. He wore a toque for the next month until his hair grew back.

We all survived the hairstyles of childhood. My sister and I still have long hair. My brothers have varying stages of baldness so haircuts are not as much an issue. And my mother; she retired from her thankfully short hairstyling career.

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Fashion: A Bygone Era of Hats

I like hats. Hats are fun. The mad hatter loved his hat but then he was quite mad, from felting those hats. Mad as a hatter was once a popular saying. Though there is dispute as to whether it actually came from hat making, once hatters used mercury to felt the hats and that drove them quite mad as it was absorbed into their skin.

In a later era, World War II, my mother worked for a hatter in Calgary. Because so many men were on the front lines, women’s emancipation happened. Women had to work the jobs that were once held almost exclusively by men, which had left nursing, secretarial and teaching as traditional women’s jobs. My mother worked one of the machines that made or felted the hats. At one point an inspector came in and noticed she was not being paid adequately. Women were to be paid a man’s wage if they were doing a man’s job, not less because they were women. So my mother was paid more and the world changed, with women never going back  completely to the way it had been before the war.

And hats changed too. In the earlier decades of the 20th century hats were a required form of dress. This style had come up through the ages, where hats were used before central heating to keep the person warm. Headwear had, at points, indicated the marital status of a woman, with unmarried women sometimes allowed to go hatless or with hair down. And sometimes hats indicated a religious status or belief (this is still the case today).

But any well-dressed man or woman in the 40s and 50s always wore a hat. A woman’s was not as necessary but a man was rarely seen without one. And men doffed their hats to the ladies and were required to remove them when inside, or for ceremonies, to show respect. Ladies hats became small fripperies worn in various ways, as adornment to their hair. They had veils, feathers and odd decorations of flowers and birds (sometimes stuffed). In fact not much had changed in the decorations of hats since the 17th century when women went so far as to wear galleons in their hair. (The Baroque and Rococo periods saw some amazingly ornate hats of towering proportions, not to mention the hair.)

Men’s hats settled into the fedora as the most popular form in North America. A man would probably only have one hat most of his life, unless he was well-to-do. But that hat would fit well. Hats were made in sizes going up in increments so one could find a hat for any head. Women’s were too, unless they were the ornaments that sat atop the head where size mattered little.

However as time progressed through the 60s and 70s, hats were worn less and less. They were also now being made of materialsother  than straw and felt. The process of felting with mercury, for felt hats, actually involved the use of animal furs (beaver, rabbit) that were felted and blocked to make hats. They’re more durable and softer than wool. And they were expensive. I actually have one vintage pillbox hat that says it’s made of velour which is in fact felted fur, the softest type.

So hats are now mostly novelty items, at least those super duper, fancy cocktail hats that few of us wear. But people still wear them; models and stars who show up for elaborate or public functions. Royalty still wear hats. Others also wear hats but the headwear has changed in style and size. Women’s hats rarely come in sizes anymore, which is hugely annoying. I have a large head, or a small man’s size. But women, hatmakers now believe, have one size of head. I can’t buy many hats unless I go for the custom hats and although I have a couple (a tricorn and a high pillbox), they are very expensive.

The most banal or common hat in this era is the baseball cap, synonymous with every guy in jeans and T-shirt or track pants. Of course, not every guy wears these caps, which I classify as the MacDonald’s of hats. They are rarely classy (though there are designer ones) and often denote the good ole party boy from the hicks. Still there was most likely the equivalent in all eras. And hats are often functional items to keep the weather at bay, whether sun, snow or rain.

Hats do evolve and the wearing of them waxes and wanes with styles and fashion. They are fun to wear for more than just a costume. They can be functional and fancy all at once. Dressing up with a hat can make you feel like a star. I actually haven’t worn most of my hats for a while. Perhaps I’ll start again.

And for people wanting to look at hats and different styles, some reminiscent of earlier eras, here are a few sites:

http://www.berkeleyhat.com/index.html

http://ediehats.com/store-theatre

http://www.ilovehats.ca/home.html

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Hair-Raising History

Once we were much hairier. Well, our evolutionary ancestors were anyway. And depending on what ethnic stew you come from you may find yourself of a hairier variety. But hairstyles have been coming and going for thousands of years. I’m sure Grog the caveman (he’s popular, this Grog) and Progla the cavewoman didn’t much care what their hair did and they hadn’t invented scissors yet. The best they could do was chip a piece of stone and saw away at the rat’s nest.

Hairstyles progressed in different ways in various geographies. The Egyptians were big on shaving their heads in the heat and making elaborate wigs, for the nobles at least. Hieroglyphics show that they’d put a cone of perfumed fat on their noggins and let it slowly melt over their bodies. I can only think that that would have made me itchy in the heat.

Babylonian men were curling and coiling their naturally wavy locks and beards into elaborate patterns, as were other cultures. Along the way, some places developed moral codes that affected how people could wear their hair. Men were to have beards but not before marriage, heads were to be covered or not. Unmarried women could wear their hair loose (and were usually young girls) but once married they were braided or coiffed and often under veils and headdresses. Turbans, veils, hats, caps and other headwear were used to hide hair. Many of these moral codes had to do with the religious bodies of the day and perceived wantonness/evil/bucking authority depending on the flavor.

Within those countries there was often an accepted style to hair that you could be sure the upper classes wore. We have fewer images less of the poor and lower classes but they would, by fact of having less money, have worn their hair plainer but affecting the stylish modes as much as they could. There weren’t as many varieties of hairstyles and new ones would have come from neighboring countries. Egyptian slaves had shaved heads and no wigs. During the baroque and rococo periods women’s hair attained new heights with hats and shapes, such as a full galleon cresting the waves of curled and pinned tresses. The merchant and working classes would have had simpler styles, less lofty and easier for a person to arrange on themselves, rather than needing a team of hairdressers.

When I was researching medieval and renaissance Sottish and Irish dress I came across a style worn by young warriors. The head shaved close over the back and sides but hair left long to hang forward only over the brow. While this may have been partly expedient for wearing under fighting helms and coifs and part vanity, it also shows the punk hairstyles of the 80s were not so new.

Variations on the theme continue with some new twists being added. The punk movement brought along a literal rainbow of colors. I wouldn’t doubt if some dyes had been tried in centuries past, maybe something mixed with mud and applied. Not everything is recorded. We cut our hair short, we leave it long, we perm it into curls, we madly straighten it, we shave our heads, a few of us still do comb-overs (Donald Trump…ick). We make it uneven, we cut patterns into it, we braid, twist and otherwise add adornments like scarves, hats, pins, clips, etc. Some people have had implants put under their skin so that the skull takes on a bumpy pattern or to snap prosthetic hair pieces or horns even, onto their heads.

I’ve worn my hair short and mostly long, straight and curly and turquoise, blue, purple, magenta and red, in streaks, mind you, plus the regular blondes and brunettes. When doing shows, hairdressers treat hair as a medium on which to create their transitory art. Humanity tends to treat the body, from hair to nails, as a canvas. We play with it, we decorate it, sometimes we permanently change it. Hair is a renewable medium, for most of us. It allows us to experiment and try something new and either cut it off or grow it out if it doesn’t work. There have even been a few memorable movies/plays about it: Shampoo, Hairspray and give me down to there, Hair.

What will be the next follicle fad? What will be repeated? Who knows but I’m waiting for the day that they can actually create true metallic colors: copper, silver, gold, gunmetal. Maybe by the time I’m gray I’ll be able to go for robot silver instead.

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