Friday, December 18, 2015

Hair Today Gone Tomorrow

A few weeks ago, I was fed up with my hair. When it gets long enough the natural curl falls out and then I have to "do something" with it. Since I happened to be sitting in a hair salon looking in the mirror when I realized I was tired of trying to duplicate what my hair stylist did at home, I said, "Let's cut it really short." He did while I watched my hair falling to the tile floor and wondered if I had made a mistake. This was not the first time I had gone for really short -- as in about an inch back and sides and only a bit more on top. I have done it in the summer, I have done it in the winter. And every time I do it, I think "What am I doing? Good grief, I'll have to put on lipstick and earrings so it looks like I'm at least "trying" (i.e., to be attractive). When I was about twenty years younger, I didn't have to try so hard and my short cut always went over well. Now, it just displays the gray at my temples. So this time, before we cut, I asked if we could add highlights. In theory, this distracts from any gray that is prone to resist coloring and brightens ones appearance. My hairstylist and the woman in the next chair and her hairstylist all assured me that it did. And looking in the mirror, I was pleased at having gotten a little crazy with my color this time around. Next time, I'm going to do purple instead of red. I have decided that if I can't beat the gray which is always back at my temples within days of coloring, that I'm going to have fun. Actually, gray is "in" right now. Young women are dying their hair gray. But if I did, people would just assume it was natural.

So what does this have to do with writing? Well, if you read my last post about feet, you know that I said I'd write about heads next time. I am in the process of doing some research on how mystery writers handle dress and appearance in their books. I've been thinking about those concise descriptions that some writers can do so well. The shoes on the feet, the hat on the head that immediately brings a character to life. Of course, there are the clothes -- or lack of them -- between feet and head. And saying that a character has short hair or no hair or was wearing a baseball cap may leave the reader with the wrong mental image. A reader who wears her hair to her shoulders may think of "short hair" as a chin-length bob. Another reader who is losing his hair may imagine a character with "no hair" has gone bald rather than shaved his head. A baseball cap might declare allegiance to a sports team, been purchased from a street stand to keep the sun off, have a company logo or refer to the wearer's profession or hobby, might be worn pulled down low over the eyes or turned backward. The cap might be turned backward because the wearer, clad in white overalls, is painting a wall in her house. A baseball cap might be accompanied by sagging pants, running togs, or white dress with open collar (really cool CEO). Or it might be worn awkwardly by a politician in a suit and tie.

Men are much less likely to wear hats these days than in the past. We most often see hats on male celebrities who are making a style statement as they walk the red carpet or appearing on a TV show like "The Voice" (e.g., celebrity judge Pharrell Williams who likes hats). But in crime films and mystery/detective novels, hats have been an important accessory. Sherlock Holmes has his deerstalker. Hercule Poirot has his bowler. A hat was indispensable to James Cagney's look as a Prohibition-era gangster in The Public Enemy. Even as he staggers along in the pouring rain after being shot and finally falls down in the street, his hat stays firmly on his head. And no one wore a fedora like Humphrey Bogart. Add trench coat in Casablanca, and we have iconic movie style.

I plucked a couple of books off my shelf as I was writing this post. In Ceremony (1982), featuring Robert B. Parker's Boston PI, Spenser tells us that Hawk, his African American side kick, has attracted attention outside the Copley Plaza Hotel. Hawk is 6'2" and he is "wearing a glistening black leather jacket and skintight leather jeans." Spenser concludes his description of the reactions of those keeping their distance as they pass with this observation, "He wore no hat and his smooth black head was as shiny as his jacket and [black cowboy] boots." Of course, if Hawk had been wearing a hat, he might have looked even more intimidating to passers-by. And one wonders what hat, the always sartorially-aware Hawk, might have worn with a leather jacket, tight jeans, and cowboy boots. In Michael Connelly's Void Moon (2000), his protagonist, Cassie Black, a beautiful ex-con, is introduced to a man  named Lankford at a car dealership. The man, who is looking at "the silver Carrera with the whale tail spoiler," is wearing "a porkpie hat". A few paragraphs later, Cassie "turned her attention to Lankford. He was neat and well dressed in a set of retro clothes that went with the hat."

I am fascinated by hats and hair and shapes of heads. Some people can wear hats, and others would do better not to try. I grew up wanting to wear hats with the style and flair of church-going women on Sunday morning. I have been in awe of those hat-wearing women at the Kentucky Derby -- or, occasionally, hat wearers at Malice Domestic, the mystery conference. But if I were writing myself as a character in one of my books, I would leave my head hatless. And somehow I would work in the photos of my changing hair over the years that mark both era and mood and sometimes desperation -- from Afro to straight from long to short. Always worn "natural" now. If I were a character walking into the party I once attended after being caught in the rain, my hair would be clinging to my head when I arrived and a puff of curls and waves after I had retreated to the bathroom to try to dry it.

Hats on, hats off, head bald or covered with hair or wig. From "hat honor" (hat removed to show deference) that was a matter of theology for the early Quakers to hat-making that might have affected the "Mad Hatter" to a baseball cap worn in a classroom in defiance of a dress code or while holding up a liquor store, hats have been an accessory worth thinking about. So has the hair or lack of it underneath. Something to think about as we decide if a character will wear a black hat or a white one, throw his "hat into the ring" or depart with "hat in hand."


Anonymous said...

So many hats! Very interesting post, Frankie! (And purple highlights sound great.)

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

Thanks, Cynthia, I'm glad you enjoyed it. Will take a picture if I go for purple.

Donis Casey said...

Great post! I wish you had posted a picture of your new 'do, though.