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The Vacuum Issue 6 spacer Issue 6
Hair Today
by Conor Garrett
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Moustache you a question - what is it with hair-dressing and really crap puns? A cursory glance at some of our local salon names and the level of innuendo is, er, hair-raising: 'Par-snips,' 'Hair-o-dynamics,' 'Hair Indoors', 'Mane Attraction' and best of all; 'The Best Little Hair-House in Belfast.'
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But first to the Ormeau Road and another little hair-house that trades under the uplifting, almost playful moniker: 'Kurl Up and Dye.' Standing next to a CAT scan style hair-drying device as it blew tears down the jowls of a rather elderly looking customer attached beneath, I asked hairdresser, Lisa Barr, if she ever thought the name Kurl Up and Dye a tad morbid?
'No.'
Not even a little?
'No, sure there's another place called Kurl Up and Dye that has nothing to do with us so they must have thought it was a good name too...' Good stuff. Always wanted to get a 'cut and dried' answer to that one...
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Ambiguous names aren't all that's puzzling about salons and about hairdressing in general. For starters, why on earth do we place quite so much protein-enriched, two-bottles-in-the-shower importance on the way we snip, tint, curl, shave and generally fiddle about with the hairs on our head? How is it the manipulation of these hairs has managed to become quite such a studied statement of who we are and where we're from - of gender, social, religious and professional status? From primitive men who shoved bones in their locks to impress their enemies to Francis 1 of France who after accidentally frazzling his hair with a torch, set off a 'hot' new craze for short hair-styles. Then there's Beckham and his corn-rows. But we'll come back to that.
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Ted Johnson started off 'brushing the floors and doing the ash-trays' at the Continental Barber Shop which his father opened on Great Victoria Street in 1964. Now running the place, he's keen to point out that the Continental now stands as Belfast's longest established barber-shop. And while you might not be offered something for the weekend these days, there are a few reminders of the past: black and white Brylcreem ad's, old-style barber chairs as well as one sign which reminds us, 'Spitting On Walls or Floors Is Prohibited.'
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'In here, the walls used to be covered in pictures and each one had a different number...' says Ted Johnson. 'A fella would come in, look at them and say; I want the front like number one, I want the back like number five and I want the top like number three.'
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Despite this type of confusion, Ted believes it was once a whole lot easier to second guess a person's background and aspirations simply by the type of hair-cut they asked for. 'It was square necks for office workers, a duck's ass for the rockers, short back and sides for nippers and generally the people who wanted really short hair-cuts were either in the army or the police.'
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'Now it's very much geared towards the guys looking just right' he adds. 'To be honest, most of them get their hair cut basically the same way...something they can wear neat for work and go a bit wilder with when the weekend comes.'
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Asked if he thinks there's a hair-cut particular to Northern Ireland: 'The typical cut here is shaved at the back, sides and top with small sort of round fringe at the front which hangs over the forehead. It's pretty horrible to be honest so we try to persuade people to feather it more out at the front so it doesn't look quite as bad.' (See Spide cartoon.)
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'Pi Hairdressing' on University Road is more of your trendier, up-market affair - Phillippe Stark fixtures and fittings, lots of concrete, modern aesthetics and strange wee monitor things that scan the back of your barnet while you get it adjusted. Paul Caddell's in charge here and like Ted Johnson, believes there's a notable reduction in the variety of styles people ask for. 'I suppose there was a time when normal working class people looked like normal working class people - these days, it's very hard to tell the difference - people who earn lots of money will be getting exactly the same hair-cut and style as people who don't.'
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What about those Beckham braids? 'No-one has asked for that yet but it's only really a couple of weeks old and he's already changed it. We still get people coming in and asking for the last Beckham hair-cut, which was obviously the mohican and you could say that those sort of hair-cuts are for people who want to be cool but don't look much further than magazines or celebrities to achieve that.'
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And that's how it is with hair today. As we become ever blander and more reserved in our range and taste in hair-styles - it seems it's only when one of our leading celeb's has rubber stamped the latest look, however ludicrous it may be, can we think about doing something daring or outlandish. So next time your hairdresser asks you to join the 'Hoxton-Fin' production line or if indeed you'd like to 'braid it like Beckham' - just say you want something that represents who you are and where you're from. If you end up with the Northern Irish special then try to fear not and remember: hirsutes you sir!
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Hair Today
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