by Janet Howson
Framed in the mirror. Me. A situation I usually avoided along with photographs of myself, but here I was in the very place you could not avoid staring at your own image: the hairdressers. I loved having my hair washed, my head massaged, the cup of tea and the chat that centred on “Are you out tonight?” “Are you going away anywhere nice this year?” “Family all well?”
Not only that, I was also faced with a crucial decision. To have another tint in my hair, or to let it go an inevitable white. To let it be or to not let it be, that is the question, I waxed lyrically to myself.
I had passed through the various stages of woman: The fifties pudding basin home cut, the 60s' Mary Quant look, the 70s' feathered style, the 80s' bob, the 90s. perm and then on to the need to rinse as the grey started to appear, then finally leading on to the permanent tint.
Now, the white was in a fight to dominate my scalp. Not wanting to be concealed any more. Should I concede defeat? Should I allow nature to take its course or carry on defying the aging process?
“You're very lucky,” Tracy argued, “you would go pure white. Some of my clients pay a lot of money for that look. It’s very fashionable.”
I had run the idea past several friends. They would all go through the same process of examining my hair, narrowing their eyes in thought, sighing contemplatively and making noises associated with decision making.
Some drew attention to the famous women with white hair: Judy Dench, Christine Lagarde, Helen Mirren, Emma Thompson, the Queen! All of whom looked sophisticated and glamorous. However, I knew I would just look old. Resulting in young city men offering me a seat on the tubes and carrying my suitcase up steps where there are no escalators. Well, I suppose there are some advantages.
“I really need to know what I would look like with white hair before I do it,” I bemoaned to Tracy, “and that is impossible.”
“Well you could always go to Lakeside and try on a white wig at that shop in the Brompton Walk,” Tracy suggested. “That will give you a good idea if you like the look or not.”
I wasn’t sure if I was glad Tracy had found a solution or nervous that I would have no excuse not to make the crucial decision.
So, it was with some trepidation that I set off to Lakeside the following weekend, facing the queues on the M25 and the queues for a car parking space and the queues for the toilets, to see if I could make a trial run on ‘whether to become white’. Finding the shop was not difficult so I browsed round looking at all the various styles, lengths and colours exhibited. I hadn’t realised there was so much choice. I was tempted to try on a beautiful auburn shoulder length creation but stopped myself from straying from my original intent.
“Can I ‘elp yer?” a young voice broke into my thoughts.
Oh dear, I really didn’t know if I wanted to be helped. I was starting to feel guilty that I had no intention of buying a wig. I just wanted to try one on. I reassured myself that I could not be the first person to try on a wig and not purchase it and I wouldn’t be the last. So, brazening it out I faced the young assistant, “I am looking for a short, white wig, if you have got such an item?” I asked, half hoping she would reassure me they did not sell them and had no idea where I would find one.
“Oh, yea, I think we’ve got one in the stock room. ‘old on and I’ll fetch it for yer.”
Off she went leaving me and two other customers to wander round the display of wigs. She returned clutching a plastic bag containing what resembled a dead stoat and thrust it into my hands. “I can ‘elp yer on with it if you want? Or if you can do it yerself then just put it on like a swimming cap, front to back.” In answer to her own question the assistant then went off to help another potential wig buyer.
Left alone I found a mirror, extracted the stoat from its bag and proceeded to follow the instructions I was given. My first attempt resulted in me realising I had put it on back to front. This had the effect of me looking as if I had a very long fringe and then a short, back and sides, army cut, at the back of my head. I tried again. This time I had forgotten to tuck my own hair out of the way so the wig looked like a white fur hat on top of my darker protrusions. Off it came again and on my third attempt with a lot of readjustment I managed to get it on fairly straight but with the label announcing its’ manufacturer, dangling from the front of the wig down my nose. I did not dare remove it as I might be charged for the wig on the grounds that I had defaced it. So, I had to evaluate the wigged look with the label making me feel rather cross eyed. I knew one thing immediately. I most certainly did not look like any of the afore mentioned celebrities. In fact I couldn’t really think of anybody or anything I did resemble, it was just me staring back, with startlingly white hair that did not make me look glamorous, or quirky or interesting. It only made me look, well ……. Old!
Trial completed. Wig back in the bag. Cup of coffee at Starbucks. Still clinging on to the vestiges of my youth, I put a comb through my auburn, albeit tinted, hair.