The City Magazine Since 1975

Tress Management

Tress Management
March 2015
Uncovering the secret for perfect hair in Charleston

I write this just hours after leaving the hair salon, where the ever-patient Lauris has yet again transformed a Roseanne Roseannadanna pyramid into a smooth testament to my adulthood. Sadly, my ’do won’t look this good for another six weeks. But truth be told, it will look better between stylist sittings than it ever used to. That’s because I am finally attempting to become a true Charleston lady. That’s right: when it comes to my hair, I’ve learned to straighten up and set the flyaways right.

I moved to the Holy City from NYC in the mid-’90s in the midst of a political campaign that featured the über well-coiffed (and Southern) Elizabeth Dole duking it out for a national nod. She didn’t win, but her hair always looked great. In general, I was awed as I encountered women all over town who seemed like they’d learned to coiffe before they were potty-trained. They showed up at The Teeter on Saturday mornings smooth and styled. Their blond (always blond!) hair looked so polished as my children and I polished off free sugar cookies and errant strands sproinged from my scrunchy.  

On one cold and rainy day, I watched two women my age stroll into Five Loaves Café. This pair of lovelies had numerous toddlers in tow and yet still managed to sport amazingly kempt hairdos. Meanwhile, I’d washed and worn my coarse hair out the door at 7 a.m., and everyone could tell. In my mind’s eye, one of those “fashion don’t” black bars descended upon my head—a rebuke of my upbringing, my time management skills, and my lack of personal style. For me, that “don’t” turned into a “do”—as in I had better do something about my tresses, once and for all, or risk being run out of town.

My hair and I grew up and out in the ’60s, back when the only “helicopter parents” were those flying for news stations or the military. I remember the day my father was “babysitting” as I sheared numerous ringlets from around my face. They were bugging me, so I got rid of them. This DIY chop left me with a hedgerow of flattop-length hairs fronting long tresses. It was my first (but admittedly not last) mullet. I loved the ease; others were appalled by the aesthetic. And that pretty much defined my early era of hair: Go for carefree and damn the consequences.

As a teen, I let it grow huge and unruly. It hurt to brush it, so I didn’t. In the ’80s, I combined that decade’s “bigger is better” trend with my no-frills toilette: I got perms. The fruits of my head expanded magically to match my shoulder pads. My ’do needed nothing from me, but it did require wide doorways. I hit rock bottom in the ’90s, when a misbegotten set of bangs appeared. They haunt many of my new-mom photos. This devil-may-care approach to hair care may have been easy, but the results sat on my head like a bad wig.

So that day in a Mount Pleasant café was all it took to turn my “whatever” attitude into “whatever it takes to tame this mess.” It would be false to say my road to perfect hair was smooth. That snarl-strewn path was littered with products that made all sorts of false promises. I encountered so-called “experts” who offered advice, and the minute we parted company, everything fell apart. There were tears, tantrums, and epic fails.

Over time, I learned that special potions and heightened promises held little value. What really counted was time. We do not live in a wash-and-wear world. We live in a wash, dry, smooth, fluff, spray, color, and repeat world. And the older we get, the more we must attend to our tresses. Happily, the older we get, the less sleep we seem to need. So Mother Nature has aided and abetted we ladies of a certain age.

Now if you know me at all, you are reading this column and scratching your own head. You’re thinking: Hmm, Colleen is delusional. I have spied her gray roots and frizzies still sproinging from her scrunchy. And her hair still gets pretty big when it rains. (And, come to think of it, when it doesn’t!)

And you would be right. But now, when I need to look my best, I know to call Lauris and beg for an emergency appointment. The rest of the time, I spend a few minutes styling and smoothing and call it a day. I may never join the ranks of our city’s perpetually well-coiffed ladies, but I’ve come a long way since the mullet—and most days, that’s good enough for me.