My blogging friends Deja Pseu and Karen have already remarked that when they visit Paris, they notice how womens' hair is frequently styled in a more relaxed manner. Let us pause to parse this.
Many North American women go to Paris and don't stand out because of their hair. But when a woman does, there's a very good chance she's North American, and in her bags has packed the requisite arsenal of appliances and products.
Among French woman, North American women are known for heavy highlights (like the pic at far left, above) or elaborately constructed, fiercely maintained styles. To be fair, I saw a few iffy colour jobs on Parisienne heads, but often I could play Spot the Tourist with predictable results. Juliette Binoche, near left, is closer to their desired look.
How did North American women drift toward a look so controlled it's as much an identifier as their language? Since we weren't born with hot rollers clutched in our wee hands, I will attempt to find reasons for this acquired affection.
1. You style what you see
Pick up a copy of InStyle or other mid-market womens' mags and you'll see lots of 'dos presented with Photoshop precision. A subconscious message is sent: "Control that hair, no flyaways, nothing poking out!"
2. Clean and neat is a cultural norm
North Americans like clean and new. Our oldest buildings are only several hundred years old; we tear many down to build something modern. The moody decrepitude of crumbling facades is not generally admired. We emulate this bright, shiny effect in our personal facades, too.
3. The tyranny of perfection
The trainer or gym, the diet, the fillers and procedures, the continual societal nagging to "be your best." Whether intrinsic or socially dictated, a woman seeking perfection will extend this imperative to every hair on her head. Perfection's silent partner is control. The ironed, sprayed and strenuously styled 'do is a high control hallmark.
4. Primp creep
You start at ten or eleven, painting your sister's nails. In adolescence, you begin "doing" your hair. Time passes, you work your way through enough products to fill the Rose Bowl. Momentum just takes you into more stuff, more fussing. Extensions seem like a reasonable next step. Letting go of some of the gear you've built up over decades feels like letting yourself go.
Whenever I write about critically about over-coiffed hair, at least one woman replies that she must discipline her unruly, difficult hair, that a soigneé look requires an hour and a half of blowing, brush-rolling, serum application and ironing.
Is this absolutely true? Who would she be if this were not true?
I just ran into my friend C. She worked in the financial district as a sales professional for years. Designer suits, her blonde hair in a side-parted chin length blunt cut that framed her face like elegant parentheses. We thought she looked wonderful. Then she left her profession and changed hairdressers.
New guy gave her a slightly shorter layered cut with bangs. Most significantly, it moved. When C. strides, her bangs shift; when C. laughs, the sides slide forward. Always lovely, C. became alluring. She also looks a decade younger. (Le Duc said "Mon dieu, C. looks fantastic, who is her hairdresser? Go there!") She looked marvelous before, she looked even better after.
Is there no hairdresser in her town like C.'s, who can burnish the natural beauty she was born with? Who aims for healthy shine rather than immobile head-upholstery? If it takes an hour-plus every day on hair alone, that's a lot of life spent fighting what you've got.
The object of the exercise is not to pass for a native in a European city, it is to let ones' self bloom, bien dans sa peau, like Julie Delpy, one of my favourite French talents.