Changer de tête

Samson and the lionI’ve been having a bad hair day for what feels like forever. Like the unmistakable first symptoms of a cold, I’ve felt a change coming on. It’s always the same. You keep looking in the mirror, checking your profile, from the back, from the front. Ack. Something’s just not working. Even when I crinkle my eyes and squint.

Time for a ‘change of head’ as we say in French, which for me means a trip to the hairstylist. Here in France you must ‘prendre rendezvous’ (book an appointment) before heading chez le coiffeur. And although it’s only been a month since the last time I sat in that chair, I go back and sing my song of woe.

“Ils sont affreux!” I say, remembering to use the plural as I describe the horror story of my hair. Too long here, too short there. My head looks like a crème caramel. My roots are too dark, my ends too wispy. Essentially I dislike the shape of my head. Can you make it less…round?

He knows I’m joking, bien sûr. Although I only began seeing Nicolas last summer (I am a faithful sort), he’s already had me in his chair (did I write that?) for many hours. He senses, I am sure, that this winter of my discontent is about more than my roots.

We women may not suffer the indignity of losing our hair, but let’s be clear: we suffer. Monthly, and I don’t mean in that way, although that’s not nothing either. I am talking about a certain dependence on hairstylists in order to look/feel/be great. Even good. Even not like a monster.

Not all women feel this way. Some brave lasses don’t bother with their locks at all. Some chop it all off, bundle it back or let it grow wild and grey. I admire you all. You are beautiful. But let’s be clear: I am a top-down kinda girl. If the hair works, everything else falls into place. No makeup needed and I can throw on any old clothes without feeling like a freak.

Once upon a time I was little blonde angel. It didn’t last long. That is, I was a natural blonde until my teens but the angel part went by the wayside early on. I think this picture of me in first communion gear was the last time I played the part. In the mid-seventies, I did the Farrah Fawcett flip (any under-30s reading this blog will have to Google that). Then came the perm years. I started chopping into those curls somewhere in my twenties until I decided to go short and chic.

Evolution of the coiffure

So I’ve stayed, on and off, ever since. Always short, sometimes chic. But now I’m thinking: what if I grow it out, just a bit? A bit blonder to get me through the dark winter months. Maybe, just maybe, this time I’ll be able to wait it out.

So off I went a few days ago. Played hooky from work (had my laptop with me just in case and besides, I’m on intimate terms with the boss). Showed them a few photos of my last round as a blonde bombshell. The salon I go to now is bigger and has a dedicated colouriste. This makes a huge difference. She was able transform my horrible head in the space of two hours.

Then it was back in the chair with Nicolas. He spent another half hour or so trimming and styling but not cutting. It was worth it. When you’re trying to grow your hair out, a few millimeters of reshaping can make a big difference.

Later that afternoon I emerged from the salon, a new woman. Somewhat the poorer but feeling that it was worth every centime. Like Samson with his hair, I am ready to face down the lion. In fact, I’ve barely even looked in the mirror since.

Care to share any war stories about your locks, lack thereof, or latest look?

Chez le coiffeur

Chez le coiffeurThere are almost as many beauty parlors in France as there are bakeries. Which says something about where the French have their priorities.

At this time of year, an appointment chez le coiffeur is a must for every self-respecting Frenchwoman – and man. Looking one’s best for the end-of-year holidays is as essential as uncorking a bottle of champagne and preparing a special meal on Christmas Eve.

One of my first French lessons was learning that you go ‘chez le coiffeur’ rather than ‘au coiffeur’. This applies for any shop or service that has a person behind it. For example, you go chez LeClerc but à Carrefour because there is a Leclerc family but no Monsieur or Madame Carrefour.

Another lesson is that hair is not singular in French but plural. So when you talk about your hair it’s les cheveux (not to be confused with les chevaux unless you’re grooming horses rather than hair). Which also explains why my husband will say: “Your hair are nice like that.” (Isn’t he sweet?)

I have passed many long hours chez le coiffeur, simply because my short hair with blonde highlights requires frequent ministrations from my stylist. Those hours spent waiting for the chemicals to do their magic and transform my chatain clair into shiny blonde streaks have allowed me to observe at leisure the inner workings of the French beauty parlor.

Most salons are independently owned and managed by a single hairdresser. Depending on the size of the place, they may have one or several coiffeurs working for them. Only in the bigger chains like Dessange or in high fashion haute coiffure salons do they have a dedicated receptionist. This means that in between shampooing, rinsing, coloring and snipping, your typical hairstylist is also answering the phone, greeting customers, ringing up receipts and serving coffee.

A French hair salon is never dull. Over the white noise of hairdryers and water running, the piped in radio, the hissing of the coffee machine and collective chatter of les dames (the men are usually silent), the place can work up to quite a hubbub.

Should the wait be rather long, there is always the lure of “la presse people.” All French hair salons, no matter how trendy, share the common denominator of offering customers a selection of the latest rags –Paris Match, Voici and Closer along with more fashion-forward offerings like Elle. How else to stay atop of breaking stories like Hollande’s three-wheeled sexploits, Valérie Trierweiller’s revenge lit or Carla Bruni’s desire to be left alone? If there were any doubt about the need for regular visits chez le coiffeur, the extra incentive of the gossip press seals it.

Many salons offer ‘la carte de fidelité’ or customer loyalty cards that give you a reduction or a freebie of some kind after several services. I suppose this is intended keep people coming back, but I never really understood the need. If you have a good hairdresser, one who understands you and doesn’t talk too much, why go anywhere else?

My dad once commented during a visit to France that he had never seen so many bad dye jobs. I think this is because a lot of French women tend to go for more pronounced colors than are typical for North Americans. This was a few years ago when bright henna was all the rage and also the dip-dye craze with a lot of dark root showing beneath blonde tips.

This year I am wondering: where have all the blondes gone? From the TV screens to the fashion pages, brown hair seems to rule the day. Have you noticed this?

I’m not much of one for changing my hairstyle. Aside from a few kinky perms back in the early 80s, I’ve been pretty faithful to my highlighted short cut for the better part of 30 years.

It hasn’t always been easy to find a coiffeur willing to coiffe to my taste. French stylists tend to prefer longer, looser styles. I like these too, on other people. Just not on me.

And just as it’s chic in English to use French words, hair salons here often play with anglais to sound cutting edge. Sometimes with disastrous double entendres in English, like one in our parts called ‘Hair Mess.’ Oops. Think I’ll give that one a miss.

How about you? What’s your latest scoop from the hair salon?