Privilege Blog

Building Attractive: Let’s Talk Hair

I got a haircut recently. I love my hair guy.

And at last, in Building Attractive, we enter the realms of relative frivolity. My friends, it’s time to talk hair.

Your hair is your single most leveraged point of attraction. Since we began this project, I have been paying attention. I walk to work and look at women on the street. Guess what? I see their hair first of all. Well, maybe their coat, but the coat’s going to come off, the hair is not.

You’re going to have to pick your strategy and execute with focus. Here are the simplest rules I can infer:

  • If you are going to fuss with hair, fuss all the way to done.
  • If you are going to experiment, experiment along a clear aesthetic.
  • If you are going to leave it alone, leave it alone in all its glory.
  • Realize that you are likely to move about, and your hair will either have to come along or stay put.

The High WASP Style Archetypes illustrate hair principles pretty well. Thanks oh spirits of my culture. Once again your obsession with style and the appropriate serves all well – regardless of origin or affiliation.

Grande Dame Tresses And ‘Dos

The Grande Dame’s hair knows what’s what, whether pinned to her scalp or dried, curled, and lacquered. She fusses, but with intent.  Contrary to popular iconography, she doesn’t have to be blonde.

Clockwise from top: Belle, the one-and-only Faux Fuchsia, Kristen Chenowyth in GCB

Artsy Cousin Tendrils

The Artsy Cousin likes her hair to resemble flora, or fauna for that matter. Her hair conveys creativity, insouciance, and her acceptance of natural forces. Choose your aesthetic here, an era, locale, or icon. Victorian? Jamaican? Punk? Then make it your own.

From top right, me with hair down at my brother’s rehearsal dinner (had to go Artsy for him), and all others from Naurnie’s BRILLIANT pinboard

Not to forget, now that Lauren has reminded me, there’s also the Urban Warrior version of Artsy Cousin. She sports an untamed pixie-referring do, subversive in color, cut, or both. Kate Lanphear, for example.

via RDuJour

Sturdy Gal, Well, Um, Hair

This is the arena where most of us play, at least those with more conventional office jobs or a kid or two or three to care for at home. At work, we have to think about what our hair says about us. Competent? Unflustered?  Nobody pays you to have hair, so you’ve got to make it serve your job purposes. And few can make fancy, sprayed or frayed, work around small children.

Good Sturdy hair needs to be as healthy as possible. Don’t torture it, don’t neglect it, a little taming goes a long way. This is the territory of blunt cuts, ponytails, pixies, slightly edgy short, or curls at appropriate volume. Hillary Clinton, love her, shouldn’t be about the Secretary of State’s hair, but Don’t. Carly Fiorina, not my favorite, but Do.

Pixie cut, from A Collection of Passions

Finally, where are many routes to attractive hair,  it’s all too easy to wind up elsewhere. Here are the four most obvious Unattractive Hair Outcomes.

  • Tortured. AKA fried, dull, no movement, ragged, all shine dyed right out. The intent may have been admirable, the results are counter-productive. Back away from the heat and chemicals, let your hair find its way back to the light. The only way to keep this kind of hair in Attractive Land is a fantastic colorist and LOTS of hair spray. Few of us care to invest.
  • Blindly Trendy. AKA perms in the 80s, straightened in the previous decade. My sister looked great with her perm. Not everyone did. And let’s all move on from the straight-iron unless it suits us, shall we?
  • Frumpy Hair #1. AKA Layers Gone Wrong. The sad fact is that layers blown dry by your killer salon guy are not guaranteed to behave like the layers you wrestle with, in the bathroom mirror, at 6:45am. Ride herd on those layers, boss them but good.
  • Frumpy Hair #2 AKA Can’t Put My Finger On It But I Know It When I See It. Somehow, your hair is always going to signal your attitude towards s*x. (I asterix only to keep spam away.) Said attitude has enormous impact on Attractive. My High WASP culture allows me to say only that your hair has to indicate that you are neither a little girl, nor afraid of risk, nor one to shut down that which ought to run free.

And I’ll keep fighting for my right to Scrunchie, right until the bitter end.

42 Responses

  1. i think the conflation of pixie cuts and sturdiness is not quite right, here; just as long hair doesn’t necessarily connote artiness or insouciance, ye pixie isn’t always sturdy, or even sturdy most of the time. (believe me, i’d abandon it immediately.)

  2. Oh, hair. I’m always jealous of people who have perfectly coiffed hair and I wish mine behaved like that. But, I have some sturdy gal in me in that I just do not have the inclination to spend an hour or more doing my hair in the morning.

    Nothing beats a good wash-and-wear cut … but it must be from a stylist who understands that wash and wear is literally just that.

  3. I have surrendered to the Pixie, once and for all, and love it. It’s the hairstyle that makes me feel most like myself. No fuss, a little edgy, Just Right.

  4. I like to keep it easy and unfussy. Mid length, just long enough to pull it back if I want. Possibly a few long layers.

    Art by Karena

  5. I have always been told I have “great hair”. However, I lived the days in which I did not appreciate my straight healthy hair, and fell prey to the big permed hair. Thank God, those days are long gone. I appreciate my straight hair. I take care of my hair. I learned, as you get older, you must take care of your hair even more by using gentler products. In addition to having healthy hair, the cut, or style, is vital. I agree with your insight. And, I absolutely love your style.

  6. And I´ll stick to my donut until the bitter end ; ).
    Imo, the cut and color has to fit the person, her/his personality, age and her/his lifestyle.
    Right now, I´m ok with mine. A straight cut ( could never imagine the layering cut ). I can keep it open, but most times, it needs to be tied back, due to my activities.
    I have some natural wave in it, and ” fixing ” my hair after wash takes the small time of blow-drying it with cool air. Fast and simple.

  7. I love my pixie! Threw away my blowdryer.

    I feel for the younger girls who have been Kate Middleton-ed. That’s a whole lotta upkeep.

  8. This post is timely, as I have just come to a resolution after months of wrangling with myself. I will now Grow My Hair. For years I’ve had an excellent bob (thank you, wonderful hair stylist), but I feel the call of the updo. Is there a Sturdy Gal version of the Grande Dame tresses? I’m thinking of my German grandmother, grey hair down to her butt when she combed it out at night, but always, always in a neat bun during the day.

  9. My hairstylist is one of my best resources in my personal version of “building attractive.” My hairstyle, I’d say, like myself, straddles Sturdy Gal and Artsy Cousin, mainly due to its serious curls. I always have a wash-and-wear, air-drying style (although it’s much dependent on product). Were I Sturdier, though, perhaps I’d try greying, but I’m Not. Ready. Yet. (might be if someone could guarantee I’d turn out as gorgeous a shade as you’ve managed).

  10. I pay my hairdresser vast sums of money to keep me straddling the line between artsy and sturdy (a modified pixie cut), while not taxing my limited time and ability to style hair. A spot of product and it goes spiky and youthful, two minutes with a blow dryer, and it’s sleek and professional. Oh, and good shampoo is key. But to look that good, it requires frequent cutting, or it goes all frumpy on me.

    I too dream of grande dame hair. But when it was long, it never looked good, even when I did attempt to put it up. Having long hair seemed like a great responsibility for which I was unprepared.

  11. You’ve had a haircut? And we get not one single pic of the floor after hair guy finished snipping? You’re almost as bad as Reggie leaving us hanging, but not quite.

    This has been my Artsy Grande haircut for at least a decade, I don’t let mine get quite as neck-shaggy as Nora’s, but close. Even though she’s over 70, her hair, as you say, speaks. I like what it says.

  12. Talk more about Frumpy #2, please. Are there ways you can word things so I will understand more? I feel this is a deep truth but I can’t put my finger on it either. Its so subtle but we quickly translate messages from each other based on it.

    I was a political candidate a few years back and my hair became the #1 topic. I am still trying to figure out what message was sent, what message should be sent, etc. In short, I gave in and let the best stylist in town give me the “Hillary” and immediately I became a viable candidate. It was very scary actually.

  13. One good thing about attractive hair is that cash is not always needed in huge quanitites. Personal effort and some experimentation at the local drug store can get you nice looking hair, if you put some effort into it.

  14. Thank goodness you included ponytails as acceptable for Sturdy Gals, or else I’d have to shave my head bald.

  15. Right now, I’m stuck in Frumpy #1, thanks to a hairstylist who keeps wanting to force my hair into something “conventional” and “soft” which it doesn’t want to be! So the last couple of haircuts have been poodle-like disasters.

    Right now I’m trying to decide between a modern, geometric bob, or letting it grow long. If I judge from photos of myself, I definitely look better in longer hair.

    Oh well, at least I know what I don’t want!

  16. “Somehow, your hair is always going to signal your attitude towards s*x.”

    I have fretted about posting a comment. It is, after all; your blog and your opinion. However, I must take exception and umbrage to this statement. My hair was always thin. After menopause it became more thin. Further, almost every drug prescribed for atrial fib (which I have) causes hair loss. My hair is thin, it never looks great, and it will only get worse with time. However, the thinness of my hair is not highly correlated with my feelings towards s*x. It’s not reasonable to draw inferences about a person based on something out of her control. Some appearance related items do signal an attitude, but some don’t; it’s just the way things are.

    1. I’m so glad you spoke up. Yes, of course I am speaking to the frivolous world, and should have thought more carefully. I apologize – our appearance absolutely is not always within our control, and people forget that, and will interpret incorrectly.

  17. This morning on my way to work I saw a woman in jeans and t-shirt and trainers with the most beautiful French roll. I stopped her to inquire the length of her hair–a bit longer than mine, but I have always loved the sleek elegance of them for dress affairs. I think I’m ready for a trim–on my tresses which seem to live in a ponytail.

  18. Now I’m wondering what my haircut (modeled off Natalie Imbruglia in the somewhat iconic “Torn” video, but not quite as fab on fattish me as on the pixieish original) says about my attitude towards s*x.

  19. I was born with a sad (wispy) hair gene, and declining hormones have not helped. I lost a third of my volume in the past 5 years, when there wasn’t much to start with.

    I had a pixie cut as a child, tried on Farrah’s wings in high school (flop), experimented not once, but twice, with a perm in the 80s (my Poodle Years™), and then let one of my friends cut my hair. He was a true artist and gave me my first precision-cut, Louise Brooks bob (without bangs) and that’s been my style ever since: Cut high in the back and angled down along my jawline.

    Stuck in a haircut rut? Some might think so, but my few forays into different styles the last 20 years have all met with disaster, including the unfortunate mullet I did NOT ask for. A bob is the cut my hair was born for, and I love the fact that it’s cut so well, it’s a wash-and-wear do. I have neither the inclination nor the time to fuss over a complicated hairdo.

    If I were to lose much more volume and can manage to keep a thin face and neck, I’ll consider the pixie route again after menopause, a la Judi Dench and Jamie Lee Curtis, who look fabulous.

  20. Blunt bob cut chin length,no layers that leads to frizz,has started to thin out!

    Miss my thick red hair,colour has faded…not sure how to move on…have noticed red heads do not do’good grey’ has a yellow tinge to the grey urgg!

    Has anyone else had this problem?

    Right up there with you waving the banner for the scrunchie…long may it reign.Ida

  21. I’m sure this topic hits a nerve with most women! After many years of varying hair lengths and styles, some ok, some unfortunate, and heavy investment in covering early gray from late twenties on, I’m finally at peace with my hair. Well, it does help to have moved from a high humidity zone to a low one… I’ve let it grow long, eliminated all hot styling, minimized styling products, stopped washing it to death, and let the long layers,natural curl/wave, and various clips, etc. land me between sturdy and artsy. That said, I can’t give up coloring… thought about it, but the growing out seems soooo painful. And with hair on the less than plentiful side, I’m deathly afraid of “pink scalp syndrome”.

  22. I will be 60 next week and I sport a not quite shoulder length, somewhat layered cut. I am turning white and have my “natural” color highlighted to blend with the white. Not a perfect solution, but, in my mind better than dying my hair all one color or having a stark contrast between white and my natural dark color. I see dyed hair as ultimately aging on an older woman. Others may see it differently.

  23. Good Hair is KEY!!!!!!!! And your readers should know that I actioned that updo by myself while alone in the house with a 7 month old baby!!!!!!!!!!! xxxx

  24. Dearest Sturdissima,
    1. What is the “appropriate volume of curl”? Please provide photos.
    2. You look lovely but not remotely artsy in your white blouse and round white pearls. Perhaps Graceful Sturdy is a category?
    3. In the links you provide, both Carly and Hil have BAD highlights. If there is one surefire route to frump it is aggressive stripey highlights.

    Any woman spending more than 10 min. to “do” her hair for everyday probably has the wrong cut.

    Chere Ida, apply a shot of colour- try one of the new foam-in products or a salon job. I’m a redhead, and you have to be vibrantly red or go grey, and we don’t do that well.

    1. Duchesse – Appropriate volume is about proportion. No more no less. And I featured Carly and Hil for the haircuts, not the color, but point is well taken on too stripey highlights. Oh, and Sturdy Gals wouldn’t wear their hair down like that. I know. I always have to put mine up after a couple of hours:). So who knows what category I fall in?

  25. I have to agree with Duchesse on every point.

    I am very happy with my new stylist and more polished bob although I liked my old more artsy cut as well, except when I grew it out, but that was about other issues that had nothing to do with hair or attractiveness, just the bends life sometimes puts in our paths.

  26. My hair has always been straight and fairly thin. At 48 it has no more volume than it ever did, but the texture seems to be at last leaving the “baby fine” categor,y which means slightly more body: yay! I’ve tried it all, like some of the previous posters. My mom was convinced to give me a bob when I was little: drowned rat. Perm for body? Dry frizzies or just, no change. My hair does NOT hold a curl. When I tried the Farrah flip in the late 70s I didn’t even make it to “clownish sausage roll around the face”, which is where my peers landed because they missed the “tease it out!” memo. When I saw “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and Karen Allen’s jaunty “double French roll into a high braided ponytail” look, I was mesmerized. I figured out how to replicate it and never looked back. My hair has been waist-length for all of my adult life. I wash it a couple of times a week and keep it braided or otherwise “up” and just braided at night (to avoid tangles). Sometimes I wash my bangs in-between to keep them fluffy, but this seems to be the style that works for me. I’ve been tempted to go short, but my limp hair would just hang there and I’d be back to the “drowned puppy” look, so here I stay.

  27. Your hair is gorgeous. I am letting my hair go gray, and I love it. You have been an inspiration.
    Please what products do you use….name of shampoo, conditioner and other products.
    Love your grey dress and beutiful hair picture.

      1. Lynda – I was thinking to make a whole post out of this question! But let me see if I can give you a quick answer. Paul Masters Organics for shampoo and conditioner, from Whole Foods. Garnier Fructis Shine spray, and then a volumizing mousse, the name of which I cannot recall and is not here with me at the moment:), on the roots. Also, a really good hair dryer, recommended by my hair guy. I hope that helps. Thank you so much for your kind words.

  28. I see the shoes first, then the attitude.
    My Grandma’s fault, she judges people by their shoes.
    But I see your point, good hair is a must.

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