- The Washington Times - Friday, July 19, 2002

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. — Mornings used to start with a shot of neodecanoate copolymer, aminomethyl propanol and SD alcohol 40-B, good for a giddy little head rush before facing the day. They formed a diaphanous chemical cloud after streaming with a sibilant sssssssssss from pink or blue aerosol spray cans onto hair ready to submit.

The head rush generally was inadvertent, a hair-spray side effect in the pursuit of big hair. Those were the days, when hot rollers, curling irons, crimpers, hair dryers and myriad hair products dominated bathroom counters, when more-more-more was the mantra. Those were the days of big hair.

These days, big-hair sightings inspire an anthropological fascination, a memory-based reverence in those who once had big hair and know what it takes to get it and a curiosity in those too young to ever have had big hair. It's these youths today. They've always had little hair. They have no clue about the possibilities in a can of mega-hold Rave.

"As a trend, young people don't like that look," said Rhonda Porter, director of the Academy of Beauty Culture. "It's not practical with our lifestyles now. Big hair is high-maintenance and causes damage. Right now, people are trying to be more natural, more healthy."

Big hair is gone, relegated to the lunacy of haute couture runways and unrealistic pages of Vogue. When someone like Christina Aguilera shows up at an awards show wearing a hideous dress and a Twisted Sister 'do, she is resoundingly mocked by the Joan and Melissa Riverses of the world.

What happened to big hair? Life, it turns out. Economic recession. The daily time crunch. Women in the workplace. Grunge. Earth Day. Irony.

"Big hair disappeared in most of America about 10 years ago, other than in Texas and the South and for any women that were over 50," said Larry Oskin, president of Marketing Solutions, a national beauty-industry marketing group. "The consumers' need for easy-maintenance hair care they can do at home has made a big difference. So big hair currently is out. That doesn't mean it couldn't come back as retro big hair, but today it's OK if your hair's whatever it is."

"We care about hair because it is one of the ways, sometimes the most important way, women contend with the dizzying complexities of everyday life," wrote anthropologist Grant McCracken in his book "Big Hair: A Journey Into the Transformation of Self."

"It is one of the ways they negotiate the endless succession of changes that make up even the most tranquil of contemporary lives: the career shifts, marriages, births, divorces, retirements."

Big hair originated with royalty and nobility, those rich people who had the time to spend on their hair. Painted portraits of Queen Elizabeth I of England depict a pale, regal woman with a big red wig.

In 1632, British Puritan pamphleteer William Prynne wrote, "A woman with cut hair is a filthy spectacle, and much like a monster it being natural and comely to women to nourish their hair, which even God and nature have given them for a covering, a token of subjection, and a natural badge to distinguish them from men."

King Charles II of England is credited with starting the fashion of male wigs, presumably to disguise his thinning hair, and male hair grew to amazing bigness over the following decades.

The early pinnacle of big hair came during the mid- to late 1700s, when English and French courtiers curled their hair then piled it on wire structures placed on top of their heads, with padding for extra height. Then they decorated these elaborate hairdos with feathers, blown glass or fruit plates, and topped them off with a hat.

Marie Antoinette, before losing the head to which it was attached, was noted for her big hair. In fact, her mother wrote her a letter that said, in part, "They say that your coiffure rises 36 inches and is decorated with a mass of feathers and ribbons, which make it even higher . I was always of the opinion that one should follow the fashions with restraint, but never exaggerate them."

A breakthrough big-hair moment came in 1872, when French hairdresser Marcel Grateau used heated tongs to semi-permanently give hair waves. Another big big-hair moment was in 1890, when French hairdresser Alexandre Godefroy attached a hood to a chimney pipe on a gas stove and created the world's first hair dryer. In 1905, German hairdresser Charles Nessler used borax paste and electrically heated curlers to create the first permanent wave.

Women's hair started down the path to absurd bigness in the 1950s. Hair became a reflection of what was going on in society, the fact that the economy was good and most women didn't have to work outside the home, so they had time to do things with their hair. The habit was established back then, a reflection of increased national leisure time.

This led to the evolution of the beehive, a gravity-defying hairdo that grew from a woman's head like a, well, beehive. Rumors abounded of spiders building nests in these 'dos, which were infrequently washed, and of bad girls hiding their boyfriends' knives in their hair. Girls and women with beehives wrapped their hair in toilet paper at night so it wouldn't get mussed while they slept.

Vietnam cast a pall over the country and led to the younger generation asking what was important, which, it turns out, was nature and personal freedom. Girls stopped doing their hair and let it grow free. Also, women began entering the workplace in droves. With family pressures and other time constraints, they didn't have as much time for elaborate hair.

During much of the '70s, hair was small to moderate, but led into the '80s with its punk music and heavy metal and economic good times, as reflected in larger-than-life hair.

And there was a different kind of head rush, the kind that came from drying your hair upside down after liberally covering it with gel or mousse then flipping up quickly to spray it with half a can of Aqua Net for maximum bigness. Then it was at least 20 minutes with a curling iron, more hair spray and a full-frontal assault on the bangs. Remember those mammoth, absurd-looking, crunchy bangs? Hide the yearbooks it wasn't pretty.

Then, in the early '90s, hair just sort of deflated. The economy tanked, the hole in the ozone layer got bigger, grunge bands made us all feel suicidal, so what was the point? Of big hair, that is. Or personal grooming, for that matter. That attitude has evolved into a sunnier espousing of naturalness, a warm hug of acceptance that champions working with your hair rather than trying to beat it into submission.

And we're left with our big-hair memories: Beethoven. Albert Einstein. Dee Snider. Dusty Springfield. The Ronettes. The Supremes. Gwendolyn Brooks. Dolly Parton. Sebastian Bach. Louis XIV. Axl Rose. Kid 'N Play. The Bangles. Alexis Carrington. Marge Simpson.


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