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Features / Writing

The Ugliest Thing I Love: Georgia Frances King pays homage to big barnets and beguiling bouffants

First published in Printed Pages Winter 2014

Illustration by

Nadine Redlich

For as long as I can remember I’ve been desperate for hair like a late 80s prostitute. Trips to the hairdressers have seldom been satisfying with snippers sending me home sporting slick ringlets instead of sating my longing for gargantuan fuzz. (“But, I didn’t really think you meant like that,” they retort as I angrily gesture at my grainy screen grab of Pretty Woman-era Julia Roberts. “I mean, she looks like a bit of a tramp, doesn’t she?”) Contemporary society has come to favour loose curls over loose women, and stripped-back style over strippers. But not me. Ever since I popped out of the womb equipped with a full, shaggy mop top, I’ve looked to everyone from Farrah Fawcett to Frankenstein’s bride for inspiration, only to find I’m the flyaway in society’s asymmetrical bob.

When you look back through history, big hair has had its literal ups and downs, first popularised by the French Aristocracy in the late 1770s; the more pearl strands and miniature avian critters you could fit in your bouffant, the larger your perceived wealth and reputation (where do you think the term “bigwig” comes from?). Marie Antoinette’s coiffure may have stood 36 inches tall, but by the turn of the 20th Century, revolution and bloodthirsty distaste for the bourgeoisie guillotined egos and fringe lengths short.

In the 1960s and 1970s, big hair became a badge of political affiliation once more, this time the preserve of the social revolution instead of high society. As hemlines crept up, hair swung down to meet them: hippies left their corporate jobs to let their locks grow long, the Rastas started emigrating from Jamaica with their bounty of dreadlocks and plentiful ganja, and African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement began accentuating their natural afros to defy expectation of long, straight manes. We were taking control of our identities via our follicles, and all it took was a hairbrush and a can of Ultra Super Hold Aqua Net.

Take this societal situation, add a decade, a headband and amphetamine addiction, and you’ve got Hair Metal. Borrowing the gaudy sequins and spandex from Glam Rock and tickling it with a teasing comb, Motley Crue, Poison and Quiet Riot popularised the mullet and provided us with the joy of a thousand cringe-worthy photographs of our 80s-era fathers. These guys probably damaged the ozone layer more than the whole Industrial Revolution, but man, they looked great while they did it!

So it seems a cruel twist of fate that I came of age in an era where grunge’s stoner vibe had undercut Hair Metal’s power ballads, and the only socially acceptable haircut either involved some racially questionable chopsticks, a la Spice Girls, or Aniston’s infamous “Rachel”.

If hair really can be an indicator of social change – of the luminaries, of the rebellious, of the fiercely unapologetic – then what does that say about our current society of sugared cereal colourways and poker-straight ends? Bring back the big hair, I say, and let’s welcome it loudly with the tunes of The Supremes.